Something That Is Right With America

Both political parties should open doors, not build walls.
Zachary Stepp at the 2016 Democratic National Convention
Zachary Stepp at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

This election cycle, we have been told that America needs to be made great again. The rise of Trump provides indisputable evidence that a large number of Americans believe that America is on the wrong path. Interestingly enough, data tells us otherwise. Nevertheless, the Republican nominee for president has seemingly managed to convince many Americans that facts have a liberal bias.

Those of us who fear a Trump presidency must do much more than throw our hands in the air and cry foul when Donald Trump is caught telling yet another blatant lie. We must come to terms with the reality that for many Americans, facts do not matter. While it may be impossible to debate facts that many do not feel to be true, we all have a responsibility to communicate with one another about this critical election. It is for this reason that I share my story in hopes that it may shift the spotlight from what is wrong with America, to what is right with America, and reflect upon what needs to be done to build upon our successes.

I grew up modestly in a single mother household in Northeast Ohio. My family was hit hard by the Great Recession. Business dried up for my parents’ small landscaping company, adding to the existing stresses, which led to their long, bitter divorce, draining the little resources that we had. We had no other choice but to turn to public assistance and the generosity of others to make ends meet. I found pride not in my circumstance, but in my work ethic. I began work at the age of 13. I used what tools I had at my disposal to create amateur websites – one for the local Rocky River reelection campaign of Judge Donna Fitzsimmons and another for an Amish storage barn company, for which my mother received commission on sales.

The Republican nominee for president has seemingly managed to convince many Americans that facts have a liberal bias.

As soon as I could legally work I applied for an entry-level position at the local Five Guys in Avon, Ohio. I worked as much as I could, partly to avoid the stresses of home life, and partly so that I would have money to pretend to be a normal kid ― occasionally catching a movie or making a trip out to Cedar Point. The store closed at 10 and I rarely got home before 11:30, only then to begin my homework for school the next morning. At Five Guys, I learned the value of hard work and how to be leader, and was promoted three times before turning 18.

On a seemingly normal Tuesday in 2013, my life changed completely. I received an email informing me I had been awarded a full scholarship to attend the University of Chicago. I went from flipping burgers and scrubbing floors to boarding my first airplane, on course to the Windy City. Since then, I have done things that I never would have imagined I would do: I have biked across Europe, driven up the Californian coast, stepped foot into the West Wing of the White House, trekked along the Great Wall of China, explored Cuba, lived in a foreign country, and have engaged with some of the brightest minds in the world.

While I have pursued my education and experienced the world, I have tried to contemplate along my journey. I easily recall the individuals who inspired my passions: my freshman year English teacher, Dennis Arko, who awoke in me an intellectual curiosity that kept me engaged in academics; my first boss, Kurt, who hired me and taught me how to lead by example; and the countless other individuals who encouraged me to work hard.

But more importantly, and perhaps less obviously, I had the inspiration and assistance from something much greater than any individual; I had reaped the benefits from a society which proclaimed long ago that it would care for the poorest in its midst. Generations before me planted the seeds that would enable my success. Whether it be the food stamps that in tough times put food on the table, the Medicaid that paid for my yearly check ups, or the Pell Grant that funds my scholarship, it is clear that our American society plays a crucial role in my story.

My experience is not only representative of my personal success, it is representative of America’s success. We all succeed when we give a 12-year-old the resources that allow him to grow up without going hungry. Perhaps, that 12-year-old could one day rise from poverty and be inspired to change the world. I am living proof of our mutual success.

This election cycle is a referendum on the ideal of America that I believe in – the America that enabled my success. While we should be proud of stories like my own, we must also see the harsh reality that I, as a white, cisgender, straight male, have had privileges that other groups of people do not. Increasing opportunities for these groups must be our number one domestic priority – not just because it is right, but because when more people are given greater opportunity, our society is more prosperous.

Liberals and conservatives have different ideas about how to increase opportunity, but both parties must champion this pursuit if we hope to progress.

Liberals and conservatives have different ideas about how to increase opportunity, but both parties must champion this pursuit if we hope to progress. It must be both parties’ priorities to be opening doors, not building walls; inspiring minority groups, not insulting them; respecting women, not degrading and harassing them.

Unfortunately, we are living through a period in which the Republican party, by nominating and supporting Donald Trump, is no longer a partner in this pursuit. Trump does not represent the pursuit of any kind of an ideal. His campaign fails miserably in inspiring hope for American progress. Instead, he uses fear, bigotry and intimidation to rally support. This man is ethically, professionally and temperamentally unfit to lead our pursuit of a more just society.

It is clear that in this election only one candidate – Hillary Clinton – shares our hopes and dreams for an even greater America. She recognizes what is right with America, and she has real plans on how we can create more opportunity for all communities. I am inspired by our shared vision, despite any differences over policy we may have.

I implore you to get out to the polls on November 8 to vote for Hillary Clinton so that we may get past this ugly election and move on to what the debate needs to be about: how we can increase opportunity for more Americans.

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Zachary Stepp is a third year student at the University of Chicago pursuing a degree in Political Science.

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BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
America's 'Working Poor'