An immigrant’s first vote

Casting a vote in America’s referendum on decency.

November 8th, 2016 will mark the first time I vote in a US presidential election. I was granted my US citizenship in 2013, having been born and raised in Ireland. While I’m excited to participate in the American democratic process, I’ve been disappointed to realize this election is lacking choice. Instead of making a difficult choice between political ideals and policies, Americans are participating in a referendum on decency. Cynicism is higher than ever and the quality of political discourse is at an all time low:

The Princeton Review found that the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 were engaged at roughly a high school senior level. A century later, the presidential debate of 1960 was a notch below, at a 10th grade level. By the year 2000, the two contenders were speaking like sixth graders. — source
Cover of “Quick Civic Lessons for the Naturalization Test”

As a first time voter, I’m disgusted that American voters aren’t being treated to dignified and constructive debate on critical issues. As a substitute we’re served a seemingly daily dose of shocking revelations, name calling, and temper tantrums. I’ve frequently pondered, as many have, how politics in this country could have reached such a low point. Indeed, the infinite air time the Internet provides a candidate like Donald Trump has rewarded factually incorrect statements on a repeated basis:

If more than 16 percent of Americans could locate Ukraine on a map, it would have been a Really Big Deal when Trump said that Russia was not going to invade it — two years after they had, in fact, invaded it. — source
Ukraine’s actual location for the record.

Unfortunately it’s not the politicians that are to blame for this anxiety inducing political mess, it’s us, the American voters. For too long the people we elect have refused to engage in constructive dialogue across party and geographical lines. Since moving to the United States I’ve called four states home, traversed the country multiple times, and gained an appreciation for just how diverse political beliefs can be. One just has to look at the most common job by state to gain an appreciation for how varying concerns might be across states:

Most common job by state in 2014

Instead of embracing these differences and expressing empathy, politicians simply refuse to work together, as witnessed by senators refusing to meet with Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. If our leaders act this way is it surprising that opposing the other candidate is the main factor for many in the 2016 election:

We can only break this venomous cycle if we seek to understand the trials of those who disagree with us. — source

In an effort to empathize with differing view points, I decided to read some posts from Trump supporters, a view point I find extremely difficult to understand. I made an effort to ignore candidate specific content and instead focused on the issues people cared about the most. In many cases I found that I care deeply about the same issues, like tax reform, albeit with a different perspective than the authors. We need leaders that will drive constructive debate and compromise on a variety of issues. We need leaders that have empathy for dissenting opinions and can adapt to changing times, times where the most common job in many states, truck driver, will ultimately disappear due to automation. Donald Trump is no such leader.

Donald Trump, discloses nothing concrete about himself or his plans while promising the moon and offering the stars on layaway. — source

We cannot lose this referendum on decency. A vote for Trump, the indecent candidate, is to vote for a dark age. It is to admit fear of the future and to shy away from the challenges it holds. Even the chants heard at Trump rallies, “Build that wall” and “Trump digs coal”, are echoes of bygone eras. While Hillary Clinton is not my favorite politician she is the most qualified candidate to lead us and the only option in this referendum, it has to be her.

See you at the polling stations.

— #ImWithHer