As we analyze what trends, issues and attitudes will mark the 2016 election, one underlying theme that keeps resurfacing in current political news is the issue of inclusion
...who gets to be a part of something and who does not...
...who pays for the benefits and who receives them...
...who wants individual liberty at the cost of communal security and who prefers the inverse...
Politics has always involved a distribution of disproportionate resources, the “who-gets-what,” “when-they-get-it,” “how-much-they-get,” and “who-decides-all-of-this.” From a Machiavellian perspective, politics is the dispersion of power and regardless of how else you conceptualize the purpose and function of government, every issue, every policy, every decision embodies that simple notion in various manifestations. Certainly, this applies more explicitly to some salient topics over others, but the current remains evident regardless.
The presidential campaigns for candidates for both political parties exemplify the differences in political distributions. This is most obvious in the issues of immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis.
The former is a long-standing issue older than our country itself. We proudly regale that we are "a nations of immigrants" and have created and perpetuated the mythic "melting pot" to prove that cultural assimilation is not only a product of socialization, but a desirable goal beneficial to communities. (If you grew up in the 90s, you are probably already familiar with School House Rock but, if you are not, you should immediately watch their songs on topics like the melting pot and memorize all the lyrics and chorography immediately. No, really, it is awesome and you will love it. It takes every ounce of restraint for me to not belt out the chorus of anyone of the catchy tunes when I discuss the corresponding theme in class.) Not only a delicious restaurant, the melting pot metaphor has slowly given way to the "tossed salad" comparison--that we can retain both our unique ethnic/racial/religious/cultural backgrounds and still become part of a larger collective. Comparing our socio-political approach of inclusion and assimilation to food feels in itself very American (and I say that without criticism, purely as an observation since I am a) an American b) who loves food and c) is appreciative of simple comparisons to explain more nuanced concepts.)
The Syrian refugee crisis is more salient in terms of an immediate issue, relevant specifically to this timeframe rather than as an issue spanning our nation's entire existence. Yet I think that both the decisions involving immigration and handing of refugees incorporate the same challenges of the politics of inclusion. Few would argue we should end immigration entirely and never let one new person into this country, regardless of circumstance. Few would also likely argue that we shouldn't bother controlling immigration (since our policies seem to be often fruitlessly ineffective) and we should just let whomever wishes to come to our country do so on their own volition. Discounting both extreme views, then, it is imperative to consider the far more complicated and more realistic differences within the middle. How do we control who enters our nation's borders? How do we ensure they come in legally, with proper authority, and stay as long as they are permitted by our government? How do we maintain the beautiful diversity of community we have cultivated (through many experiences, good and bad) without sacrificing the health and security of the country we stand to preserve?
Spoiler alert: here are no easy answers. I am grateful that most of the presidential candidates acknowledge these complexities and thought their answers on how to address the issues vary based on ideological and experiential grounds, they nonetheless are concerned with the nation's best interest. Though they do not have unilateral power, I would like to see more of the representatives and senators running for election/relection to show the same kind of commitment. At the end of the day, the president is not a unilateral actor and those decisions require Congressional action as well. Unified or divided government, we need individuals who are willing to work together, dare I say compromise, and create and enforce policies that benefit our country as a whole.
Many of the presidential candidates demonstrate this potential. I say potential because touting compromise, however imperative it may be to the political process, is not going to win an election when voters value strength in leadership and see compromise as an admittance of weakness. I say many because some seem to misattribute the role of the president in a representative democracy with another type of leadership that is less representative and responsive to the people. While we may not have a perfect country, a perfect democracy, or even a perfect system, we do still embody a melted-pot-of-tossed-salad that elects a collection of leaders in different levels and branches of government that espouse our interests (to varying degrees) and enact policies in our interests (to varying degrees).
As the granddaughter of immigrants who excitedly participated in every election and proudly bought everything American that they could, I share my ancestors enthusiasm and hope for our country. On the other side of my family, our roots can be traced back to the early 18th century but the only home remembered is in the US. My heart is warmed with gratitude and patriotism when I think of my heritage. It is easy to get disillusioned, annoyed, and upset about politics. I think we should be concerned with the future of our nation and the remembrance of a problematic past. I think we should challenge the conventions and demand improvements. I think we should seek to be better, both as individual citizens and as a diverse collective unit. But at the same time, I think it is important to remember our own heritage and how far we have come.
Inclusion is not a one-time decision but a lifetime commitment. I am thankful my grandparents were able to come to this country and be a part of a community where, although far from perfect, they were able to build new lives and raise a family that would eventually include me. We are all the products of a series of decisions (both in a biological and political sense). Making our own decisions involving the politics of inclusion must incorporate some self-reflection and critical analysis in addition to a larger discussion about what we want our nation to be.