This is un-American to admit, but prior to the 2012 presidential race, I had never cast an official ballot in any government election. It wasn’t that I lacked respect for this civic privilege; if anything, it was the exact opposite—with no defined belief system and no understanding of the issues (and no desire to get off the couch to rectify either of those), I never felt “because I can” was an acceptable justification for voting. But as November steadily approached, and my swing state (Virginia) was bombarded with around-the-clock propaganda, I decided it was time to grow up and do at least one thing that a normal, well-adjusted 35-year-old would do.
Given that my political knowledge consisted of the tiny bits and pieces of The West Wing that hadn’t gone completely over my head, my primary objective was to get educated—both about the candidates and their respective ideologies. Without a pre-existing lean to the left or right—and without a Bartlet on the ticket—I was a blank slate, and my goal was to digest as much objective, unbiased information as possible in order to make a well-informed decision.
This, unfortunately, proved to be an impossible task. I quickly learned that, with its slanted sources and party-line punditry, what was presented as the news was decidedly editorial. There was nothing impartial about it, and before processing anything I heard or read, I first had to note from which extreme it originated. And no matter how convincing it seemed on the surface, there was always the unshakable sense of, “What are they not telling me?”
Things weren’t any clearer among my contemporaries. In fact, there was even more disdain, disgust, and divisiveness. Nobody was willing to concede an inch, and nobody could fathom how anyone could have a different perspective than their own. Like everything else these days, it played out on Facebook for all the world to see, with friends from both sides posting links to the exact same articles and interviews in order to prove the complete opposite point.
Rock bottom, though, came when I turned to my innermost circle—which was really no longer a circle, but more like a battle scene from the Revolutionary War. On one side, there were my parents and brother, who were staunchly conservative. On the other was my girlfriend, who most certainly was not. This actually had a chance to be a good thing, as I had concerns about both candidates, and I could now have those concerns allayed by each of the candidate’s supporters.
Wrong. Despite their good intentions and best efforts, our conversations inevitably dissolved into strained back-and-forths, putting them on the defensive and leaving me as perplexed as ever.
Everywhere I looked, people talked about how clear of a decision it was, but it definitely wasn’t clear to me. And as I arrived at the voting center on election day, I still had no idea what I was going to do. But as confusing as it all was, and as frustrating as it got to be, there was something familiar about it that ultimately revealed itself over the course of the entire process:
Following an election wasn’t all that different from following a sports team.