Dear Oklahomans Who Want to Leave…

By David Postic

Young Oklahomans Want to Leave


I love Oklahoma.

There is something about this state that holds a special place in my heart, aside from it being my home. Anyone who has looked out across the endless plains knows what I mean. The flatness of it all is intoxicating. But even more than the geography, it is the people that makes this place special. Oklahomans themselves are incredibly caring individuals, true salt-of-the-earth, born and bred on an ethic of hard work and on a faith so pervasive that it guides every part of their lives. Ours is a state with an enormous potential for diversity, prosperity, and opportunity.

But we have not lived up to that potential.

The actions of some of our governmental officers and representatives have shown that we, as a state, have either misplaced or misprioritized our values. And it’s something we need to fix. Rather than open our arms to diversity and tolerance, we have passed laws to discourage it. Rather than create opportunity, we have stolen it away from the most vulnerable in our society. Rather than look to the future — both in terms of our budget and our children — we have chosen instead to repeat the mistakes of the past. Whatever a properly functioning government looks like, this isn’t it.

This goes beyond the (embarrassing, in my opinion) events of the past few days (e.g., the continued assault on transgender rights, the admittedly unconstitutional abortion bill, the dishonest and inhumane decisions of the governor’s office vis-à-vis execution drugs). It goes to the heart of who we are as a people. Because although it is our elected officials who have caused these events to pass, it is we who elected them and continue to re-elect them. (I note here that there are more than a few courageous officials who have taken a stand against the rising tide of hatred and irresponsible government, and as a result they are not the subject of this complaint.) That’s on us. Authority without accountability breeds tyranny, and that is precisely what we are beginning to see.

But it is not only the particular representatives of our government that we need to hold accountable; we must hold accountable our system of government itself. Our system is based on politics and politicking, and as entertaining as it is to watch (and as necessary as it may be to some extent), it has become destructive. Politics — in my ideal vision of the concept — is simply a dream of (and a means to) establishing good government. At its heart, and what it most seeks to promote, is the body politic: the people. That is the basis of our democratic republic.

Today, however, politics has become divorced from the good of the people. Politics is no longer concerned with the body politic; it no longer cares. Not about you, not about me. It no longer cares about anything except winning and legacy and airtime and money. I am even convinced that politics writ large does not actually care about making the world a better place. Politics is no longer a solution; it is not a cure. It is a virus that spreads and infects everything and everyone it comes into contact with. Politics is no longer synonymous with statecraft or diplomacy or improvement. It is about maneuvering and brinkmanship and ultimatums. Politics today is more about grandstanding and fearmongering and fundraising and celebritizing than fixing and building and moving forward and helping people.

Why has this “new politics” become the mainstay? How did we get here? More than a little of the blame falls on us, the people. By and large, we do not want politicians to compromise — not on gun control, abortion, immigration, climate change, the budget, or anything else. All we want is for our guy to win, our side to win. Because for some reason, we have created a binary world where there is only right and wrong, winning and losing. There is no room for shades of gray, no room for discussion. And so it is that we as a society have come to view compromise as the antithesis of winning, something we wish to avoid at all costs. The media (and we, the consumers of media) have perpetuated this culture by buying into the hateful rhetoric and by accepting at face value the “facts” we are given. We do not verify, we do not seek the truth. We do not listen to people anymore. We hear them, and we speak to them, but we do not listen to them. There is no dialogue, and consequently there is no understanding. And that is a serious problem. Because if we ever want to work out our differences, we need to listen to each other. We need to understand. We need to care.

I am of the perhaps hopelessly optimistic opinion that our differences are not so great, political or otherwise, that we cannot overcome them. I do not believe that we are forever condemned to this destructive breed of “new politics.” I believe that Oklahoma — and the nation — can do better, and it starts with us. It starts with informed, passionate, caring people taking notice of the injustices and prejudices and wrongs that exist in our society and committing themselves to doing better, and electing representatives that are committed to doing better. We cannot fall victim to apathy, that old friend of oppression. We must do something.

It is no secret that making a better future will not be easy, and I am not going to try to make it seem easier than it is. Balancing budgets and funding schools and fixing bridges and providing health care and helping the poor and reducing violence will not be easy. It will be hard. It will be very, very, very, frustratingly, miserably hard. It will require sacrifice. It will demand our money, our comfort, our passions, our pride, our attention, our differences, and our egos. It will take everything we have.

Facing these large problems, and seeing discrimination and injustice perpetrated by the very government sworn to protect the liberties of its citizens, many young Oklahomans have given up. Oklahoma is beyond repair, they say. It’s a backwards state. They are embarrassed to be from here. They no longer see a future for this state and decide instead to leave it. The politics and politicians of Oklahoma are inspiring a mass exodus of young, talented individuals. This is more than just brain drain. It is passion drainand potential drain. And it is entirely unnecessary. This state has lost many of my friends, exasperated at the seemingly fixed order of things and the insurmountable obstacles ingrained into the very fabric of our government. I try to convince them to stay, to help fix things, but the politics and prejudices of Oklahoma are making my argument increasingly difficult.

But still, I must make it. Because the only hope for a brighter future in this state is a new generation of Oklahomans standing up for what is right and responsible when it comes to government. So to all young Oklahomans considering leaving this state: stay. The problems are big, but so are the possibilities. The path is not easy, but the reward will be worthwhile. Stay, and we can fight to bring this state back from the brink of self-destruction. Stay, and we can find solutions, make progress, and create a better Oklahoma, a better home for us all. We cannot do it without you. The people of this state deserve better. They don’t deserve irresponsible government and bigotry and the kind of politics that doesn’t care about them. Stay, and help give the people of this state the government they deserve. Isn’t that worth something?

Oklahoma is a special place, but it is in dire need of help. Its people are in dire need of help. So what can you do? You can stay. You can care about Oklahomans and about what happens to them. It will take time and patience — ungodly amounts of patience — but a better future is possible. We can make it happen if we work together.

Oklahoma is my home, and I plan to stay here and make it better. I hope you do too.

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See this original post on Medium.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

Star Wars politics
Just the absolute best picture I could find, even though it has little to do with the actual content of this article.

We are at a low point in American politics.

That’s a pretty vague statement, so judge it how you will. It’s just my opinion. What is a fact, though, is that Congress is at a low point. Something like only 10% of people approve of our legislative branch. This is mostly due to the fact that they get little accomplished. As Jay-Z once aptly noted, I’ve got 99 problems and none of them are currently being solved because of irresponsible partisan bickering in Congress.

(Note: I swear those are the lyrics. If you don’t believe me, give me like 10 minutes and then check Wikipedia.)

I am inclined to agree with Jay-Z. In fact a lot of people agree with him. A lot of people think we need something better. For as long as I have been aware of the world outside my Nintendo 64 (i.e., around 2004), people have told me that (1) our political system is broken; (2) we need more bipartisanship; and (3) the best place to be on the political spectrum is right in the middle. 10 out of 10 kids my age would agree with this message because it has been beaten into us for most of our adult lives. So it goes.

Millennial Wars: A New Hope

Things will get better, they say, and my generation is going to be the one to make sure that happens. Desensitized by the fiscal cliffs and budget sequesters of our youth, we will rise above petty party politics to promote effective government and protect the future. And what gives people this impression that apathetic, baggy-panted, headphone-wearing Millennials are the political saviors of our broken nation? Why, the polls of course! Studies show that Millennials are more politically independent and/or moderate than previous generations. Other polls show that we are fairly disillusioned with institutions in general. It is these attitudes that are supposed to fix our deplorable political situation.

And maybe they will. Certainly we could do with a bit more bipartisanship. Certainly most people would love a more effective government. I am not here to argue about that stuff. What I am here to argue about is the polls. (Something Eric Cantor is probably doing a lot of this week.) I am here to dispute the theory that my generation is actually more moderate or bipartisan than previous generations. In fact, I claim we are just as partisan as ever, if not moreso.

(Funny Eric Cantor interlude.)

Let’s look at the basis for this hypothesis. A recent Harvard study polled Millennials on their opinions of President Obama. The results? 86% of young Democrats approved of the President’s job performance, while only 10% of young Republicans approved. That is a 76-point differential–almost historic in its vastness. Does that sound like a generation of independents? Does that sound like a generation committed to rising above partisan politics? Overall, Obama’s approval rating among Democrats is 82%; among Republicans, 11%. Now this is only one narrow metric, but it is an important one. If we are to extrapolate broader generational trends, Millennials are perhaps even more partisan than the public at large.

If we are so divided, why does everyone say we are a less partisan generation? Yes, we are generally more progressive as a group, and yes we broadly support things like gay marriage and marijuana legalization. But even our overwhelming support of Obama in the 2008 election waned in 2012. At the end of the day, we will vote for who we want to vote for. And the polls show that we are just as divided as ever on that issue. Yet we are hailed as the generation to end partisanship.

I have two theories about why these studies on moderate Millennials are misleading (or perhaps flat-out wrong).

Theory One: The Cootie Syndrome

Guys, remember when you were a kid and you first realized you liked a girl? And someone would ask if you liked that girl? And you’d say no because you weren’t supposed to like girls? But you did like girls. Girls were, like, the coolest thing ever. Girls were awesome. But you couldn’t tell anyone that because then they would judge you. Millennials hate being judged.

Politics are the basically just the girls of adulthood: People judge you if you give them the wrong answers. We have been told all our adult lives that partisanship is bad, so we reject partisanship. “Of course I am not a Democrat/Republican!” we say. “I don’t vote on party lines–I vote for ideas and values!” But rejecting hardcore partisanship as an institution does nothing to actually change our political motivations. It simply reflects the indoctrination of what is “socially acceptable.” Since partisan politics has gotten a bad rap, we want to be (or at least feel) more moderate and/or reasonable.

In reality, though, we have only rejected partisanship superficially. What’s boiling under the surface is the potential for even greater partisanship and idealogical extremism. Under the surface, we see the truth: For a generation that is supposed to end partisan gridlock by talking to one another, we are extremely good at shutting people out. We pick the friends we like on Facebook. We follow the people we support on Twitter. We have taken our cliques into the Digital Age.

What it comes down to is that we are becoming increasingly adept at isolating the people with whom we disagree. Social media just makes it easier to surround ourselves with people who think like us and isolate (or altogether ignore) those who don’t. We have essentially supplanted racial segregation with social and digital segregation. And, as with everything else, it is bleeding into our politics.

That is a scary theory, I admit. But it is just one theory. And fortunately I think it is less likely than Theory Two.

Theory Two: The Ignorance Theory

I hate to play into stereotypes, but here it goes: I think Millennials are ignorant. I can say that, as an ignorant young person myself. We are, broadly speaking, an ignorant group of people. However, so are our older siblings. So are our parents. Americans are generally pretty ignorant. If you disagree, you are probably just ignorant of your own ignorance. (I believe that’s check-mate.)

I think that young people don’t actually know what they believe, so they tend to play the middle, assuming that will make everyone happy. You can ask any random college student about their political leaning, and odds are they will tell you: (1) “Oh, I’m pretty moderate”; (2) “I’m socially liberal but economically conservative”; or (3) “I don’t really like to talk about politics.” Maybe one out of every ten of these people know what they’re talking about. But I would venture to guess that very few of them are informed enough to understand whether they are actually politically moderate.

Moreover, if you claim to be a conservative or a liberal, you open yourself up to a barrage of questions: Why do you believe this? Why don’t you believe that? Saying you are a moderate places you in the safe zone. You are free to agree with whatever the other person says, no matter their political leanings.

We live in a world that is increasingly divided politically, a world in which the other side is no longer “wrong” or “naive” but is now “hateful” and “evil.” Pragmatism is a dirty word; debate is poison; and democracy is, as a result, weakened. It is no wonder that Millennials prefer to play it safe and say that they are moderate: The alternative is being branded an insensitive, racist Republican or an irresponsible, controlling Democrat. And neither of those options sound too attractive to me.

So what does this mean?

I predict that, barring some massive societal shift (e.g., Miley Cyrus putting some clothes on, the Cubs winning the World Series, etc.), Millennials will not actually vote much differently than the generations before us. I think that the gridlock of our current political landscape will certainly affect our desire to work through problems, but it will not change our views. Maybe that means things will be better. It might also mean things could get worse.

So that I don’t end this post on a low note, I want to make one thing clear: I don’t necessarily think it is bad that Millennials are not as independent as the polls say we are. What worries me is that we, as a group, feel pressured to conform to what is supposedly “good” and “right.” We hide our true beliefs under this veil of centrism, and that is a dangerous habit to form.

Whenever you ask someone what party they belong to, and they give you some vague, appeasing answer like “I’m a moderate,” don’t buy it for a minute. Press them on it. Dig for the truth. Have them explain their views. Odds are, they have never had to do that. Most importantly, let them know that you will respect their opinion, even if it differs from your own. That is how we can fix our political dialogue. That is how we can help Millennials feel comfortable admitting what they truly believe–because I would be willing to bet they are nowhere close to center.

As for me, I’m pretty moderate.

—–

Edit: As an aspiring lawyer, I feel obligated to include this disclaimer: Although this post has (in my opinion) a wonderful title, I realized all too late that Paul Krugman wrote a NYT article of the same title in 2012. This post is not meant to be an emulation of that article, nor does it necessarily agree with the views of that author. Great minds sometimes do think alike.

David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.