Coming Out of the (Political) Closet

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“My Vote is My Secret.” In our American political election year with so much of the world watching our circus, I have been intrigued watching the 2016 South Africa municipal elections.

Unrest and dissatisfaction with the current ruling ANC government caused speculation that there might be violence at the polls.  Advertisements appeared for “My Vote is My Secret,” creating an atmosphere in which people felt encouraged to stay silent and vote their heart, without fear of reprisal from neighbors or a political party they might be leaving behind. Some prominent figures countered with “My Vote is No Secret” but a basic understanding of language and psychology (or rather the psychology of language) would tell you that when you end with the word “secret” all a person still hears is “secret.”

I’m not a political analyst, and I don’t have to be to have my opinions, or to comment on the way I see America and the disintegration of our current political parties. I’m just one more armchair citizen, working through my choice to vote in what feels like the most frightening election of my voting lifetime.

I see similarities between disgruntled South Africans and disgruntled Americans. They aren’t really anything more than a sketch, but it’s interesting, nonetheless. Most particularly, it could be said that the outright, scathing hatred I hear for South Africa’s current President, Jacob Zuma, from members of his own ANC party, are similar to the growing rift in the Republican party of the United States, over the potential presidency of Donald Trump.

Though Zuma is already in power, and Trump rising in power, I think it’s interesting to note that the grumblings that began earlier in Zuma’s presidency have, now in 2016, shaken the powerful ANC party to the point that they lost many voters to smaller parties. In fact, this year’s potentially “game-changing” vote brought even marginal parties to the foreground, and those have been forming alliances to out-vote the ANC in government matters.

Contrary to so many pessimists prior to the election, there was no widespread violence at the power shift. South Africa stayed stable, smaller parties gained more power, and that stability has had a direct, positive impact on the value of their currency. I can only hope that both leaders and citizens recognize the 2016 elections as an impetus to work more toward improving the lives of constituents than fighting against each other, further hindering progress.

Society Culture SA flags at Mandela funeral

Why am I wasting so much time telling you about South Africa’s election instead of just coming out of my political closet already? I suppose a little bit because of those parallels, because of that “secret” campaign, because only 20+ years in and it seems like both of their major parties, ANC and DA, suffer from the very familiar problems of corruption, racism, and elitism.

Because I align with a smaller political party, I felt excited for the wins of the smallest parties here. Our own elections feel like they could be a similar, electrically charged change to shake up American politics. It doesn’t have to be only “The Donald” or “The Hillary.” There are other candidates, and I don’t believe in the term “throwing away a vote” for voting my conscience.

America is supposed to be about freedom and differences, a country of individuals as well as entities. We were the once great experiment in democracy. It’s engaging to watch South Africa in its own early struggle in a new democracy, corruptible but incredibly hopeful, with one of the best constitutions ever written and the potential (wildlife, scenic and cultural tourism; artists; mineral wealth) to be one of the most influential countries in the world. They are currently in the flush of being seduced (some say bribed) by China and Russia, but I believe in the strength of this African nation to realize they’re better than a slick short-term deal with any country (including mine) when the potential for South Africa’s greatness seems to lie in her ability to hold out, to plan for stronger global agreements, and plan for long-term growth.

Again, my own analysis is as a reader, a traveler, a citizen, an admirer of people above politics…everywhere.

In America it feels like we have really been cocking up our own great democratic experiment, but I believe we’ll get through our divisiveness and find a new rhythm, as we expand into more diverse demographics than we’ve ever known (hopefully before the tail wags the dog again.)

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Americana Jeff

Americana

So, out of the closet, and into the frying pan…

I’m a Moderate. I have some issues in which I align more conservatively, others in which I align more liberally. I believe in full and equal rights of minorities, women, and LGBQT. I believe in immigration and a nation with full religious and secular diversity. I worry more about people not washing their hands, and creepy straight men lurking near bathrooms to take out their homophobic violence than I do about whomever is in the bathroom with me. I believe in my right to own guns of my choosing (yes I shoot automatic weapons.) I believe in smaller government in most instances, but not all, and that government healthcare won’t work well in America. But I also believe that our private healthcare has become poisoned by the politics and greed of big-pharm and insurance. I’m a fiscal conservative who believes that hugging a tree is equally as important as hugging a logger. There is so much more to my list, but these things seem to keep coming up in conversations about American politics, so I’m mentioning them in this post.

It’s funny how often I’m asked here about American elections. When I explain I’m not voting for either of the main candidates, people are often eager to know why.

The short answer is that I do not trust either major candidate to lead the country with the true best interest of its people and its global place in mind. As a country we act as both an elitist and a bully, leading the world not by healthy example, but by short-sighted force and blind arrogance. But there is much more depth and breadth in our citizenry than portrayed in the media, and much more than what even our own politicians believe we have. I don’t trust the arrogance or bullying nature of either major candidate. I won’t pretend I didn’t like Obama for his more moderate views, despite not agreeing with some of the more liberal policies he hoped to implement. But I did, and do, respect his character and his intent, and genuine care for the people in our country. I do not have that same respect for either Clinton or Trump.

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Why not Hillary?

I believe she is an elitist academic with a white savior complex. Elitists tend to think academic studies and anthropological views on society enable them to know and understand what’s best. This perspective is not only patronizing, but ineffective at developing a full depth of understanding of the issues and needs of the average American citizen.

While I know many Hillary supporters who are academics and well balanced, compassionate individuals, still plugged in to real America, within the Cult of Hillary I also run into many elitist academics who are completely ignorant about the life of “ordinary” American citizens, and therefore misjudge and critique the opinions of those ordinary Americans as coming from a place of ignorance. There seems to be an indirect correlation between increased education and time spent in academia, with decreased understanding of the needs, desires, and perspective of non-academic citizens (i.e. the majority of America).

I sometimes wonder if education then follows its own law of diminishing returns: the higher the academic level of study and longer immersion time in rhetoric among other elitist academics, the less ability to disconnect from, assess and criticize other elitist academics in an unbiased manner. And more importantly, the less the ability to connect with the majority of American reality; and subsequently, the less ability to lead that majority successfully. Elitist academia becomes its own cult, and those on the outside, less credentialed are not welcome.

The growing resentment and anger of non- and lower-academic Americans are seen as bi-products of lower education, religious fervor, ignorance, or brainwashing. There is no recognition that politics, money, corruption, and circle-jerks within science and academic institutions have created a mistrust of science and academia. “Anti-science” is dismissed as coming from a place of religion, or a loud minority of conspiracy-theorists. But the distrust of the scientific and academic establishment (all too often grouped under the same “anti-science” umbrella) has developed in both religious and non-religious alike (my Atheist self included) as a reaction to corruption and manipulation within medical and scientific institutions.  Bottom line is that the distrust isn’t unwarranted, and there seems little or no inclination on the part of the scientific community to build better checks and balances, hold themselves and their peers to greater accountability for flawed or corrupted ownership of research, or to bridge that gap with the general public.

But back to Hillary, not the “Cult of Hillary.” I do think she has a lot of respect globally, at least from what I hear from average citizens I meet running around out here, so I don’t think her foreign policy is as dramatically dangerous as the opposition likes to play it.

I used to love and admire the strength of Hillary when she was the wife of the President. I wanted so much for her to be the future leader of our country. But her abuse of Monica Lewinsky was nasty, ugly, and brutal. It showed weakness and instability in her character. Is it more cowardice or strength to stand by a husband than to stand up to one? Is it more strength or cowardice to take a young woman’s mistake and brand her a whore for life?

Although she has a good voting record on the rights of women, she had the opportunity to show how she might use her power over a single woman, and I just can’t come to terms with her evisceration of Monica Lewinsky. Maybe “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” but that fury should have fallen on her cheating husband, equally or more so. He had the power. Some would argue he was the most powerful man in the world at the time. Monica Lewinsky was an intern. Was she culpable in the affair? Of course. But in any workplace situation, a CEO dicking around with an intern is clearly the worse of the two. This was still a sexual workplace situation, but when we swap a CEO for the Commander in Chief of the United States, then apparently our lowly intern suddenly has a magic vagina (perhaps the now-infamous dress she was wearing was akin to an African kanga and he couldn’t help himself?).

In the case of former President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, it wasn’t rape, but it was far from a relationship between equals, and the most powerful woman in America at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was supposed to be leading the charge for women, reacted to the scenario, played out in the most prominent workplace in the country, by painting a scarlet letter on the intern.

Monica Lewinsky became a household joke. Bill kept his job, his wife, and his status in politics and world leadership. Hillary allowed the double-standard of “woman as whore”/”man as fallible” to undermine her own credibility as someone who stands by and for her own gender.

Let me be clear so you know where I’m coming from. I am the child of a man who cheated on his wife, left her for a woman I could only describe for years in ugly, vicious names. My childhood, which I always describe as half hillbilly/half academic, had a violent streak inside wishing I could have punched and kicked my dad’s mistress until her face was unrecognizable. I hated her. It was, after all, her fault. For me, my father had simply made a mistake. That woman was the problem, because we all know there are “some women” who are just marriage-wrecking whores.

These are the thoughts, and the words, I had as a child. I was not yet an adult who understands the complexity of relationships, of sexual power and of mistakes people make. It took years to learn the truly hard type of forgiveness when the wrong done to you is public, and humiliating, and strikes at the core of your identity. But it is learnable, even for a hillbilly academic from rural western Pennsylvania.

And then we hopefully grow into women who know that as women, we have a lot more depth of understanding than to label each other whores. Don’t we? Shouldn’t we?

Maybe, in the end, I am the petty one, but I can live with that. Hillary destroys Monica, forgives Bill, and the nation tucks it away as a woman scorned, and it’s no longer supposed to count in the overall track record of pro-woman Hillary. But I believe it goes beyond the personal. I believe it’s still valid, still relevant, and speaks to the emotional maturity and stability of a potential leader among the nations of the free world.

Hillary didn’t need to embrace Monica, but she also did not need to (but went out of her way to) use her political resources and influence to discredit, shame, and ruin the career of someone who made the same mistake as her fallible, forgivable, husband. Clinton has had years to do something to make right the abuse she laid on that young woman, to give back some respect to a career ruined. I’m guessing she never will. Why not Hillary?  A woman who still believes in double standards is not woman enough to lead me.

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Why not Donald?

Because his ego could be the end of the freedom and diversity that has made America a country to admire. Because he divides more than he unites. It is his bread and butter to be nasty, and scornful, and to mask every racist, sexist, and anti-Muslim remark as “the truth.”

Do I think there’s media bias against him? Of course. I don’t think we have one truly unbiased newspaper in America. There is also plenty of media bias for him. But it is unnervingly dictatorial to want media censorship, to want to pick and choose how he is portrayed.

He terrifies me. When he was first running, I thought his grand-standing and attention-grabbing was temporary, and he would fill out his run with more tempered, well-researched arguments about the policies he wants to adopt for America. “Make America Great Again” sounds wonderful, but like the rest of his speeches, it’s always rhetoric and fear mongering.

While I know many people I care for who like Donald Trump, and who make themselves complicit in his racism and hatred by laughing it off or downplaying it, those people don’t worry me as much as his following among serious, violent, hate groups. He is giving confidence and power to some of the ugliest and most irrational people in America, and they are not the America that makes us strong, or  whole, or healthy.

Donald Trump makes me think of Henry the 8th and his bear-baiting rings in centuries-old Britain. And his most rabid, salivating fans are eager to circle the ring, cheering and waiting to see who gets thrown in next. Maybe he throws in some Chihuahuas with the Pitbulls for good measure. The crowd roars in anticipation.

He doesn’t care if the bear kills the dogs, or the dogs kill the bear, or even if the bear and the dogs kill some of the spectators (as long as there are enough remaining to cheer). It only matters that the fans are distracted and blind with bloodlust. And Henry the 8th Trump allows the sensational over the sensible. I don’t think any person who encourages so much hatred among his followers can lead our country anywhere but to war. Make America Great Again? How about Make America HATE Again.

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The Donald? The Hillary? No thanks.

America is the new Rome. Donald is a brutal emperor, running his gladiator games for a crazed fandom, holding strong to his egoistic belief in nothing but the glory of “old Rome” and the superiority of his empire. Hillary is an arrogant senator, saccharine smile belying an egoistic belief in her own savior complex, without ever actually being in touch with the working class except for some sprinkled rhetoric about an idealized citizenry to which she can’t actually relate.

Neither candidate is truly of, by, or for the people, and I really hope the “people” figure that out before November.

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So…now that I have probably offended the staunch supporters of The Hillary and The Donald, and annoyed a number of friends and family, where then do I stand?

Well, I stand for what I believe is honestly in the best interest of my country, my small patch of land, my family, and friends. I stand for what I believe in, and no political party has yet to meet those standards. But I still have to choose. Domestically, the current party I align most closely with are Libertarians, and I plan to vote for Gary Johnson in the election.

Shocked? Believe me, it surprised me too, as I have spent a lot of years fighting with the idea that I only know a few Libertarians who I really like, and know a lot I can’t stand. But even the ones I can’t stand are often strong in their opinion of “live and let live” despite their differences in belief or academic background.

For me, the defining principle that makes me more aligned with the Libertarian party is this one: “We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

Many friends think I’m in the Green party, and I actually do have a lot of respect for Jill Stein, and most people know my strong environmental leanings, but I believe Greenies don’t usually see the forest for the trees they’re hugging (though I do hug me a lot of trees!) I don’t believe the world can operate healthfully in most absolutes, and particularly not in a blind allegiance to one interest above all else.

Of course there are crazy Libertarians (and a bunch of jerks who are why I often hesitate to admit my vote this year), but there are plenty of crazy people and jerks in every single party in our country. But this election year, for me, Gary Johnson has the most personal integrity and interests for the country that align with my own ideal version of domestic America (though the party does not align with my foreign policy ideals).  But don’t paint me as a diehard Libertarian. A similar alignment is still far from my own ideal political party. A true Moderate Party has yet to be formed.  And can we please take back the term Moderate, which has for too long been paired with “flip-flop” and “wishy-washy” instead of its more appropriate pairing: balanced and open-minded.

What’s really funny is that I know so many people who feel the same way, but who are so jaded by our broken politics that they don’t believe anything different could happen. They believe a vote for a third party is a throw-away vote, and so they keep on voting for one of two major political parties running the broken system, thinking anything could possibly ever change.

I personally think it’s time for splitting apart the two-headed monster of Republicans and Democrats. They’ve both grown too big to work effectively, and they clash too much to be productive. I don’t think either party has enough politicians who still know what “greater good” even means, or who think their constituents are much more than talking monkeys whose sole contribution comes in either a big wallet, or in being a publicity stunt.

Republicans and Democrats no longer work for the interest of the average American or the country. Too much play with lobbyists, and too much time in power have made both our once-great parties nothing but rhetorical garbage factions: playing alternatively to the academic elite— dangling non-productive feel-good idealism in front of our smugly closed eyes; or to the worn and beaten working class too tired and hungry to realize the machine is not actually feeding us, but simply energizing us with fear, creating one false crisis after another.

It is difficult being a Moderate, especially when your friends see it as traitorous to their cause or leader. But when there is no current party working for the diverse mix of what I value, then I hope to vote for what I believe is currently the best direction for our country at this moment in time. Our two biggest political parties are rotting, gangrenous appendages of an unhealthy America. They cannot be healed. Cut them off, and save the country.

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My Vote is for Hope.

I hope Americans stop falling for the games our biggest politicians are playing. I hope everyone else is as sick of “The Democrats” and “The Republicans” as I am. I hope many Americans give this election the middle finger, and vote instead for a party or person we believe is going to do right by our country, not just “The Lesser of Two Evils.”

You and I are not the same. I don’t expect you to be aligned with my views, but I do hope you have the ovaries, or the balls, to have the courage of your conviction, no matter how unpopular it may make you among your peers. Keep your eyes wide open to party antics, media bias, and go with your gut—with someone who makes you personally feel true to what you value. And hey, if that’s still Hillary or Donald, so be it.

But if you’re sick of both of them, and sick of the party machines, consider reading up on third party candidates and selecting an alternative. For starters, here is this article from the International Business Times.

And don’t worry. This will be my only political post for the 2016 elections. I feel it’s my citizen duty to come clean, and now that I’m out of my political closet, I feel great!

In the meantime, I’ll bring back the love tomorrow with a short (non-political) post, an update on the book, and maybe a nice photograph of a big ol’ elephant I saw in Botswana.

Love, MarLa

P.S. For my South African readers…

First off, thank you. I’ve loved our three years in your country, and it’s exciting that I have more and more readers who are South African. I know there are a lot of tight-knit communities here, very selective of what you read, and it means a lot to me that you’re reading my work, especially the articles about my travels in country.

Some of you have sent me messages (and a few nastygrams, thanks for that) about my spelling, punctuation, and phrasing. Most of the messages refer to items which are actually correct, but are simply a difference of American English vs. South African English (for American readers, SA English is most akin to British English.)

The most common complaint is to tell me that “Traveling” should be “Travelling”. This is followed by requests that I please add “u” after my “o” in many words (e.g. favorite/favourite; color/colour). Again—spelling difference.

(I actually love the “u” after an “o” because my early years were spent reading many old books handed down through our family. Those were by British authors, in the original English spelling, and when I’m writing in my journal, I often include the “u”. But trust me, if I get used to using “flavour” or substituting an “s” for a “z” in a word, as in “organise” or “recognise,” that’s not going to go over well when I return home.)

Despite my B.A. in English, and M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I do occasionally muck up a thing or two, and my only editor for this website is me.

Let’s make a deal…I’ll not apologize for my American writing or occasional “real” error, and you don’t apologize for the adorable yet rampant butchery of “is” vs. “are” or the cloying overuse of “-kie” at the end of common words. 😉 In the interest of global politics, let’s survive our linguistic differences and fight the real battles, like our pot-stirring, out-of-touch politicians, hey?