Apathy and the D.C. Political Sausage Factory
Spending a summer in D.C. as an intern is like living in a political sausage factory for about two months. It’s hot, sweaty and not always pretty, but you bond with your fellow workers while drinking beer and riding through the muck that is politics.
Several things can happen after: You love it and embrace the political lifestyle completely; you fight against it by heading into different places for a career; or feel utterly indifferent to both sides of it and look for your success elsewhere, but keep seeing your history there pop up every four years.
I’m the third option, and it’s this election where I’m seeing my past come out in full force. In that summer back in 2005, I met Senator Bernie Sanders on an early June morning in the State of the Union room in the Capitol Building. I’ll never forget my friend Robert whispering in my ear, “How the hell did he get elected? He’s a freakin’ socialist!” Yet he was one that never changed his position: I saw him speak in Hollywood, and he was saying the exact same things as he was then.
That same summer, I had an incredibly libertarian economics professor named Thomas Rustici at Georgetown University. He was a 6’4 Sicilian with a thick Virginia accent that used to say regularly, after certain examples, “So you die. And that… would be a tragedy.” I used to amuse my classmates by impersonating him in the courtyard. But you never found a more passionate man about his subject, and a more loving person in protecting his students — myself included. This election cycle, this man became the senior economics advisor for Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign.
When it comes to my political beliefs, except for a few issues, I keep my views rather private (I honestly don’t even know who I’m voting for in the primary yet). Half of this is credited to a background in old-school unbiased journalism and the other half to a tyrant of an ex who, when I tried to defend my beliefs, would call me names and tell me how I lived in a little fantasy land. However, I’m okay with not being a big mouth in this way: It keeps me a mystery in the realm of political activity, and that’s just the way I like it. Anyone can come talk to me and not feel judged, and if there’s anything in my life that I hold onto as a creed, it’s that everyone feels safe and welcome with me.
Living the D.C. political sausage factory taught me a lot about the current state of government. Yes, there are politicians who love and care about this country. But they aren’t really revolutionaries; they are men and women, imperfect people who sometimes we lift up to be deities in the form of campaigns and dress up in our own desperations. I see the facades: The people who are poised at the backs of the politicians to play them up as the voice of the people, the snippy little soundbites for the cameras to use, the clickbait-style headlines and the talking heads who echo them on different media channels to hype them up. I don’t worship at that altar. Rather, I’ll cast my vote and try to do right by the people around me on a person-to-person level.
Yet I can’t pretend I’m not scared. I can’t fake the fact that I’m starting to look at options for other countries to move to if a certain candidate is elected (gee, I wonder who that could be…). When I suggest taking advantage of moving to Spain under the Sephardic heritage clause for citizenship or even heading north to Vancouver or Toronto, my mother looks at me with watery eyes and her oxygen tank pumping, saying, “How could I abandon my country in its hour of need?” Yet I look at her and wonder really, what this country has done for her, as a regular law-abiding citizen. When I look at my parents’ generation, who has been scrambling through economic hardship alongside their friends while the CEOs of companies who they pay their bills to live as fat cats, I get puzzled by the blind love.
It used to be that I would sit in school and be told to love America, say the pledge of allegiance and hear that this was the greatest country in the world, the land of opportunity. To not ask what my country could do for me, but what could I do for my country. Yet after all the years of being kicked around economically and seeing my government and talking heads pointing fingers rather than actually solving problems, I feel something worse than love and hatred for my country: utter apathy.
How can I even begin to care about America when I’m still trying to figure out how the hell am I going to survive on a day to day basis? How can I wave a flag when my mother’s healthcare is basically a game of how much money can be taken out of her retirement by drug companies, as she can’t live without for her treatments? And when it comes time for regulations to be put on those companies by the government as how much they can gouge us, there is simply a shrug from them. So I shrug back at the sausage factory, and all the electoral year games people play.
When Ben Carson abandoned his campaign and joined with the evil one, I hadn’t seen Professor Rustici that angry since I had been his student the night he caught some girls giggling at mention of the Holocaust in class. I will never forget his roars of anger, like a lion, and how they tore through the room. It was the same way he tore his former candidate down on Facebook, several times. How dare Ben Carson side with racism, sexism and intolerance in the hopes of a deal? How could he support someone who is against everything the constitution stands for?
No matter how many times I disagreed with this man on economics, I remember the night after that roar in class how he cried in pain with us, his students. How he turned to me and told me how he couldn’t imagine those girls giggling and the way it would hurt me, a Jewish girl. How, no matter what happened politically, I knew that he would support tolerance and freedom and protect his students. He would be a human being first, which gave me a level of respect I have for very few people. And he was still the same today as he was then.
Somewhere in me I see through the political fantasies, the excitable memes and the barb throwing. I do want what’s best for this country, but at the same time have learned that the catalysts for change come from many different places, not just from politics. Often, politics are the last to catch up to the changes that we experience together as human beings; in an election year, when there seems to be so much at stake, people forget that fact.
These changes build up from tiny places, starting in the micro level in our communities. They come from the people around us who we invite into our lives and get to know personally. It stems from discussions and communications with questions and answers, not insults and terror. It derives from our pop culture, showing acceptance and diverse stories on our television sets and in our music (film… well, we need to work on that). And it comes from mutual respect.
It’s that easy, and at the same time, that hard. And when I cast my vote in the primary, I’ll be remembering that.