When I was in kindergarten, my class simulated the 2004 presidential election. Before I left that morning for class, my mom showed me a picture of George Bush and told me to vote for him. When I asked why, her answer was simple. “Because he’s a Republican,” she said.
When you’re that young and impressionable, you don’t think twice about doing what your mother says. You’re six years old, and your mom is the smartest woman in the world and is right about everything, and you wouldn’t dare stray from her wishes.
So, I voted for George Bush. Or, at least, I tried to. The pictures of him and John Kerry were awfully grainy, and they looked a lot alike, so I may have circled the wrong man. Either way, my mom got her wish, and George Bush was elected as the 43rd President of the United States.
I spent the next decade of my life believing everything my parents told me about politics. I told people I was conservative; that I wanted Mitt Romney for president; and that Barack Obama was destroying the economy— and whether you believe that or not, I was only repeating what my parents said and had no factual basis for such a claim.
When I went to college, my parents warned me of the so-called “liberal indoctrination” I would experience on campus. While it is no secret that colleges and universities tend to be more left-leaning, I don’t think it was my school’s overall political views that changed my mind. In college, I met so many different people: people with more money than I could fathom; people who could hardly afford to purchase groceries for themselves; and people who sent money home to their families each week. I met people who were given a full body pat down every single time they went through airport security; people who had racist slurs used against them in the past; and people who were the victims of sexual assault. Many of these people, I discovered, were liberal.
After meeting all of these people, I was curious to learn more about politics. I was interested in learning how the “other side” — people with liberal ideologies — had developed their own stance on political issues. I began taking every political science course I was able to enroll in, from American politics to public policy to international relations. I loved the classes I took so much that I began majoring in political science. And along the way, I discovered that a lot of the liberal ideologies my professors lectured about were beliefs that I was drawn to. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, access to contraceptives and stricter gun control legislation — these were all principles I supported. My stance was shifting. I was experiencing “liberal indoctrination,” just like my parents had feared.
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Strangest of all, I found I still had many of the same views as my parents — they too are supporters of the LGBTQ+ community and are pro-choice — but we differ in our opinions on how government spending should be allocated and how best to keep the United States safe. I suppose that’s the beauty of politics, though — it’s not so black and white. It exists on a spectrum, teeters back-and-forth like a seesaw. It’s not always so easy to pin people to one side or the other. Even my parents, who are staunchly conservative and wouldn’t ever dream of supporting a liberal politician, have many beliefs that are moderately liberal. Still, I know I can never change their minds; I can never make them vote for a liberal politician no matter how hard I try. They’re too certain of their identities.
When I returned home from college, my parents told me I had been “indoctrinated into the liberal agenda,” as though I hadn’t done my own research and formed my own views; as though they hadn’t been attempting to indoctrinate me the first eighteen years of my life. I said nothing to them — I never told them I had done my research, that I understood them but I respectfully disagreed with them. I knew it didn’t matter, that they would never understand me. I find that a lot of people simply don’t try to put themselves in other people’s shoes, especially when it comes to political matters; they simply choose to believe what they believe and turn a blind eye to anything that doesn’t confirm their beliefs. I’m trying hard to be different. I’m trying to understand my parents and their undying support for Republican politicians and their unwavering belief in small government and lower spending on health care. I don’t understand these things, but I am trying.
My parents and I don’t talk politics very often — it’s easier that way. They don’t look at me the way they used to: like I was their little political protege, a machine that spit out all of their ideals and opinions like clockwork. It’s sad, sometimes, seeing the disappointment in my mom’s eyes when I allude to being a strong proponent of stricter gun control legislation or further funding into environmental protection. My dad always sighs and says “you won’t believe all this when you’re older” as we wash dishes after dinner.
Other times, when my parents and I debate political issues — and these instances are few and far between — I see their eyes light up, a certain fury catching in their words, and I think this, this is what politics is about. It’s about having different opinions and being able to argue them, all the while knowing your opponent may never budge from their stance. It’s the most lethal wrestling match you’ve ever encountered, the longest game of Risk you’ve ever played. But even if my parents are frustrated that I am liberal, I’d like to think that they hold a certain pride knowing I’m not such a robot anymore, that I’m not afraid to voice my beliefs and generate change. I hope they’re proud to see I’m a strong, complete individual all on my own and no longer the little girl too afraid to think for herself.
Politics is often an object in familial relationships, but I don’t think it has to be. And I love my parents more than anything. I know they are not racist or sexist or homophobic or a million other things all Republicans supposedly represent. I know they support Trump and that supporting him, to many, is an act of racism or sexism in itself, but I have known my parents all my life and have grown up with them. They are the people who taught me to walk and talk and ride a bike and to treat people the way I want to be treated. My mom calls me and asks about my day and tells me about the homemade pizza she made for dinner the night before. When I’m home, my dad and I pick up takeout and watch The Devil Wears Prada or Just Go With It until one of us falls asleep too early. My parents are conservative and see the world differently than me, but they’re also human. And I can’t fault them for that.
Still, when I’m back at school and I’ve hung up the phone and promised my parents I’m heading to bed for the night, I think a lot about what I believe. I think about how Georgia, the state in which I attend college, could potentially pass the Living Infants Fairness Equality (LIFE) Act and prohibit women who simply made a mistake from having an abortion after six weeks. I think about how the number of mass shootings in the United States is steadily climbing. I think about the children separated from their families at the border. And I think back to kindergarten, when I struggled to vote for George Bush and possibly picked John Kerry instead. I’ll never know which candidate I voted for; and I wonder why I had ever been naive enough to believe there was one correct answer.