Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Is it possible to separate a person from their politics?

Julia Gagnon

When I first arrived at AU and took my seat on the first day of class, I was reminded of the cardinal rule of classroom discussion: in here, we debate politics, not people. Of course, this principle was rarely put into practice, as I watched rivalries develop both inside and outside of the classroom. Debates became personal and it seemed as though there was no divide between the two realms of discussion. It seemed as though your political affiliation was expected in the same breath as your name.

While there is still a certain expected level of mutual respect when you engage in political debate, it is difficult to separate your personal feelings from partisanship. The two are not always mutually exclusive. The candidate that you vote for or the political party that you identify with is chosen based on many different factors. Your parents, your upbringing, your geographical location and several other elements play a part in the decision to cast your vote for a certain candidate.

Among these deciding factors lie integral parts of your identity. You choose to support a candidate who best represents you and the issues that affect you most closely. As a woman, I choose to support pro-choice candidates because having autonomy over my own health is something that is important to me. Not everyone feels the same way about this issue and perhaps different experiences or aspects of their identity led them to make that decision.

However, your stance on political issues is one of the most deeply connected and integral parts of who you are because it is how we, as individuals and as communities, preserve or improve our way of life. When I discuss abortion with a pro-life supporter, I view that person as invalidating my right and the rights of women across the country to control our own health. I am privileged in many ways and can afford healthcare, but many women are suffering from the defunding of Planned Parenthood or the lack of abortion services in their state.

How do I separate this “political view” from a pro-life supporter’s beliefs when I know the deeply painful and detrimental effects that it has on women across the United States? Often, I can’t.

Political perceptions are a direct reflections of an individual’s values and identity. To separate a person from their politics is to separate a person from their identity. The two are embedded in each other.

Political decisions reflect one’s perception of their country, their status in the society in which they live, and their basic morals. The choices we make in November affect us, some more severely than others, for the next four or eight years. As our debates grow more heated, the systemic privilege and power structures institutionalized within this nation has created a divide between preserving the American way of life or pushing it toward progress.  

When these two value sets clash, threatening the validity of someone’s identity in the process, politics becomes much more than a taboo dinner topic. It has consequences. It has repercussions. We can respect each other’s right to hold opinions and to express them unapologetically, but it should be understood that respect for the content of each opinion is not to be expected.

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com


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