Oh, The Humanity.
By Martin Maidenberg
I don't easily get emotional over political speeches. So I was struggling to understand why I felt so profoundly affected by President Obama's speech at the DNC. I was tearing up at certain sentences and rapt with attention at others, wondering what was so affecting about what he was saying. After watching the speech a second time, I think I got a better understanding of my personal "gotcha" moment.
As a gay man, I grew up feeling on the outside of mainstream America. It was "other" to me, and I to it. To this day, I still feel a certain struggle in balancing my inherent worth and proving to others that I do, indeed, belong in their worlds. I'm always on alert; always aware of that half-second pause before I tell someone I'm gay. That feeling of not belonging has followed me through my entire life.
I imagine I share this feeling of separateness on some level with other "Others" being talked about in this election process: Women, African Americans, Muslims - many of whom I'm sure also feel they aren't valued in quite the same way as the majority or mainstream.
Obama's speech seemed to express this as a case of "the haves vs. the have nots" - those who have struggled with this otherness in their lives and those who have not. And for once, the "haves" are not the ones who are envied. When I heard President Obama reference all the progress made by the "haves" - especially (for me) the military man who no longer had to hide the fact that he had a husband - I felt thoughts start to take form. And I got angry.
I was angry with those "have nots" who, when they don't get everything they want, remove themselves from the conversation. What a luxury that must be for them, to simply walk away when they don't feel as though they're being attended to or validated. So many of us have lived with those feelings of invalidation all our lives. Most of us can't afford to be quite that dismissive of logic and reality.
And I got angry with the Bernie Or Bust people who throw their hands up and declare "both candidates are equally evil." Really? It's Bernie or no one? There's no difference between Hillary and Trump?
I'm not blind to the perceived faults of Hillary Clinton but the issues that seem to bring forth such vitriol aren't in proportion to her overall message. The emails? The TPP? The Wall Street speeches? You can argue about these things but the arguments shouldn't assume a false equivalence for the valuation of each candidate. Clinton and Trump are not the same. What it comes down to is the different levels of humanity represented in each of their campaigns.
It isn't the same when one party talks of attempting to solve problems that affect whole populations while the other still talks of a Constitutional amendment to ban my right to marry in the name of someone else's "religious freedom." It isn't the same when one party's platform pushes for my inclusion and the other's demands conversion therapy to change my sexual orientation. Hillary is not going against my interests and there is always the underlying thread of common decency and humanity running though her campaign. She may not be a savior for all of our agendas, but does that erase a lifetime of work of trying to unite people and ensuring that no one is left out of the process? Does that make her "flaws" equivalent to those of dismissive and divisive politicians whose primary goal it is to keep me (and potentially you) out of "the room where it happens?"
This should be the time when people come together so no one feels alone or not a part of the discussion. As such, one party seeks to separate, the other to compromise and find common ground. Isn't that what we should all be striving for so everyone finally feels included, some of us for the first time in our lives?
At the end of the day there will always be differences between candidates, between parties, between people of different backgrounds. For just that reason this notion of inclusiveness is immeasurable: for the little girl who can finally feel equal to boys; for that gay person who actually hears people cheering for his inclusion in a political platform; for that immigrant family who comes to this country (as most of our ancestors did once upon a time) without having to hide their faith for fear of persecution.
If you "have not" gone through such struggles in your life the idea of fighting to feel included, to feel valued, might be hard to comprehend. But - while we quibble about the fine-print differences between this tax or that, while we laugh or scream at the latest playground insult, while we make jokes about that hair or that pantsuit - people are being pushed aside and derided just for being who they are. That's why I'm angry. I've come too far to be left out yet again.
"Where is the humanity in this divisiveness?" Please, stop saying you can't see a difference between the two parties. Stop closing your eyes and ears to the worth inherent in a flawed candidate at the cost of hurting those of us who need her help, as "flawed" as it may be. Disability advocate Anastasia Somoza said eloquently on the first night of the Democratic Convention, "Donald Trump doesn't see me." But the "flawed" candidate does. And she sees me. She sees you. That's the difference between the two candidates. That's where we find our decency.
When you start including us all in your vision of America, we can finally begin to explore and recognize the depths of our own flawed humanity.