Why I can’t separate the political from the personal

By GABI SWISTARA | September 12, 2019

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COURTESY OF GABI SWISTARA In this political climate, Swistara has no room for bigotry in her life.

To borrow a phrase coined during a “simpler” time, that the personal is political, I dare to claim the opposite is true today: the political is personal. In an era of sad nihilism, when bigotry and discrimination are boiled into our everyday lexicon and we have become self-obsessed with our national concerns — of which there is no shortage — to me, the political has truly become just that. Personal. 

Have we come full circle? From the very idea that our personal lives reflect our larger sociopolitical sphere, have we exaggerated to the extent that now our larger picture seems to insult our everyday lives? To me, it is no longer political alignment. To me, a minimal group paradigm between Republicans and Democrats can no longer explain the injustices our national community is facing on a daily basis. To me, and many others, conservatism is no longer just a political belief but an identity. And so, to me, it has become personal. 

To address and hopefully dissuade criticism entailing moral equivalency, let me say that my opinion on identity here is based on contemporary policy and principle concerns, the morality of which can be complex. To support myself by the popular field of utilitarian ethics, I believe our national policies should better the lives of our fellow Americans, and my concern is that identifying as either Republican or Democrat blurs these lines. 

Furthermore, two views are not synonymous when one has empiricism (say, climate change), consequentialism (say, increasing concerns of white supremacy), utilitarianism — years of fundamental moral theory, and an ethical concern for the populace under one’s wing, while the other has a desire to pay fewer taxes. 

When the forerunner of our national conservative party is enabling white supremacy, verbally attacking four female congresswomen of color (who have not only earned respect in their careers but who have been citizens of the United States for longer than our first lady) and restricting access to health care, the ethical question always comes to my mind: What happens when people enable?

For the progression of hatred, all that is needed is for others to stand by. If someone is to show support for a figure who has openly attacked entire populations based on identities such as gender, ethnicity and religion (among many others), I do not see how one can disconnect their personal identity from that figure of bigotry. 

I understand that an attack on identity is alienating, and I do not mean to be ad hominem. This being said, identity — who you are — is broadly defined by your actions, your sense of morals, and what you believe should be done in the world both in terms of policy and principle. Thus, supporting a discriminatory leader speaks volumes to your own choice in identifying as their supporter. 

Is it a true democracy when extremism wins? Psychologically speaking, our current situation is fascinating. Groupthink has been shown to be harmful in numerous ways, and society as a whole has always established binaries (say, Democrats and Republicans as the only two major political parties in our nation). As all binaries naturally entail, minimal group paradigms follow, which — through numerous social replications — is known to cause hostility and aggression.

It has become difficult to bridge the gap and form relationships between the parties, especially at a time when, due to extremism, these parties seem tied to our identity. Is Bernie too far in the other direction to win the popular vote? Or is he the balancing act we need after four years of conservative politics? “Extremism” in every sense of the word is currently being thrown at both sides. 

This might come as an unpopular opinion, but perhaps our nation has lost its sense of true democracy. I have encountered smart, liberal, progressive people who will vote for whichever Democrat they think will beat Trump. This is a valid argument by far and something in which, based on policy, I share in its sentiment. Due to my own personal alignment, I will support any of the Democratic nominees over Trump and so, ultimately, whichever Democrat makes the ballad.

When it comes down to it, though, I struggle with the sentiment of voting based on expectation of winning rather than on alignment with personal policy. Shouldn’t we vote for the candidate we think is best? 

On the other hand, I have met Republicans who disagree with Trump on many “hot-topic” issues, but will continue to show support and vote for him based on some of his conservative policy (like taxes, for example). And many more vote along “party lines” due to family history or social circles, without even knowing what the candidate stands for. Again, shouldn’t we vote for the candidate we think is the best? 

It is devastating to see that, for both me and for so many of my fellow Americans, supporters of bigotry can no longer be tolerated as substantive individuals in our lives. It’s personal now. I feel incredibly alienated to see other women vote for a leader who seeks to oppress our gender.

I have never understood how anyone can vote against their own rights. And since we reached the age of tolerance in 2016, identity and political views have been inextricably linked. It is a daunting climate out there, and I can only hope, with what I refuse to view as naivety, that voters inform themselves on the issues that weigh so heavily on their everyday lives and choose a candidate not based on party or religion but based on safety and qualification.

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