When I registered to vote after turning 18 in 2004, I (loudly) proclaimed myself to be a Proudly Registered Independent. I’ve been a registered voter in Maryland, Louisiana, and California, and each time I selected that state’s version of “no party preference.” That ended this year, three weeks before my fourth presidential election, when I (quietly) changed my registration to Democrat.
I did this for many, many reasons. My reason for registering independent was a classic version of the argument that the Two Party System Is Bad. I was making that argument in a pretty haughty, pretentious way, believing I was somehow intellectually superior to all the sheep who “belong” to a party. I’ve seen this argument from so many people over the last year, and it always carries that same sense of superiority.
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that feeling like you’re better or smarter or otherwise superior to somehow often means that you in fact are not. People taking this tact often use it as an excuse for refusing to engage in the system. “The system is bad,” they say, “but if it were this other system that I consider perfect, I would engage.” The system will never get better unless you engage.
Further, the two party system is not necessarily bad. It is certainly different from other, newer democratic systems, and we would do well to adopt many democratic innovations developed in other countries’ newer constitutions. But whereas European democracies have many parties that form coalitions after an election, because of our “first pass the post” electoral system, we create our broad left and right coalitions before our elections, in the form of the Democratic and Republication parties.
I am proud to have joined the coalition that is working for good, for unity, for love, and for inclusiveness rather than the one operating out of anger, hate, fear, and exclusion.
Part of this move is admittedly negative. It’s a reaction to the last eight years of state and national Republican politics. I wrote about the hypocrisy of Congressional Republican politics during the primaries. All of those points still stand. They are, if anything, exacerbated now that the GOP is assured of all three branches of federal government.
In Kansas and Louisiana, we’ve gotten a preview of what’s going to happen at the federal level, as slashing taxes led to no compensatory increase in economic activity; even while decimating those states’ K-12 and higher ed systems, along with social services, deficits blossomed and the states are demonstrable worse off. By looking at Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin we can see that the GOP does not believe they can win if they allow minorities or the poor to vote. Either that, or they simply don’t believe they deserve the right. I’m not sure which is worse.
Meanwhile, at the national level, the economy is flourishing, jobs and wages are up, crime is down, but still Trump rode a wave of claims that our country is a cesspool of crime and unemployment.
It is true, of course, that the benefits of the last eight years of economic recovery is concentrated among people with college degrees. The intellectually honest Republican position would be a push for individual responsibility. Ayn Rand would say that it’s your own fault if you don’t go to college; only whiners and moochers demand the government help them instead. But that’s not the Republican position — the Republican position is to promise the old economy will return while defunding higher education, thereby making it more difficult for people to gain the skills they need to access the new economy.
Just look to Louisiana to see how well that works. Or even California in the aftermath of Reagan’s governorship.
The Democratic position, meanwhile, is to make it easier to go to college, so that more can access to new economy, and to regulate for-profit colleges so that predators (like Trump University!) can’t defraud their students.
What about the positive reasons I registered as a Democrat rather than, say, a Green?
I became a Democrat because I was raised a Christian, in a tradition of peace and love. I was raised to help “the poorest among us” and read bible verses that say it’s harder for a rich person to make it into heaven than to “thread the eye of a needle with a camel.”
I became a Democrat because I believe in science, because I want a vibrant and healthy world for my children and my grandchildren and their grandchildren to live in. And if that means Chevron and ExxonMobile have to make slightly fewer billions of dollars of profit, I’m okay with that.
I became a Democrat because I believe in social science, and the data clearly show that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is not to make it illegal, but to increase access to contraception and improve sexual education. Making abortion illegal — like any prohibition — only makes it go underground. It makes it more dangerous for everyone involved.
I became a Democrat because I believe in history. I recognize that what happens today is informed by what happened yesterday. Today’s inequalities and attempts to curtail voting rights and bleary-eyed cries of “States’ Rights!” have an obvious place in American history. It all goes back to our country’s Original Sin.
I became a Democrat because some policies make those things better, and some make them worse. If you cannot get a mandate for your platform with making it impossible for millions to vote (hi, North Carolina and Wisconsin GOP!) then your platform clearly is not one that will make those things better.
I became a Democrat because regulations are good. Without a federal government intervening in private economic activities, we’d still have slavery and child labor. Regulations are the only thing that can effectively keep banks and insurance companies from preying on minority women, or keeping employers from being able to pay women and minorities less for the same amount of work.
I became a Democrat because I do not believe that the biggest threat to personal liberty is rich people being asked to pay 3 percent more in taxes. I believe the biggest threat to personal liberty comes from private citizens: Employers who take advantage of employees by paying women and minorities less than white men, withholding wages, stealing tips, and more. Banks that take advantage of the powerless en route to scuttling our entire financial system. Individuals who feel entitles to belittle, harass, and assault people who are not like them (typically meaning women, racial and ethnic minorities, members of non-Protestant religions).
I became a Democrat because a government based on “We the People” exists to protect the powerless from the powerful. This is why Thomas Jefferson, when plagiarizing John Locke, changed the phrase from “life, liberty, and private property,” instead writing that our inalienable rights are “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I became a Democrat because my Mexican-American friends and my black friends and my Muslim friends and my female friends are just my friends.
I became a Democrat because our country was founded on lofty ideals, values that we have never — ever — lived up to, but I know we can and must work towards those ideals.
I became a Democrat because I love my country and want to work to make it better.