The first time I voted, I cast a straight Republican ticket. I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, where I felt that everyone around me was too liberal. I came from a devout Christian family who emphasized kindness, love, and caring for the disadvantaged. My parents were pro-life, so I was too. I was taught that war was a terrible, but sometimes necessary thing. I didn’t believe in the death penalty because my faith taught me forgiveness and repentance, but I learned how to fire a gun and saw what a solemn thing it was to hold a weapon in my hand.
My dad was a doctor, and so we had a house, healthy food on the table, and access to a public school that offered pottery, theater, and sports. But my parents came from poverty and so I wore hand-me-down clothes and worked for my allowance. On youth group trips to Latin America, I passed out dental supplies to people with rotting teeth, and slept in shacks with kids who didn’t own shoes. I spent summers enjoying Minnesota’s pristine lakes, and went backpacking where the water was clean enough to drink. I knew that while I’d been given much, much would be expected of me. I loved my country, my freedom, and my independence.
I was certain that Republicans were right. I still remember feeling shocked and worried as a fourth-grader when Bill Clinton won his first election. In college I interned in Washington, D.C. the summer of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and learned a deep distrust for the Clintons.
But this November, I did not vote for Trump. Let me explain.
Sometime after college I experienced a political unmooring that continues today. My parents taught me to care for the earth because it was God’s creation—but I didn’t see Republicans doing that. I have compassion for any woman who has had an abortion—but I’m still pro-life. I support gun control—but take no issue with hunters who respect the animals they shoot as much as the guns they carry.
Growing up in a medical family, I’ve seen the downsides of socialized medicine, and as an adult have experienced them with Obamacare—but I’m also committed to caring for the poor. I spent a year living with and learning from victims of sex trafficking in Manila while I wrote a novel, an experience I never would have had without a government-funded Fulbright scholarship. Every time I think I’m leaning toward one party, something jerks me back to political no-man’s land. I acknowledge my government’s flaws, but I still love my country—even now, when I feel like a stranger in it.
These days I’m registered Independent, a designation that has less to do with politics and more to do with geography. Oakland (my home since 2004) is one of the most diverse cities in the nation, with a thriving art scene, every kind of cuisine imaginable, and hundreds of miles of beautiful Redwood trails—but it is also incredibly broken. The public schools my kids will attend can’t provide basic classroom supplies or adequate heating. The students on the track team I coached included undocumented immigrants who were the first in their families to attend college—only to lose their parents to deportation. I’ve witnessed racial profiling firsthand, and when Oscar Grant was shot, it was at the BART station closest to my home.
As a young Republican, I believed that the government was inefficient at addressing social problems—but as an adult in Oakland, it’s clear that the private sector isn’t filling the gap. My church feeds the homeless six mornings a week, volunteers in schools by the hundreds, and partners with African American leaders on racial reconciliation—but more needs still remain.
As I’ve drawn proximate to the pain in my city, I’ve felt challenged to vote in ways that will positively affect the people who are suffering most: victims of human trafficking and racial injustice, immigrants who flee oppression to pursue the American dream, kids who will end up in prison if someone doesn’t put them on a different track. I feel bashful about standing with these people when I have been given so much. I don’t want to co-opt their cause or minimize their suffering. But I’m also beginning to understand that while equality gets a lot of lip service, unity is the first step in getting there.
For various reasons, a number of people I know and love voted for Trump. They aren’t bigots, racists, or xenophobes. They hail from the Midwest, the South, the coasts. Some of them have been as troubled by this election cycle as I have. But however we voted, we must all deal with the aftermath of what this presidency means.
What disturbs me most right now is not that Trump will be our next president. It’s that someone who appealed to our darkest selves—the side of us that fears differences, that demonizes the Other, that appeals to what is most selfish and self-protecting in us—won. And while it would be easy to attack Trump’s character, to do so would only be to keep addressing our worst side.
Instead I want to appeal to our best side. The side that cherishes humanity—wherever we grew up, or whatever our first language. To the side that believes in making our country great—by being slow to speak and quick to listen. To the side that pushes us to action—by first pressing into the places that are uncomfortable, that may lead us to prayer, lament, and open conversation. To the side that sees that we will always have differences—some of them painful and deep and seemingly irreconcilable—but that we all want to be part of this big, beautiful, broken country, and need each other’s help to do it.