A few weeks ago I was having dinner with a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings. We were both face-down in a heaping pile of chicken wings, downing great sips of beer between finger-licking pauses, and discussing the Republican debate with great fervor. Outside, our pick-up trucks were loaded down with kayaks for a post-meal paddle down the Rogue River. Our typical Tuesday night.
I sucked my hands noisily, savoring the Hot Buffalo sauce as it singed the roof of my mouth, extinguishing the heat with a generous dousing of Dirty Bastard. “I don’t know, man. Trump’s an intelligent guy, no doubt about that. Good with numbers. But he can be a real dick when it comes to foreign policy. He doesn’t apologize for anything; he’s gotta learn to be more diplomatic.”
Mike shrugged. “No he doesn’t. Why should he compromise? Everybody’s always rolling over and compromising. That’s why all these other guys are so weak.”
“They’re not weak, they’re just wiser. They know how to rally key constituents. Trump only knows how to rally one constituent, those backwoods KKK hicks who guard their front doors with a Bible and a gun.”
“And what’s wrong with that? I mean, besides the KKK part.” Mike took another swig of beer.
I sighed and dove into a lengthier answer about the American workforce, immigration, the fragility of the social world. We continued discussing eagerly, sometimes getting piqued looks from neighboring tables.
Suddenly, a strange light came into Mike’s eye and he sat back. I forget what exactly it was I said—something controversially off the cuff, no doubt. Mike gave me a scrutinizing look and said: “Wait—you’re a Democrat?”
Mike stared at me, taken aback. Finally, he countered, “But you’re a farmer!”
I laughed. “So? Lots of farmers are Democrats.” Ok, that was a lie.
He seemed so perplexed, as if I’d stated an unexpected sexual orientation. So he fished for further explanation. “And… and you drive a truck. You go hunting with us. You love Taco Bell. And country music. And you’d die without meat!”
All of these things were true. It’s funny the boxes we put people in, the traits we assume of our peers. I’ve wisely learned from an early age that there’s an exception to every rule. That there’s a dangerous wrath of stereotype accusation to be incurred if you don’t assume these exceptions. I know the Democrat that Mike pictures: He’s wispily thin, wears hipster sweaters, eats gluten-free organic toadstools, and listens to bands with fruity names like “Banana Seeds” or “The Melancholy Masquerade.” I tried to help Mike process this. “I’ve never really paid attention to politics until recently,” I confessed. “And by that point, I was already surrounded by liberal-leaning environments—friends, fiancé, college, the guys on the farm—”
“The guys on the farm too?” His face was crestfallen.
I nodded soberly. “That, and I guess I’m not really one to lose sleep over gay marriage, marijuana legalization, Planned Parenthood. A lot of Republicans tear their hair out over that stuff. If I had choose, I’d…ah, I’d let ‘em have it. It’s not like I have to live that way; I just think people should be allowed to. Besides, Obama is just an awesome guy. Did you know he’s the first president to travel above the Arctic Circle?” The geographer in me loves this fact.
He winced when I mentioned Obama. I could tell this would take some processing.
“I think GMOs are overrated,” I offered hopefully. No solace was taken.
I’ve always found it curious that people are so guarded about their political leanings, at least when it comes to declaration. We love ranting on social media, dissecting the life out of candidates, and voicing our support or displeasure at current events. But when pressed for allegiance, and someone asks pointedly, “So you’re a Republican, then?” or “Voting for Bernie, are we?” we quickly back up and give squirmy answers about how we’re not really one or the other, we aren’t really sure yet, on account of our parties might do something stupid that we as followers are apparently liable for.
Ah, but that’s the thing. We are not our party’s keeper.
This plays out rather comically on the farm. With the exception of my staunch grandfather—evidently the only one of us with true grit—the rest of us exhibit an amiable “live and let live” type of libertarianism, with deference to the Democratic Party (or so it seems from my point of view), and we love parody. We recently named our farm rooster “Trump,” because he’s cocky, loud, and has managed to stick around longer than we anticipated the hawks would allow. We discuss politics daily, with or without my grandpa, and it’s no secret what our opinions are. Nevertheless, when he baits one of us into answering who we’d vote for, the target always chuckles and reaches for satire: “Oh, I’m voting for Trump here, ‘cause he’s gonna MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Aren’t you, Trump? Here, have some corn kernels.” Who are we trying to kid? Is it really such a quantum leap between hinting that you’re liberal and declaring your allegiance to Hillary? Maybe it is. I do it too.
While I do identify as a Democrat, I have to admit I’m not a very good one. That is, if being a good Democrat involves using social media to advocate social change. My stances tend to fall into agreement with the liberal agenda, though never to the passionate point where I’ve considered hoisting a picket sign or even tweeting about it online.
I’m sure this is because I wasn’t always this liberal. It’s been a gradual process, from when I took conservative values as a given, to disassociated indifference, to realizing Democrats were a better, more feel-good fit for me. Republicans always seemed to be those parents that were obligated to say “No,” while Democrats were those fun parents your friends had that said “Yes!” to everything. It was refreshing to be on this side of the political spectrum, supportive of marginalized groups and new ideas. Republicans just didn’t seem to make time for that.
So I tentatively and quietly switched parties.
As a Democrat, I celebrated when Obama spoke to the Inupiat in Kotzebue about climate change instead of griping about a wasteful initiative. I nodded in agreement when he spoke of gun control, instead of gasping at his politicization of a tragedy. Not that my reasons for being a liberal aren’t full of integrity, but it just so happens that being a liberal is…more fun.
The change was a bit like transferring schools and giving up on your old football team. It’s infinitely more rewarding to root for the Spartans or the Wolverines as opposed to, say, the Eastern Michigan Eagles. You’re caught up in the momentum of an exhilarating game, marveling at your progress, and dreaming of national championship hopes, when suddenly you catch an embarrassing clip online of your poor, struggling Eagles, trying way too hard to sledgehammer the concrete wall set up for their grand entrance onto their home field. Poor Eagles. Sparty won the Cotton Bowl that year, while the Eagles couldn’t even get out of their own tunnel.
Watching Republican debates never fills me with anger or resentment, just sympathy. The Obama administration is making leaps and bounds while the Republicans can’t seem to pull their sticks out of the mud, and it’s really more humiliating than anything else. Is there a Republican equivalent to Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart, or SNL? No, there isn’t. Democratic talk show hosts are masters of parody, while their Republican counterparts gravitate more toward the “incredulous truth-teller” approach.
But I feel for them. They work incredibly hard. They’ve earned what they have, they do what they know to be right, and they follow their arrow, even when the media murders them for it. And that does take a mountain of tenacity.
I mention this to Mike as a way of explanation, but he just shrugs. We sit in awkward silence for a few minutes, before Mike drains the last, long gulp of his beer and looks at me with familiarity back in his eyes. “Well, shall we hit the river?”
I threw down my last chicken wing. “Yup.”
Nick Meekhof (’15) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.