Politics Is Personal, No. 1
Politics Is Personal is a new column by Rachel Abbott, covering local and national news as it affects LGBTQ+ people. This column abides by one principle: that politics is never just a difference of opinion but a system of moral beliefs that influence our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. Marginalized populations are particularly endangered when politics go awry.
I was driving home from my mom’s neighborhood in Spring, Texas the night that I heard Beto O’Rourke lost the race for US Senate against Ted Cruz. We had been out celebrating my birthday, and I vowed not to check my phone all evening as the results began to roll in. I’m both a person who loves politics as well as a person with an anxiety disorder; and the two go together like ammonia and bleach. I wanted to stay away from both the politics and the anxiety so that I could enjoy my birthday celebration with my mom. Therefore, I’d put my phone on silent and shoved it into the bottom of my bag. All night while we were out shopping and getting sushi at a local dive, I had felt the weight of my phone pulling my phone nearer to the ground like bricks in the proverbial sack. . The vibration of every single notification threatened to pull me out of the moment I was fighting my own anxiety to enjoy.
I had avoided my phone for about five hours in an effort to be present and practice some birthday mindfulness. But when our night out came to a close and I needed to drive back downtown, I was forced to pull out my phone to put on some music and to get directions. Even as I tried to avoid the news updates, my eyes canned the headline at the top of the screen — “Beto Concedes Race to Ted Cruz”. That was that. As disappointed as I was, I mostly felt exhausted. Beto was the latest in a long string of candidates that I supported and rooted for only to watch be defeated.
I remembered the first time I felt that sense of loss and frustration. I had been just a few days too young to vote for Barack Obama’s re-election, but I registered as quickly as I could. Soon I voted for Wendy Davis in the primary elections. Then I voted for her again in the gubernatorial election of 2014. At the time, there was no doubt in my mind that Wendy Davis would win. She had filibustered magnificently — hell, she’d filibustered at all. She ran on a platform all about empowering bold, Texan women. She was young, she was charming, and she cared about education and minority populations. Yet she lost to Greg Abbott.
Then there was Bernie Sanders, whom I’d voted for in the primary elections in the 2016 presidential race. He ran on a platform of promoting economic equality, of affordable college tuition and free healthcare. His tax plan read as European and elegant, and he had decades of experience. He had marched with Martin Luther Fucking King Jr., for chrissakes. These bricks that build the Great Wall of Bernie all sound amazing, I thought. And Hillary already lost a primary once before. Surely Bernie is our candidate. Yet he lost to Hillary Clinton.
So I brushed off the dust, and I threw my support in for Hillary. Was she perfect? No. But God she was so much better than the alternative that it seemed laughable. Even when I wasn’t on fire for her policies, it was easy for me to support her. She was professional. She was poised. She had years of political experience and the education to match it. I was ready for the first female United States president. Beyond that, I felt like she had the bare minimum of human decency. She neither made fun of disabled reporters, nor boasted about sexually assaulting people. She didn’t call immigrants rapists and criminals. The bar set by her opponent seemed impossibly low. The bar was literally buried five feet under ground; you would have to dig your own grave to miss that bar.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
All of this is to say: I am used to my candidates losing, but I’m still sick of it. In a country where we tout a representative democracy, I have yet to vote and see my views represented. It feels, on a fundamental level, unfair. And it sounds whiny when I say it like that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. If the point of an elected official is to represent the views of their governed body, and your views are eked out year-after-year … what’s left to do?
It would definitely be easier for me to sit with the disappointment if this were a matter of mere opinions. For instance, if the greatest thing at stake in any election were how much tax funding went to road repair versus the city bus system, I probably would not care all that much about the results. However, that’s not how our elections work. One representative supports my right to marry my partner; one thinks our union should be illegal. One representative will allow transgender people to receive the healthcare and support they need; one wants to define them out of existence. One representative would end border camps for children; one supports the destruction of families. When the stakes are this high, everyone should care. Everyone should care about these policies on a visceral, emotional level.
The baffling truth is that many people don’t feel that way. I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on in the minds of my close relatives and family friends who vote red time-and-again. Their beliefs are now reflected in our governor, both of our senators, our president, and the majority of the Supreme Court. But what, exactly, are those beliefs that they hold so dear? These are the same people who will assure me that they love me, love my partner, can’t wait for our wedding. Then, in the same day, they’ll post on Facebook that they’re voting for Ted Cruz or that they’re trying to “Make America Great Again”. It gives me emotional whiplash. And for what? What belief is it that my own family could hold more dear that my right, as their sister or niece or cousin, to feel happy and safe? I want to shake them — physically shake them — and ask, Why don’t I matter enough to you?
Beto O’Rourke lost by just a little over 2% of the vote. That means that nearly half of all Texans support liberal policies, yet both of our senators are conservative. I believe — and hope — that Beto will run for another political office one day, maybe not the presidency yet but something. His campaign invigorated the Texas Democrats in a way that I’d never seen before. I would be really proud to be represented by a candidate like Beto O’Rouke. But it’s too soon for me to think about all that — too soon to excite myself again.
Wendy Davis. Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton. Lupe Valdez. Beto O’Rourke. My political mind holds something of a memorial to these people who ran on good, decent platforms but lost. There will be more candidates. I have no doubt in my mind that in a few months we’ll begin to ready our battle paint for yet another round of primaries and yet another round of general elections. There will be shiny and wonderful new democratic candidates who will reignite the spark of hope that us voters in the South carry in our hearts. After all, Senator Cornyn’s seat will be up for reelection soon, and then there’s that thing about the President. I hope these new candidates will win. I really, really need one of these new candidate to win. For the first time, I need someone that I voted for to win.
In the words of Wendy Davis: “I fucking hate to lose.”