When we vote out of fear, not hope, we lose the very thing that matters most.

Photo by my good friend Michael Murphy of Houston, TX, USA

The really crazy part about this whole 2016 cycle for me, it isn’t Trump or how he could go from being a reality real-estate egomaniac with a questionable hair do a legitimate candidate for the presidency. It wasn’t how Bernie Sanders, someone I knew very little about, in spite of more than 50 years of rock solid history, had captured the hearts and minds of millions of young people, people who, like me, haven’t yet given up hope on a unified government for the people, by the people, ad it was intended to be. I knew he was worth a look when my best friend’s son, who is African-American, told me that while Obama was still in boys school in Indonesia, Bernie was being arrested for protesting segregation. It didn’t take long before his message began to resonated me, and unlike Obama, who required a degree of blind faith, investigating Bernie uncovered a lengthy and surprising parade of history proving that he’d spent a lifetime fighting for justice and against oppression, for many groups, in most cases long before it became popular or vogue to do so.

But all that wasn’t the part that really surprised me most. Nope, it’s that I honestly thought that I was alone in feeling betrayed by the big-tent Republican party I had called home for almost a lifetime. I thought that since none of my many conservative friends seemed to be bothered much by the dysfunction and continued obstruction of government, even when it directly resulted in the unquestionable, quantifiable harm of the very people it is sworn to defend and protect. As if it was really all Obama’s fault, that his policies and views were so offensive to them and their conservative values that they could overlook, in some cases even support, the radical, intolerant, evangelical ideology of the tea party movement, as if I’d become a screaming liberal for expecting a functioning government that actually conducts the business of the moderate American majority in a statesmanlike manner, with a sense of dignity and respect. As if the attempts to improve or address matters of concern for everyday Americans should be blocked at all costs due to partisan politics, trumpeted as destructively liberal, accused of destroying the very fabric of America.

I thought wow, these people are all saying the same things, maybe I’m wrong for feeling betrayed and offended by the the radical, ruthless, and insensitive ideological attempt by the few to project themselves as representing the many, using their closely held religious beliefs or their glowingly exclusive and elusive connection to “the way things used to be” as justification for the marginalization of our most basic and decent American values, the dreams of everyday hard working Americans who just want to live a decent life, provide for those they love, be proud of who they are, and feel confident in those they elect, the very people who for generations considered to be the backbone of the Republican party.

As if right wing political terrorism that results in an ineffective governmental system, riddled with deadlock, vacant of compromise, compassion, or empathy — was, in fact, worth it, to be championed, celebrated, and supported as the rebirth of the party in response to the evil forces of progressive, overly liberal, socialist ideals that although practiced in most if not all of the modern western world, would somehow crack the very bedrock of the same institutions that were being rendered useless and ineffective as a result of the very political revolution that was simultaneously claiming to defend them.

With time, I somehow began to cared a little bit less about the things I used to, things which I thought defined me as a proud values-oriented, fiscally-sensitive American conservative from Texas. No, in spite of all my friends insisting that we would be doomed if we didn’t rally around these destructive forces who seemed vexed on seeing to it that everything in the entire country be ground to a halt if they don’t get their way, on things that most people who go to work everyday aren’t even really worried about, or should I say weren’t worried about until they succumb to the endless drumbeat that they should be worried about these issues, issues which before were nothing more than talking points used as an attempt to differentiate, but now have become the battle cry, the almost deafening protests of righteous indignation felt by otherwise historically healthy, happy, moderate, balanced, well-meaning Americans.

All these regular mainstream good natured people couldn’t all be losing their sense of faith, investment, and involvement in the future of our once great nation like I have. They don’t appear to be thinking and feeling the same things that I am at all, so much so that I felt a bit ashamed of my changing priorities, my openness to varying ideas and ideals, my growing sense of connection with people who i’d hardly even noticed before much less actually taken a genuine interest in their perspective or well being. I honestly thought I must be losing my edge, getting softer after having kids, or as i age, something, anything to provide as an explanation for my lack of faith in the good ol’ down home conservative republican views, the party , it’s platform, value, figures, and future.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the high-rolling, big-wheeled, “establishment” candidates of either party, never felt a need to participate in my state’s primaries since I knew we were a red state, and my help wasn’t needed to ensure my views were advanced, represented, and protected by the people I had been told I could trust. I guess I’ve finally been forced to come to terms with my inner feelings, revised views, and my overall change of heart and sense or self. As I’ve slowly become more and more aware of just how dishonest, disingenuous, and self-interested the establishment actually is, how even my once deeply red state of Texas is becoming bluer year after year, how even the youth of this country are organizing around candidates I’d never thought I’d be supporting in a million years, I had come to understand that it’s not so much that I’ve become a closet Democrat, all alone in a state that’s red among largely conservative social circles, friends, and family who continually challenged my very questioning of what they considered the “only way” to be, think, expect, hope, or consider what’s most important living, loving, and believing in one another, in a shared future that will be better than the past, in the American dream, built on the legacy of our fathers and grandfathers, whose toil and struggle willed into existence our nation, by far the youngest global power there has ever been.

I looked back on why I’d originally broke ranks from my fellow conservatives to feel the excitement and hope that swept the country in 2008 as we rallied together to attempt to “make a difference”. I realized that the reason I felt so let down by unfulfilled Obama’s promise of a more hopeful unified future American society and government, of “change we can believe in”, in fact had a lot less, almost nothing to do with his inability to create lasting positive change or move the country forward, but far more to do with the fact that in spite of winning two national elections by margins rarely seen in almost a hundred years, he has for more than 7 years been largely rendered ineffective through increasing ongoing obstruction originating from the very people I was growing more and more angered by, the same people who caused me to vote straight-democrat out of rebellion, the same people who have allowed my “core values” to, as they would assert, “erode” such that I’m no longer so worried with what I’ll pay in taxes next year, not nearly as worried as I am about how the very people claiming to represent me will do everything in their power to make damn sure my vote, my tax dollars, my very hope for a better future that is at the core of what defines being American, will continue to slowly rob me of what little belief I have left in the will of the people, our system of government, and our future place among the nations of the world. I’ve come to realize and recognize that I’m not as independent anymore as I one believed. My cover is blown. I’m no longer able to quietly hide behind an aura of indifference, behind the fact that for me it’s less about being a liberal democrat while far more about being a betrayed former republican who has finally said “Enough is Enough!”. I guess I’m not alone after all. It seems the entire voting block once called the republican base has essentially gone rouge, no longer listens to anyone, and in fact doesn’t care anymore about all that right-winged stuff being jammed down their throat ad I had mistakenly thought they had.

No, they are now very, very, very angry, and most have allowed that anger to deliver themselves from hopelessness through a movement that’s as much about the ultimate destruction of the republican party itself as it could forever change America in ways that are so far reachingly difficult to comprehend that they seem as though they aren’t or at least shouldn’t be possible, at least not in today’s America, in today’s modern society, a world full of forgetful people who are increasingly unable to comprehend or even recall how easily, quickly, or effectively the rise of a single populist figure can transform a nation. How a single dishonest, imbalanced, or self-absorbed individual can transform a jaded, angry, disenfranchised electorate into a monstrous world-ending genocidal force of humanity. A force fueled by their misplaced belief that following something, anything bigger than themselves, somehow will replace the growing sense of hopelessness they feel, to affect their own futures, to make an impact in today’s world, or to even feel accounted for a country that once gave them hope that anything was possible, only to leave them convinced that the very values they hold so dear and are willing to defend, are actually robbing them and their fellow countrymen of possibility itself.

May God Bless the United States of America, as we struggle to redefine ourselves, to ourselves, in 2016…

-Mark F, Houston, TX, USA