Fine With Her

Hillary Clinton

I think I’m more nervous about writing this piece than I was talking about Donald Trump. I grew up watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio, and reading all about the President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. I knew the Clintons, or at least I thought I did.

I get the distrust, even the fear that I’ve heard some people express about Hillary Clinton because I used to feel it too. I know that, while a lot of people will understand why I don’t support Trump, many of them might not understand why I would say anything positive about Hillary Clinton.  That’s why I’m nervous. Giving reasons you don’t support someone is a lot easier than saying why you do.

I didn’t vote for Clinton in the Primaries, but once it was clear that Republican ticket would go to someone I could not support, I knew that I would likely vote for her in the general election. But a funny thing happened since then. The more time I spent researching her as a candidate, and not just the opposition to someone I hated more, the more I found myself starting to actively agree with her.

Hillary Clinton isn’t perfect, but I’m not voting just to stop Trump. Over the past election cycle, I’ve made the decision to vote for her.

On Her Husband

I think the fact that I even have to make a statement about Hillary Clinton’s husband says a lot about the lopsidedness of how we treat candidates based on gender, but I also know that it is one of the frequently cited examples for not supporting her, especially recently.

We know for a fact that he’s had multiple extramarital affairs, and he stands accused of doing some pretty terrible things. If the claims against him are true, I believe he should be held accountable for them.

I have not, and will not, make excuses for Bill Clinton’s behavior.  But Bill Clinton is not running for president, so his faults (or talents) should have no more bearing on this election than Melania Trump’s does.

Some criticize Hillary Clinton for how she treated her husband’s accusers, using this a proof that she’s anti-women, despite her political record and public statements. I disagree. I think that this shows that, like a lot of us, she’ll find herself doing something in the name of family that she’d never consider if it was for someone she didn’t know.

This does not excuse her behavior, but I think that calling her two-faced on her public stances because she acted differently when something impacted her personally. This is called being human.

If someone you loved was accused of something as terrible as sexual assault, how would you react if you lived in the public eye like a president’s family does? What you say to that person is one thing, what you say to the press is another. It doesn’t make your actions right, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for them.

That’s the last time I’m going to talk about Bill Clinton or Melania Trump. They’re not running for president.

On Her History

Clinton seems to have new rumors made about her faster than anyone can take the time to research them. As someone who’s been in politics for more than three decades, she has a lot of history to dig through, and the Republican Party seemingly made it their mission to keep the Clinton family constantly invested in a scandal.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching the big scandals I grew up hearing about on talk radio and found that most of them had little but smoke behind them. I’ve read the DNC leaks, Podesta Leaks, and I’ve followed her email saga. An overwhelming majority of these recent controversies are either smoke, outright hoaxes, or they’re people highlighting sections of an email and praying that you don’t ask “what’s the context?”

If you want to discuss a specific issue, a single issue, I’ll be happy to. But until then let’s leave these rumors alone. I’m not saying I don’t have my reservations, but I think that most of the outright hatred of her is not warranted.

On the Issues

I don’t agree with her on everything, but there’s a lot that I do. More importantly, I’m convinced that, whatever her faults, she believes in things, she has goals. To paraphrase a line from “The Election of 1800” from the musical Hamilton: Clinton has opinions, Trump has none.

Education

One of the reasons I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary was his focus on education. One thing I’ve come to like about Clinton’s plan is that it’s not just about college. It’s about the entire education process. Our education system has a lot of issues, and our teachers work incredibly hard for salaries that most of us would balk at when we look at how much time they invest. We need to fix this.

Equality

This one is a big one for me. Racism, Sexism, LGB and Trans-Phobia are real issues that we can’t continue to ignore as a country. Some like pointing to Clinton’s previous positions on Gay Marriage and some other issues. But positions can change. I know mine did. In my research of Clinton and her campaign, I believe that her positions changed as well.

The Family

Of every position Hillary Clinton holds, her beliefs on the family, specifically for working mothers and young child education, seems to be the one she cares most deeply about. Having policies that benefit the modern family, the one that we have not the one that holds to some archaic ideal, is so important in early childhood development. I would put her position on Criminal Justice reform here as well, since it means keeping more fathers with their families, and making it easier for men to find employment without worrying about a felony record.

Clinton’s positions aren’t perfect. There are some things that I strongly disagree with. But I disagree with every candidate (major or minor) that is running. For me, Clinton’s campaign has a lot that I agree, and more importantly: I think that she has the capability to see some of those changes through. I can’t say that about anyone else running.

This is Not a Free Pass

The polls show Hillary Clinton up by a significant margin nationally, as well as in most swing states. It’s likely she could win the Whitehouse by a large margin, thanks in part to a growing support in two traditionally Republican sectors: white college-educated voters, and white suburban women.

But I think she’s smart enough to realize that this doesn’t give her a mandate.

A lot of this support, particularly in those two recent groups, comes because those voters made the decision that her opponent is unfit for the presidency. Even if Congressional Democrats pick up every contested seat, the majority they’ll have will be a slim one, and it’s unlikely that they’ll win every seat unless a lot of Republican voters choose straight ticket democrat. To get things done, she’ll need to work with people who don’t agree with her. She’s not going to get a free pass once she’s in power, from Congress or from the public.

Stronger Together

Even if she wins in a landslide, Hillary Clinton, and our country, have a lot of soul-searching to do. This election season highlighted just how divided we are. My vote for her does not mean I give up the right to be critical of her. But I’m going to do it as someone who wants to see her be better at her job, not as someone who simply wants to tear her down.

I’ve come to love the slogan “Stronger Together” because I believe in it. One of the things I hate most about our current political process is that we’ve turned the concept of compromise, of working together to find a solution, into a sign of weakness. No one is immune to blind spots. No one is immune to prejudice or irrational assumptions.

I believe that the best we can be looks a lot like diverse groups working together, even when we disagree. I don’t want every person to believe the same things I do. That is not America.

We are stronger together because we’re not the same.

Hillary Clinton is not a perfect candidate. In a lot of ways, she’s not even an ideal candidate. She has some pretty deep flaws, but at the end of the day, I’ve come to genuinely think that she wants to see the lives of others improve. I can work with that.

You Still Only Have Two Choices

This election the major parties nominated two of the most unpopular candidates in history. While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have people who are enthusiastic about voting for them, many citizens aren’t. Instead, they find themselves voting for someone just to keep the other candidate out of office, call it electing the lesser of two evils.

For someone who’s dissatisfied with both candidates, or they feel that both are “equally bad,” (I disagree, but that’s another discussion for another time), they start looking for options, any options. This year, for the first time in several election seasons, potentially millions of Americans are taking a hard look at third-party candidates who promise you the choice of a candidate who better aligns with your values. The Libertarian, Green, and other parties all want your vote, telling you that you don’t have to settle for just the lesser of two evils.

But if you want to elect the next president, you still only have two choices. I’m not going to tell you that you’re wasting your vote because I don’t think you are. But I do think that you should think carefully about voting third party, particularly if you live in a swing state.

 

270 To Win

The third parties do a good job of letting you know one of the reason’s it’s so hard for them to participate in the election: The election commission is not a neutral party. Yes, it’s non-partisan, but only in the sense that it’s made up of Republicans and Democrats, no third party’s need to apply. This commission determines who can participate in the debate, how difficult it will be to get your name on a state ballot, and a host of other issues. It is a real, valid concern and something that should be addressed.

But it’s not why you’re unlikely to ever see our government with more than two viable political parties. You can blame the Electoral College for that.

If you’ve spent any time studying American Presidential races, you know that the president isn’t elected by the popular vote. Instead, each state has a certain number of electoral college votes, and the candidate that wins the popular vote in that state takes all of the electoral college votes (with the exception of Nebraska and Main, who can split their votes). The first candidate to reach 270 electoral votes, which is just over 50% of the total 538, wins.

In general, the candidate who wins the popular vote wins the electoral college, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s theoretically possible to win the presidency with as little as 22% of the popular vote, though this is highly unlikely.

The electoral college is what makes is all but impossible for a viable three (or four) party system to function. To win a state, you need more than 50% of the popular vote. Even if Gary Johnson got 49.9999% of half the states in the country, he would end the election without a single electoral vote.

 

Not Wasted But Inefficient

This is why some people argue that you’re “wasting” your vote by voting third party. Since there’s no realistic way for them to win, you’re in a sense casting your ballot for someone you know will lose. But that’s not the only reason to vote for a third party.

If a candidate gets 5% of the popular vote, the next election their party is officially considered a “minor” party and they can access the matching fund set up by the Federal Election Campaigns act. This would give them a pretty substantial pool of cash to draw from, making it easier to get on the ballot and run advertising than if you had to fund the campaign on your own.

Voting for a third party also sends a message to the primary parties: the issues of that third party matter. If the GOP hopes to recapture a Libertarian voter, they might need to address small government or personal liberty a focus. A democrat courting Green Party voters will have to make environmental issues a cornerstone, not an afterthought, of their campaign.

Swing States & Third Parties

The “wasting your vote” language comes into play when you live in a swing state, such as Florida, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. In these elections, the electoral college votes can be decided by just a few thousand votes. The logic goes that if you vote for a Libertarian and the state goes to a Democrat, then you helped them win because, in general, a Libertarian would align themselves closer to the GOP than they would the DNC, so if you didn’t vote third party you might’ve helped the Republicans carry the state.

This assumption usually has data to back it up, since in previous elections voters who said they wanted to vote Libertarian voted Republican if they were only given two choices. There is, of course, nothing that forces you to vote for the GOP if you can’t vote Libertarian of vote Democrat if you can’t vote Green. You can choose to vote for the other party, choose not to vote, or cast the official “no vote” protest vote ballots have, signaling that you want “none of the above.”

This two party system is terrible, and it needs to end. But in my opinion, the way to do this isn’t by casting a single protest vote every four years. Libertarians, Greens, Constitution Party, Justice Party, and any other group that wants to change politics needs to start running locally.  

If you’re passionate about Libertarian causes, support someone running for local office (or do it yourself!). In general, getting on a local election ballot is easier than even running for a statewide office, and the more these parties are seen in their communities, the more it will normalize them.

We also need to push to change how elections are handled. This is another post entirely, and I’m not sure I know what the answer is, but the electoral college will continue to prevent viable third parties until we change it.

 

It Still Comes Down To Two Choices

So if you hate both candidates and think they’re both evil and you live in a swing state, you still only have two choices. If you haven’t, I highly encourage you to read up on the policies offered by not just the candidate you support, but the two main candidates you don’t. I’m not talking about the news, or hot takes, but read their policies, listen to their speeches. Then ask yourself if you truly, deeply believe that both of them would be equally as bad for most Americans, or America itself.

If you think that one candidate is better than the other, even if you still find them to be completely imperfect, I would strongly encourage you to consider still voting for them. I stand with you in changing the system 100%, but I don’t think that a vote for president will do it.

If, however, you feel that both candidates are 100% equally bad, that if given the choice between the two, you’d choose not voting, then on November 5th cast your ballot for your third party. I might not agree with you, I’d want to discuss this with you, but it is your right to cast your vote as you please and voting is never a waste. But when you cast your ballot, be sure to look at the other offices, such as senate, house, and local campaigns. These offices matter and too many people forget to cast the votes in them.

It’s always your choice. Choose wisely.

Who Gets The Nukes?

After Indiana’s primary, Ted Cruz made the decision to suspend his campaign. I don’t think it was his loss in Indiana that did it. I think it was the attacks Trump used against him, but that’s not what I want to talk about tonight.

I want to ask a simple question:

Who get’s the nukes?

Putting Things in Perspective

That is what we vote on in November. Yes, we can’t forget about other issues, like the economy, or healthcare, or immigration. They’re all important, and I don’t mean to say that they don’t matter, because they do.

But the President of the United States, as the commander, has control of our nuclear bombs. They have control of our military, and that kind of puts things in perspective.

I did not support either candidate in the primaries. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll state that I voted for Bernie Sanders. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I felt he was the best choice for me. I don’t like Hillary, but I’ll never support Trump.

Our country uses “First Past The Post” (FPTP) voting, also known as winner take all. Because of this, I’ll likely cast my vote for Hillary this November. Not because I support her, but because FPTP makes strategic voting necessary. There are a reasons to not look forward to a Hillary Clinton presidency, I share some of those doubts. But, even if she does every terrible thing you imagine, the alternative is Trump.

President Clinton

Even if Hillary wins in the end, the election is likely to be a bloody one. With the GOP now completely behind Trump, be ready for some terrible ads.

This has Hillary Clinton entering the White House to a combative, GOP controlled congress. These congressmen are free to oppose Mrs. Clinton because the people who voted for them oppose her.

Hillary will have to fight for every inch of change she gets with congress. It’s in their best interest to oppose her, so the only way stuff will go through is if they see the benefit for them.

She might get two supreme court justices, but only after fighting for them. This means choosing two moderate candidates.

Every bill she suggests, contested. Every proposal, by definition, must be a compromise. The absolute worst (from the GOP point of view) that Hillary could be is another four years of Obama.

If that frightens you, consider the alternative.

President Trump

Like Hillary, if Donald wins the Whitehouse it won’t come easy. There’s a lot of dirt to go around for the reality star. Surveys show that President Trump would be the least popular candidate in modern times.

But once he’s elected, things change. Now, the voters who put Mr. Trump in office are the same voters who put the congressmen there. If they oppose him, they risk losing their own seats.

This means giving him the green light to deny the Geneva Convention and commit war crimes. This means violating the rights of US citizens and legal immigrants to force Mexico to pay for his wall.

This means putting a tax policy in place that would make our national debt 80% of the GDP by 2025.

Donald Trump would also have the ability to nominate two supreme court justices. In a recent interview, Mr. Trump said he might even consider Ted Cruz.

And through it all, Congress would be have the incentive to give him what he wants. Because Donald Trump understands the media, he understands the people voting for him. If the GOP opposes him, they could find themselves challenged. Not at the election, but in the primaries against reactionary insurgents.

Maybe Congress would take the high road to protect their voters, but I won’t hold my breath.

The absolute worst (from the GOP point of view) that Donald could be is four years of how he ran his primary campaign. Only this time, he commands our military.

We Cannot Sit This One Out

I have a lot of friends who, like me supported Bernie Sanders. I have other friends in the Republican party who supported Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or even Ted Cruz. I’ve seen a lot of talk from my friends about sitting this election out. They’re disillusioned with our primary system, and have no love for Hillary Clinton.

I get that. Our election system is a mess and we need to fix it. But we can’t fix anything if Donald Trump gets into office and our congress refuses to fight him. Making the choice to vote is a personal decision, but before you choose ask yourself one question:

Who get’s the nukes?

The Election Of False Choice

If you ever want to get a feel for how American politics really works, volunteer to stand outside a polling place on election day. If you want to stay idealistic, don’t volunteer. If you do, you’ll learn what I did: Most people don’t vote FOR a candidate they want, but instead cast a vote against the person they hate most.

This is the lesser of two evils mentality, something that’s finally starting to come to a head this election. We can blame the rise of populism all we want but the reality is we created this problem.

 

We Wanted Our Names On The Ballot

In college, I was part of our campus Libertarian party. We did events on campus, but during the election season we made the decision to go out and try to get some voters to elect a local libertarian candidate.

Now, we didn’t really know this candidate that well. He came to campus and spoke with our group, but the main reason we wanted to support him was to give the “third voice.”  We knew that the chances of him getting elected were slim, but we felt that voting for him could still do some good.

See, like most states, Indiana had a law that said that if a party received a certain percentage of the vote, they’d get a guaranteed spot on ballots in the coming years. This vote requirement is one of the ways that the election season is rigged. The Republican or Democrat candidate always makes it on the ballot, anyone else has to get thousands of signatures to qualify. But, if a party received a certain number of votes in an election (generally around 10%) they’d get a guaranteed spot, just like the GOP and DNC.

So early in the morning, we climbed into our cars and drove to a small town in Indiana, splitting up into pairs to cover as many polling places as possible. I was assigned to stand outside of a school, and simply ask candidates if they wanted to hear about my candidate and what he was running on.

 

Reality At The Polls

I didn’t know what to expect when I spoke to people. I was hoping I’d get a few to stop and we could talk about the election, and maybe a few on the fence might change their mind. Like most counties, the candidates running weren’t really popular. The incumbent Republican made some questionable choices, and the challenging Democrat had his work cut out for him in red county in a very red state.

Since, in general, the Libertarian message resonated more with those from a conservative upbringing, like myself, I thought I could get at least a few people interested in speaking.  I was wrong.

For eight hours, I stood outside on a misty fall day asking anyone I saw if they wanted to talk about my candidate. While many stopped, this was, afterall, a small town so being polite mattered, as soon as they heard I was there representing someone who wasn’t one of the “big two” they moved on.

I asked them why, thinking I’d get a “I love my choice” answer. What I got instead was a variation of “I’m voting for (candidate they chose) because we can’t have (candidate they were against) in office”

Call me naive, but this was the first time I really saw the “lesser of two evils” mentality in play. Where you choose someone you might not like, but you think that at least they’re better than the alternative. Sure, we’d get the “your candidate can’t win/I don’t want to waste my vote” argument every once and awhile, but most were voting, not to put someone in office, but to keep someone else out.

It makes sense now. The more attention I gave politics, the more I saw the way we framed our arguments. Sure, a candidate might make a “we’ll fight for you” ad or two, but most of their money went to spots that tried painting their opponents in the worst possible light.

The message is clear. These ads said “You might not know me, or like me, but I’m not as bad as the other person.”

lesser of two evils ballot

 

No Lesser, Just Evils

I don’t consider myself a Libertarian anymore. I’ve experienced a lot more of the “real world” since graduating college, and my positions on a lot of things changed. But what really drove me away from the party was that they started using the same language as the major parties. It might be more accurate to say that they always used this language, I just noticed it.

That’s the thing about bad positions, you always notice when others hold them before you realize that you do.

I remember the push to get people who were “fed up” with the GOP or DNC to vote for the Libertarian candidates because at least there would be change. In the last presidential election I found myself drawn to the Justice Party, only to have friends who still aligned themselves with the Libertarian movement tell me I was wasting my vote by not casting it for their guy.

I continued trying to stay current in politics, and I got tired of seeing discussions about complex economic problems get derailed by some self-styled individualist posting a Free market meme. So I left.

 

A Slow Burning Powder Keg

This year, both major parties are in a state of upheaval, and for good reason. The economy sucks. The government releases labor statistics, showing a ~5% unemployment rate, but this is only part of the story. For workers who have a job, their wages are the same, relative to inflation, as they were decades ago. This means that people aren’t getting ahead so much as they’re treading water.

For people just entering the workforce, like I did in 2008, finding a job is harder than ever. Previously “entry level” positions want years of experience, or they start you off at a pay rate that makes it difficult to afford an apartment wherever the jobs are. Then there’s the fact that the average debt per student continues to grow, with graduates in 2015 being near $35,000 in debt by the time they got their diplomas.

The “steady” job is a myth, and it has been for years. The average baby boomer worker will hold nearly a dozen jobs by the time they reached 40, and new workers should expect to change at least that often. It’s not because they’re lazy, or don’t want to have a steady paycheck, it’s that their bills will go up every year and their paychecks usually won’t go up fast enough to compensate.

We’ve been at war with terrorism since 2001. That’s Fifteen years. A decade and a half of sending out friends, family members, and loved ones overseas to fight a war that everyone knows is endless.  More importantly, we live in an age of instant information, and we know the terror that our presence causes others there. We see how our actions, no matter how justified, continue to spawn terrorists that strike back.

We know that we’re in trouble. No amount of slick slogans or reality TV can make us forget this, at least not for long. For every scandal that’s in the news cycle, stories about our failing cities, desolate factories, or uncertain job markets are just a click away.

America’s waking up only to discover that we’re the emperor without any clothes.

 

The Year Of The Outsiders

The Republicans have lost control of their party. Their front runner is Donald Trump, with Ted Cruz fighting him in every state.  Trump is a true outsider, someone who’s not a Republican, but finds himself running with them because it’s the easiest way to get his name on the ballot, instead of getting signatures.

Cruz isn’t a traditional Republican either. He’s one of the vanguards of the Tea Party movement, and if it wasn’t for Donald Trump’s popularity, it’s unlikely that anyone in the larger GOP would back him.

Democrats have their own problems.  On one hand they have Hillary Clinton, whose work history checks just about every box on the “ideal candidate” card. In a normal election cycle, she’d be the uncontested nominee.  But this isn’t a normal year. She’s facing off against Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t check off those boxes.  Why? Because people are fed up with voting for the lesser of two evils.

 

False Equivalence

For years, Republican voters voted for Republican leaders because they were told that the Democrats would come and steal their freedoms. But then Republicans voted for the Patriot act, Republicans started dictating what was or was not acceptable behavior in your own home, and it seems that every few months someone new from the party is caught in a corruption scandal.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats voted for Democratic leaders because they were told that the Republicans were going to plunge us into the dark ages, or create a police state.  Then Democrats saw their wages stay the same, or fall even as companies reported record profits.  They saw our military and surveillance network grow under a Democratic president, and an ever horrific drone war come into being.

As Americans, we watched our government get shut down because a group of senators decided to throw a temper tantrum about the budget. We find ourselves with an incomplete supreme court for basically the same reason.  I watched the State of the Union this year and saw people refuse to applaud when the President said he wanted America to be the country that cured cancer, just because he wasn’t a member of their party. I’ve seen Democrat officials do the same when a Republican makes a good point.  

Is it really any wonder that people are angry? We’re told to vote for the lesser of two evils, election cycle after election cycle, and a growing number of voters don’t see the point anymore. They see the things they were told would happen if the other party come into being at the hands of their own party. 

As a country, we’re not ok. What’s happening in our election cycle is a symptom of this, it’s not the cause.  People are going to the polls, and they’re angry.  Some really believe in what Trump, Cruz, or Sanders are saying, but a growing number are casting their votes for the outside because they no longer see their party as the lesser of two evils, they see only as evil.

 

Path Dependence And Revolution

I don’t know what’s going to happen at the primary conventions, or what will happen in the future. I don’t have any easy answers for how to fix this. There’s a very real possibility of riots, which is why Cleveland invested nearly $20 million in riot gear for the GOP convention.

What I do know is that “the way things are always done” won’t work anymore. The national parties are using every tool they can to try and bring the election under control, and these tools help show just how un-democratic our primary system really is.

Path dependence describes how our past choices influence the choices we take today. The parties created this mess by doing on the minimum amount they needed to stay in power. We created this mess by voting against someone instead of voting FOR someone.

This election, look at who you’re voting for. Find the person you want to have as President, not just the person you think has the best chance of beating whoever you don’t want.  There’s a lot of people who genuinely support the major candidates.

But we need to have a conversation, and it’s not going to be a comfortable one. Our election system is broken, and it’s going to take some serious change to fix it. Most importantly, it’s going to take people who disagree on some pretty major issues working together to find a solution that works. It’s going to take getting more people to vote, and we’re all going to make mistakes. But we won’t find a way out of this mess without some stumbling.

It’s time to make is so we don’t feel forced to pick the lesser of two evils. We need Revolution. Not in the Boston Tea Party sense, but a revolution of thinking. That’s my goal for November, and the difficult years to follow.

The Dangers Of Dismissal

It’s easy to make jokes about Donald Trump. He’s a caricature, spouting the toxic opinions expect to find buried in YouTube, spoken by a man who seems like he escaped from a bad 80’s Wall Street Sitcom.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not a joke; he’s currently one of the strongest voices in the Republican primary. In fact, if he has his way, Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States.

We don’t really like thinking about that. Well, unless you like Trump. I’m sure that Donald Trump’s supporters think about him becoming president a lot, just as I think about what my preferred candidate would do if they won the Whitehouse. But Trump? It’s so tempting to write him off as a joke, someone to tolerate until he fades back into obscurity. After all, it’s not as if anyone takes him seriously, right?

But, people are taking him seriously, and it’s not just nameless commentators online. He fills stadiums with supporters, including fellow alumni from my university and other evangelical schools. People rally around him, even as he says things that, if someone else were to say them, would be unacceptable.

Donald Trump supporters aren’t foreign to me, they’re not unrecognizable. They’re faces I saw every day at school, people I spoke to, worked, and studied with.

Donald Trump isn’t terrifying for what he says, he’s terrifying because he has so much support.

 

Outliers Are The Exception That Make The Rule

I went to Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU), a conservative Christian university in the Midwest. Our student handbook outlined what the college defined as “acceptable” behavior. We had to agree to avoid pre-marital sex and smoking on campus, but we also had to agree to not dance, or drink, at all, while we attended the school. This included holidays, summer break, and weddings. We had a strict dress code, and we couldn’t watch an R rated movie unless it was on the “approved” list.

I don’t mention this to discuss how crazy some of my schooling was. To borrow a phrase from my girlfriend, I did live the movie Footloose. Instead, I mention the crazy rules I agreed to highlight the fact that I went to a very conservative school, one where most of the campus identified as conservative, and the largest organization at my school was the College GOP.

But even in the heart of the Midwest, at one of the most conservative Christian schools in the country, you had outliers. I was one of them, as a founding member of our campus libertarian party, as well as a few brave students who tried forming a college democrat’s party. But outliers can come from within a party as well, and at IWU, that outlier was “Pete.”

 

Pockets Full of Walnuts

Pete isn’t his real name. I lost touch with him soon after graduation, and I don’t know how much he changed, or didn’t change since then. Calling him out for something he wrote more than a decade ago won’t really accomplish anything, and I think that our culture is a little too addicted to the “gotcha” of public shaming as it is, and I’ll try to avoid contributing to it whenever possible. If you went to IWU from 2003-2008 you know whom I’m talking about, for everyone else, he’s Pete.

I first learned about Pete when he wrote a letter to the editor about a recent change to our chapel dress code on campus. Like many conservative Christian schools, we had mandatory chapel three times a week. Our school had a campus-wide dress code, but for chapel, they expected students to dress with a higher standard in mind. In 2006, they updated their dress code to allow men to wear shorts.

Pete didn’t like this change, and he felt that the old requirement of khaki or dress slacks was more than appropriate, so he wrote a letter to the editor. Unfortunately, my school’s campus archive won’t go back far enough for me to quote him exactly, but in this initial letter Pete asked why men would want to wear cargo short, insisting that the only reason he could think of was that we wished to keep walnuts shoved in the pockets.

It was outlandish, ridiculous, and well received. Most students didn’t agree with his opinion, but they found the letter amusing and for the better part of a week, you couldn’t grab a drink at the campus coffee shop without someone making a joke about having walnuts in their pockets. A large number of students, myself included, thought that maybe Pete wrote the letter as a piece of Satire, because no one really thought that way, right?

Pete did.

In the weeks that followed, Pete wrote a series of articles commenting on what he saw as a troubling trend of liberalism on campus, from changes to student policy to the formation of campus Democrats and Libertarians. In one letter, he called out the campus “Acting On Aids” group as encouraging sinful behavior.

Pete didn’t keep his opinions limited to paper. I remember in one of my classes where he stood up and asked the professor why the USA didn’t just “carpet bomb” the Middle East and be done with it, and I heard similar stories from other students who shared classes with him

When he spoke up in person, we didn’t really know how to respond. Professors would say whatever they could to get him to sit down, and we’d continue with the lesson. The idea of such an extreme ideology, even on our conservative campus, was one that people didn’t really know how to deal with, so we just tried to ignore it.

 

Evangelical Blinders

Ignoring what makes you uncomfortable is natural, particularly in an environment what most people have (or at the very least claim to have) a similar worldview. In Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian culture, there’s also a strong sense of “us vs them,” encouraging you to accept words and actions from someone that you’d find unacceptable if they didn’t share your faith.

When you’re that sort of insulated culture, you see the “world,” which is anyone not like you, as an oppressive, secular majority who wants to destroy your culture. You have this instinctual urge to protect those like you, your fellowship, at all costs, even if they’re doing something wrong. You’ll find justifications or ways to minimize an issue. After all, if you attack one of your own, you’re helping outsiders tear your community apart.

This isn’t something unique to evangelicals. Look at any community that has a clearly defined ideology, whether it’s religious, political, or cultural, and you’ll find something similar. It’s a tendency exploited by people within the community, allowing them to continue saying something, or doing something, far longer than they should have. It’s easy to point out the sins of outsiders. It’s harder if it’s someone you consider family.

On paper, things were a little easier. Students wrote into the campus journal, questioning his apparent unwillingness to consider different viewpoints. A growing number of my peers found his letters troubling, but we still laughed about having pockets full of walnuts.

Pete didn’t find our critiques amusing.

 

The Reckoning

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This is a photograph of one of Pete’s last letters in our school newspaper. I have a copy of it because I was so surprised when I read it that I took a picture of it so I could send it to my friends who weren’t on campus.

No one was laughing anymore. The president of the College Libertarians responded with his own letter, challenging Pete to a live debate. Pete accepted and the debate drew one of the largest crowds of any event hosted by the student government organization.

Pete’s rhetoric didn’t stand up in the debate. He had his talking points, but when someone responded to them, challenged them face to face, he didn’t know how to respond. He was a broken record of bluster.

After his performance in the debate, either he stopped writing letters to the editor or they stopped publishing them. Pete stopped being a topic of daily conversation, deflating until his positions became a punchline, and we just referred to him as the “walnut” guy.

 

A Broken Record Of Bluster

After watching Donald Trump in the first presidential debate, and hearing the things he says on stage get increasingly extreme, I thought about Pete for the first time in a few years.

I dug through my photos until I found that old clipping and the similarity in the anger resonated with me. I searched for Pete and found that he’s a lawyer now, but before he passed the bar, my Alma Mater hired him as a political science adjunct professor.

My school had someone who advocated nuking the Middle East teaching political science. I don’t know if he still held those views. Maybe his opinions changed. I know mine have. Nevertheless, there are thousands, if not millions of people who would still nod their head in agreement to the arguments he made in “The Reckoning.”

That’s why I can’t make fun of Trump. Because, at the end of the day, the things he says really don’t matter. He can be as racist, sexist, and xenophobic as he wants to be. The true danger of Trump is that he found an audience.

He routinely fills stadiums, where he can blithely joke about shooting a man in the middle of Manhattan, or use “pussy” to insult one of his rivals. He can imply that a female reporter who’s critical of him is just a “bimbo,” and his loudest response is one of laughter.

People who disagree with him, me included, wrote him off as a clown. We thought that there was no way he could find an audience, and that he would soon fade back to the world of Reality TV.

Now it’s 2016, and Trump isn’t going away, his support is growing. On Facebook, I saw some of the same names that initially supported Pete talking positively about Trump, trying to justify his crazier statements. I see my friends who made jokes about walnuts sharing memes of Trump and laughing about how “ridiculous” he is.

As American’s, we see our fellow citizens saying horrible things about others, things we know we’d never accept if someone said them about us. This is our reckoning. Will we take care of this issue on our own, getting our own house in order? Or, will our cultural blinders help Trump’s hatred fester until our community becomes one that no one should be proud of?

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