“I need you to tone down your politics on Facebook.” That was what my dear sweet mother said to me on Saturday. Not that my mom is pro-censorship, it’s just that 98% of my extended family are Republicans and she can’t stand the thought of them being mad at me.
The problem is, I can’t. This election is going to have far reaching consequences, both for me personally and the country/world at large, and I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror if I stay quiet.
But I love my mom. I love my dad. And the bible tells me to honor them. I also love my aunts and uncles and cousins and recognize my Trump bashing might be annoying to them. Then there are fellow survivors who read this blog who might not be on my side of the political aisle. Cancer doesn’t care who you vote for, and I don’t want to ostracize anyone.
So last night, during Super Bowl, I had a thought. Due to our polarization, I might be the only Democrat a lot of my family members know. At least the only one who willing to admit it. So in an effort to stay true to myself and still be invited to reunions, I thought I would take this week put aside the debating, and simply lay out the reasons why I, David Lee Nelson, am a Democrat.
First, a little history. I was once a Republican. And not just any Republican. I was a rabid Republican. I high school. In college. In acting school. I loved talking politics and would argue with anyone- anytime, anywhere.
I wasn’t just committing career suicide for nothing. I believed in the GOP. I believed in limited government. Why would we as artists want a government telling us what to do? I believed in low taxes. That way people would have more money to spend on things like theatre. I even believed in the privatization of social security. I mean what could possibly go wrong there?!
I also saw Democrats as hypocrites. This was in the early 2000s and we were fresh off the Clinton years. The president lied under oath, therefore denying Paula Jones her right to a fair trial. Not to mention the legitimate sexual harassment allegations. While I don’t think he should have been impeached over it, it certainly found it odd that the party claiming to stand up for feminism and the rights of women were excusing his behavior away and sweeping it under the rug. I didn’t trust them, and wouldn’t for years to come.
My support for the GOP remained steadfast through 9/11. It was steadfast as we went into Afghanistan. It was steadfast as we went into Iraq. I believed, truly believed, that we would find weapons of mass destruction. It seems crazy to say that now. Perhaps it was then, too. I just didn’t think the entire administration and Colin Powell were lying to our faces.
Months went by. We found nothing. Sure there was a scrap here and there, but it wasn’t the smoking gun they said it was going to be. Hans Blix was right. The UN was right. Most of the Democrats were right.
I was disheartened to say the least. And humiliated. I had argued, forcefully argued, that we were right to invade that country. If I could be so wrong about that, what else was I wrong about?
During this time I kept listening to talk radio and reading my conservative columnists. I noticed that they were not dealing with the fact that we were wrong. There was no admission. There was no discussion about what it meant. There was only attacking Democrats. “We should have invaded sooner.” “Democrats hate the troops.” “Dems want to turn our sovereignty over to the UN.” The more they circled the wagons, the more I found myself on the outside. So I decided to do a little experiment. I decided to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh for a couple of weeks and pretend, just for fun, that the New York Times wasn’t liberal propaganda. That CNN and the Washington Post were just news organizations, not left wing communists out to poison my brain.
And it worked. I found the reporting to be interesting and fair. I started seeing politicians like Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi as real people. I found them to be thoughtful. They had interesting ideas. Positions that made sense. They weren’t the caricatures that the right wing media made them out to be.
Then there was the tutoring.
One of my many, many jobs in New York City was as a tutor. It wasn’t a bad gig. $50 an hour to help super rich kids with their homework. And it was an eye opening experience.
Up until that point, I thought our country’s playing field was more or less even. I obviously knew that wasn’t true across the board. I knew there were disadvantaged groups, I knew there was racial inequality, but on the whole, I felt like we did a pretty good job.
Until, that is, I stepped onto Fifth Avenue.
The kids I was tutoring were nice enough, but there was nothing special about any of them. They were B and C students who just happen to be going to incredibly prestigious schools during the year and exclusive camps in the summer. And their parents sat on boards and had contacts with all the Ivy League schools. These completely average, B and C Fifth Avenue students, through their wealth and their connections, were going to end up at top schools which would lead to getting top internships which would lead to getting top jobs. Meanwhile B and C students in Greenville, where I come from, they weren’t not going to have any of those advantages. Not to mention the kids from rural South Carolina districts, the “corridor of shame.” The playing field was skewed. Severally skewed. Republicans wanted to cut their taxes even more? Eliminate the estate tax? I don’t know. Didn’t seem right to me.
So that was my journey away from the Repubs. There’s more I could go into. I wrote a play about it, The Elephant in my Closet. It was difficult. I gave up a part of my identity. Put my father and my uncles on the other side of the aisle. But I believe we have to follow our conscious wherever it might lead This is where it brought me.
Tomorrow I’ll get into what I believe. See you then!