Teresa, Me, & Beth, giving speeches on “What’s Right with America,” “We Must Strive for Improvement,” & “The Future is in Our Hands”
A teenager on the verge of being old enough for a driver’s license, I was convinced the world was a mess. The country was involved in a war we didn’t believe in, led by a president we had no faith in. My friends and I couldn’t wait to be old enough to vote—to change the world.
On the eve of a presidential election where the incumbent was re-elected, I was also convinced that our parents’ approach to politics was the real problem. My own father voted a straight ticket for his party. My mother gave my father a second vote in every election, voting as he told her to vote.
I was disgusted and indignant, but I feared my father too much to challenge him. And when, out of his hearing, my sister and I asked Mom why she didn’t just go into the voting booth and vote as she wanted, she said she could never “cancel out” our father’s vote.
That year, though, was the point at which Mom started to question. Disillusioned with politicians and feeling helpless to evoke change, she walked out the door to the polls with a sigh of resignation. “What’s the use of voting one dirty bunch out and another dirty bunch in?” she asked my father.
Scornful, I rolled my eyes in exasperation. I had just finished an American History class that had awakened me politically. Our teacher, in what I now know was unusual for a social studies class, required us to read four novels: Shute’s On the Beach, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World.
Over the years, I’ve taught all these books in my English classes. A collection with a more dismal view of humanity would be hard to assemble. But my classmates and I refused to accept that our world was so broken, that the human heart was so capable of evil. That was simply fiction.
Little has changed in 40 years, though, and as I listen to the current political debate, I’m reminded that history does, indeed, repeat itself. I suspect that we could take videos from that era and alter the heads on the bodies and hear much the same political dialogue.
And I’m hearing young people voice much the same repulsion for government that my peers and I expressed when we were in high school.
What I’m not hearing is that they believe they can change the world. Instead, I hear many young people lament the brokenness in Washington much as my mother did.
How do we keep history from repeating itself? How do we avoid sinking into a quagmire from which there is no escape? How do we keep life from imitating the tragic fiction of a dark human heart?
The polls tell us that a staggering 90% of us are disgusted with Congress. But the problem is that most of us narrowly approve of our own representatives in Congress, usually in the 50-55% range, so we keep electing representatives who guarantee that the gridlock will continue.
What is the answer? Given a choice of two extremes, we naturally vote with the candidate whose views are closest to our own. And we have almost no moderates in Congress.
A friend of mine tells me that I should vote for a candidate from one of the other parties, but I find that I can’t take their quirky views seriously. And so, like most of us, I continue to vote for the candidate on the extreme that is least scary to me.
But what if all of us, in our party’s primary, decided to look for the candidate who most seems to advocate moderate views and a willingness to compromise for the common good?
I’m no longer disgusted with my parents’ approach to politics. I’ve chosen the opposite party from my father. And I refuse to give up in resignation as my mother did for a time after my father died. But in my gut I understand them both now as I could not when I was a teenager.
I still want to believe we voters can change the world. Because the alternative is to believe that Shute and Golding and Orwell and Huxley were right about the darkness of the human heart.
And, to me, that is a human story that is too terrible to contemplate.
So, come now, let’s find a way to weave a story where truth trumps fiction.