Even before I was old enough to vote, I thought I was a Republican. It was part of my upbringing. It was my family, it was me, and I thought I was Republican because that party stood for what was right. Everyone around me was Republican and we all recoiled in horror, but not disbelief, when Bill Clinton’s affair moved past accusation into scientific fact. He, and the excusing of infidelity and immorality that he stood for, was what I stood against. Because that was what I thought a Republican was. And then I moved to Georgia.
In Georgia being a Republican meant you wanted the confederate battle flag to be incorporated on the state flag. That was not me. I didn’t want anything to do with that. But there was more to being a Republican than a flag, like spousal fidelity and financial accountability. I was for those things. But the other republicans made it obvious that they weren’t “for” me. Because I am Mormon. We, the other Republicans and I, were aligned politically, except for that flag, but they made it obvious at every turn that I was not only different, but bad. I was going to Hell. I was in a cult. I could not go to their Christian school; I could not be in their club, because Mormonism is bad.
I didn’t take it that hard. I understood. Growing up in Utah I had witnessed non-Mormon Christian kids being told they were bad. They weren’t welcome in homes and in clubs. They were Gentiles. Now it was my turn. I never thought it was right, not as a kid and not when I lived in Georgia, but that had nothing to do with being Republican. It was just an unfortunate overlap. But that flag thing, and everything it stood for, was enough to cause me not to register in the party of my birth. I still voted for W of course, I just wasn’t registered in a party. Then I moved to Philly.
Everyone I worked with in Philly was a Republican. It was a corporate job and we pushed a lot of money around. We were hard working, responsible, and deserved the associated rewards. Everyone else thought part of the rewards they deserved included strip clubs and debauchery. Not me. They were mostly married. It didn’t matter. It was just grown up fun and had nothing to do with politics. Democrats were the devil because they wanted to steal our wages, extort us with unions, and get fat on hand outs funded from our pockets. “Screw the religious right” they would say. “Stay out of my bedroom and my pocket,” they would say. “Besides, priests are messing with little boys and deserve to be fried. Democrats don’t believe in frying people and if anyone deserves it, it’s those priests.”
In Philadelphia I also got to know hard working poor people. They lived in violent neighborhoods with bad schools and toiled for every penny they got. Just pennies. Now not everyone worked hard, some had given up. Some were dragging themselves from hovel to handout, hating every minute of it, but seeing no alternative. They bought chips and candy with their EBT card, and paid their rent under the table in apartments where the plumbing didn’t work. It was hard for me to figure out. I never really did, but I learned to call a lot of these people my friends. My coworkers just called them lazy people looking for hand outs.
One day I was waiting to present a new product to one of my larger accounts. It was a family owned company in Southern New Jersey and they took pride in their history. Dad built the company up from the ground, Mom kept the books, and the two boys were running the day to day preparing themselves to take the wheel. It was election season and everyone was complaining about what the Democrats were doing to their property taxes. It was a solidly Republican room and I was waiting my turn. When the big boss, Dad, showed up, he got things under way, “Alright guys get it together. Watch your language because we have our Mormon boy rep here to go over a new product.” Everyone laughed. No problem. I have been to enough happy hours, drunk enough Shirley Temples with these guys to be used to the ribbing. Then there was that one guy. “Oh yeah, the Mormon guy. I know all about Mormons. I see them all the time in their white shirts on bikes. Supposed to be religious but all they do is cruise around North Philly screwin’ black chicks. That’s where you live right?”
I was a caught off guard. Not by his comment exactly, I was used to both crassness and ribbing, but I was more surprised by the complete lack of reaction in the room. The Dad, the Mom, the whole business, no one batted an eye, corrected the guy, nothing. This man had just made a comment designed to mock a specific set of ideals and beliefs that I hold sacred and central to who I am. It was no big deal. No one cared because there was business to attend to and everyone just looked at me, waiting for me to present this great new money making opportunity. These were the Republicans.
I eventually left that job and found myself enrolled in a university program where liberalism was baked into everything. If there were any Republicans there, they were hiding. Conversely, homosexuality and socialists were welcomed; in a way that would make my Republican roots shudder. I was happy to be in such an environment but I was unsure if I would be welcomed the same way. I stood up the first day of orientation, in front of my classmates and all the professors, and announced my Mormonism. No one cared. Well, not no one, there was this one professor, but they, the rest of them, did invite me out for drinks. Upon realizing their faux-pa, they insisted I still come to the bar. It wasn’t a strip club kind of bar- because they thought those were bad. Ya know, because those places exploit women, promote debauchery and all that.
I am not a Democrat. There are things in the platform I just won’t sign my name to. But since I left home, as I’ve grown, as I’ve lived, I have learned that the Democratic Party is not what I was taught it was- there is so much good there. I have learned that the Republican Party is not what I was taught it was- there is something dark and rotten. It does not stand for what I was taught it stands for and it has given a home to something to which I thought we were opposed. And so I am left politically adrift. I do not hate Republicans just like I don’t hate poor people. I do not demonize Democrats just like I don’t demonize Christianity. I am in the middle not because I lack convictions or ideology, but rather because I feel I am bound by them.
I will not give home and shelter to racism. I am devout in my religious convictions. And I stand in the middle and am surprised at the manner in which I find myself isolated. I am surprised because there are plenty of us in the middle, but most of us have gotten here mostly by a disgust at our own. We, or sort of they, are disgruntled with our one party or the other, yet still view the other party, the one opposed to the one from which they originated, as demonic. We have lost the Pollyannaish view of “our own” while also holding fast to what we assume the “others” are. And we have to assume because we venture into the middle but never look honestly all the way over into the other side.
So now I don’t know what I am and it frustrates me. It frustrates me because I have no desire to withdraw into seclusion or inaction. I have a compulsion to participate in public life, be part of society, to do good and make things better, but where is my vehicle? Where is the apparatus for me or anyone like me? I cannot go back to my roots- that party is too deep into something I abhor. I cannot be a Democrat- there is a non-negotiable technicality.
So where now? Am I alone?