The Break is Over: Re-Engaging with Politics

November 8th, 2016 was a tough night. 

Before I left for the election night party with the Democratic Party of Oregon, my dad was watching MSNBC. He said he was worried. Apparently, the Florida numbers didn't look good. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was not concerned at all. Conventional wisdom said that the electoral college was so stacked in Hillary Clinton's favor that we could afford to lose Florida and a handful of other swing state. Trump needed almost all of them. No way it was going to happen.

So I hopped in my car, turned on NPR, and listened as I drove to the Oregon Convention Center. I must have known that it was going to be a long night, or that I wouldn't want to be socializing, because I brought my laptop. After saying hi to a few friends, I went to the very back of the ballroom, sat up against the wall, pulled out my laptop, and started to read as much data and reporting as I good. Every few minutes, someone would wander back. "How's it looking?" they would ask. Almost everyone felt good when the night began, but slowly nervousness crept into people's voices. Then desperation.

My answer pretty quickly became, "It's not looking good." 

As the ballroom emptied out, and the prognosis became insurmountably bad, the tears started to fall. First, alone. Then, on the phone with a friend in the belly of the beast in DC. Then, with the remaining party-goers.

Before I left the convention center, as soon as the tears dried, I could feel myself withdrawing from politics. I was devastated. I didn't want to believe that it was possible for a man like Donald Trump to become president in the greatest country on Earth. My heroes, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, are American Exceptionalists. So am I. But it was tough to reconcile that belief with what we, the United States of America, had done that night. 

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school was when I was in third grade, in Mrs. Barbara Fankel's class at Tualatin Elementary. We had a mock election in class, where every student got a vote, and one by one, Mrs. Fankel would tally the votes on the overhead projector. The first time I ever whipped votes was in third grade for Vice President Al Gore, and we won that election. Over the next few years, I stayed involved in student council, and executive board, and student government, and ASB -- the names changed but the idea was the same. Representative government. Politics, A way to make things better. 

The first time I started moving in the other direction -- withdrawing, rather than diving in deeper -- was November 8, 2016. About a year ago. Watching the 2016 election, with all the outrages, the constant destruction of norms, and the unbelievable dumbing down of complex policy, was exhausting. Losing was devastating.

I needed a break. But now, the break is over.

This week, The Economist's cover story was called "Endangered: America's Future as a Global Power." It was a devastating indictment of Donald Trump's incoherent foreign policy and America's shrinking leadership in the world. The final sentence hit me hard. "For all its flaws, America has long been the greatest force for good in the world, upholding the liberal order and offering an example of how democracy works. All that is imperiled by a president who believes that strong nations look out only for themselves. By putting 'America First,' he makes it weaker, and the world worse off." It was a similar thesis to my essay from last week, Donald Trump vs. Harry Truman

I have been thinking about this a lot this week. It's why getting into Tom Ehrlich's course next term "Democracy in Crisis" elicited a personal celebration. It's why, in two weeks, I'm flying back home for a few short hours just so I can catch a glimpse of my hero, Joe Biden, and hear him speak about his new book. Sometimes it feels strange to be so immersed in education policy at Stanford while American politics is in crisis. While I continue my studies over the next two terms, I'm going to be intentional about staying connected to what's happening, reading, and writing.

After all, education policy isn't worth much without a functioning republic.