Petty Politicking

I'd rather vote for Nicolas Cage than any candidate running today.

Hearing about how important it is to vote makes me want to write-in Nicolas Cage for president. I’ve given this much thought; it wouldn’t be a throwaway vote in the sense that I fully trust Nicolas Cage with this country’s nuclear codes. He’s an unstable genius, and these are unstable times.

Do I have any idea how he’d handle foreign policy or social services? Of course not! I have no clue how Nicolas Cage would actually run this country, but I don’t care because I’m obsessed with him. In what way is this different from diehard Trump or Bernie stans?

Nic Cage makes four movies a year on average. 98 movies still counting! I thought that was more than any other actor; turns out I forgot to check Bollywood. But. Unlike most famous actors, Cage favors the silver screen almost exclusively.

His only television credits, aside from two SNL performances, are from the eighties: “Nicolas,” a cast member on the pilot episode of a variety show called The Best of Times (it was never developed), and the role of “Heartbreaker” in a David Lynch musical play. Everything else is solely cinema, because he’s a goddamn PURIST. He even changed his name from Coppola because he didn’t want his success to be a result of nepotism (v. noble). His new surname, Cage, is a nod to Marvel’s Luke Cage – a character who is objectively badass and heroic.

Why am I telling you this? Because Nic Cage is a force unlike anything we have seen in Hollywood, and I want him in the White House. Incidentally, he’s already in my house. I own a pillow with his face on it (it’s fun to throw on my couch to scare visitors) a sweatshirt with…his face on it, a poster with his face on it…I’m trying to think of a Face/Off pun but it’s not happening. And for the record, I never paid for any of this swag; everyone who knows me knows about my unrequited love for Nicolas Cage, and that’s how I end up with an abundance of deranged home goods.

What does my love for Nicolas Cage have to do with politics? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a symbol of how disenfranchised I feel from this country; I want to live in a Nicolas Cage movie, even Mandy would be a preferable reality from the world as it exists in its current form.

Anyway, I haven’t voted since the 2012 presidential election when I voted for Obama, which felt aptly patriotic if not slightly anticlimactic.

Voting for an incumbent candidate with a strong likelihood of re-election held neither the fervor nor revolutionary appeal as it did during the 2008 election, when I was 17 and too young to vote.

In retrospect, I understand voting was mostly a figurative act; I’ve never felt personally responsible for who is elected in this country. It’s easy to acquiesce our sense of power when the government is stymied in bureaucracy. I don’t fully understand the nuances of our political system (despite getting a 5 on the AP US History exam in high school) but that in itself is a problem.

I mean, I know enough to know it’s not as simple as saying the United States is a democracy and our leaders are elected by popular vote. I can’t articulate how I know this, but it has something to do with the existential dread I felt on November 11, 2016, at a Greenwich Village bar surrounded by friends, watching Hillary’s numbers rise on a projector screen, cheering, and then hearing the roar of men wearing MAGA hats coming from the street. Nothing is as it appears.

So, yeah, voting doesn’t carry the same weight it did when I was 17 and Obama was running for office. It’s a weird paradox.

You know what does feel momentous? Publicly admitting to the fact that I actually haven’t voted since 2012, and don’t plan on doing so anytime soon. And it’s not because I don’t want to vote…I’d vote online if I could. But any additional effort is not worth it in my opinion because…voting is pointless. (Yes, I strategically waited this long to drop this hot take because let’s be real, who’s still reading?)

I mean, it’s not Justin Trudeau-in-blackface intolerable, but I know my generation – and most Americans – get pretty hify about exercising our fifteenth amendment right. So…sorry, I guess?

Now, I can’t do what I did last election season and steal my husband’s “I VOTED!!!” sticker for a quick ‘gram and pretend as though I actually bothered to complete the logistical gymnastics required for young, transient people to register to vote when their driver’s license doesn’t match their current address.

I Voted Buttons

Why, in 2019, the age of peak technology and the latest generation of iPhones, is voter registration still so insanely onerous? I’ve tried using at least five different voting apps; you smash a few REGISTER ME buttons and are…redirected to the DMV website. Millennials, PLEASE stop pandering enticing life hacks involving technology and avoiding the DMV. The DMV is unavoidable.

Also, as a New Yorker, my vote doesn’t matter. I’ve heard every argument to the contrary, and I don’t really care. I don’t think anyone’s vote matters in this byzantine, corrupt political system, but that’s a rant for another time. In November 2016, I knew with certainty another blue vote cast in a blue state would not make a difference.

And the last presidential election was BATSHIT FUCKING CRAZY. I watched MAGA mobs gathering outside of my office in Times Square, thinking about how, two months earlier there had been a bomb scare in Chelsea on my birthday. Riots were breaking out at political rallies and protests for the entirety of 2016. The year was, in my mind, cursed. I avoided the polling booths on Election Day out of a legitimate fear of violence. I wanted Hillary to win, but not enough to get shanked.

Celebrities and brands have been preaching about voting for most of my cognisant life. It was palpably contrived by the 2018 midterms. I couldn’t walk three meters in New York without seeing propaganda stamped across the front of any given corporate retailer. Zara, H&M, Old Navy, even Crocs shared the same unambiguous message: Vote, dum dum!

Social media was inevitably worse. I remember when the viral Vote Or Die! campaign began – I was in middle school. That seemed like a revolutionary marketing tactic. It was 2004; the first time young people saw rappers and socialites engaged in the political process. Citizen Change made voting sexy! But today? Anyone with a Twitter following they deem “sizeable” acts like Diddy incarnate and pushes the Vote or Die! agenda on their irrelevant social media platforms. And it’s not sexy.

I don’t want nor need contrived persuasion to vote from people who’ve gained ephemeral clout on Instagram or worse, from IRL peers who have somehow convinced themselves of their infallible ability to enact change. IF PEOPLE ARE NOT PLANNING TO VOTE, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO CONVINCE THEM. You are not a political alchemist. You are not Diddy.

Then there’s the group of zealots who take it a step further and vote shame their friends, family, neighbors or, if you’re a public figure, everybody who follows you on Twitter. Hi, Ana Marie Cox!

People died fighting for the right to own slaves, too, Ana Marie Cox.

Fuck your feelings. Vote. ???? Fuck THAT. Seriously. If you are impassioned about voting to the point where you feel the need to incessantly impart wisdom on social media, perhaps revisit why you care so much about our right to vote (and it is out right, not our moral obligation).

Is it because you believe Americans should have a voice in the political process? Is it because you want Americans to feel empowered? Cool! And yet. Empowerment does not stem from being demanded to do something.

Politics isn’t personal…

In my MFA program, we often discussed the merits of “making the personal political” in our approach to writing literary nonfiction. To be honest, at first this phrase bored me to the point were I would involuntarily tune out until a classmate or professor changed the topic. I didn’t fully understand the concept of making the personal political, or vice versa, and it felt rote, devoid of meaning. Now, I have a better grasp on its implications, I still find it rote and meaningless. The phrase, not its implications.

Yes, writing is a powerful tool to intertwine political and current affairs in one’s personal experience. It’s something any skilled writer can subconsciously adhere to.

One essay I submitted for this MFA workshop unpacked the emotional sentience gleaned from going to Planned Parenthood for emergency contraception after being raped the summer before college. The critique from my professor and classmates was anticlimactic. The biggest takeaway: My essay had made the personal political. And at first, I thought, no shit. And then I thought, maybe not.

Maybe I didn’t intend to write about anything other than a fucked up memory, and maybe I didn’t want to turn my fucked up memory into a political agenda. Maybe someday, in some form, I would rewrite the essay with this message in mind. During the Kavanaugh hearings, I considered doing this. But when I first wrote the piece in 2015, I hadn’t missed the glaring fact that Planned Parenthood and sexual assault are political buzzwords. It was my story to tell, without the obligation to use personal trauma to further a political agenda.

Today, I’m registered to vote. I think…I completed the form online, so we’ll see what happens when I check the mail in a few weeks. But there’s a nagging part of my psyche telling me I’m probably not going to vote in the primaries. Why? I’m tired. I’m so, so tired. Fundamentally tired of anything that does not directly affect me or my loved ones in the immediate now. And I realize this is an incredibly selfish and privileged stance. But it’s the truth. My truth right now is based on self-interest, because there’s nobody else looking out for me or my family. That’s true for everybody, really.

My immediate crisis is this: My younger brother is a heroin addict. He’s in recovery, but it’s tepid. His addiction has consumed me. It’s not his fault. If I didn’t love him, it wouldn’t affect my entire life. I love him enough to accept the fact that he has a disease which affects my entire life.

Watching a loved one suffer from addiction makes your world much smaller. It drains you of the mental and emotional energy required to care about anything other than the immediate crisis. Despite how much I loathe Trump and find him unfit for any office, even a windowless mailroom, I’ve come to accept that he is not going away anytime soon and I am as powerless in the political process as I am in my brother’s addiction.

I do not feel shame for saying this: I am not actively helping people affected by many of Trump’s policies. I am not doing anything to help the children in cages at the border.

I make an effort to avoid hearing about these things because it is too painful to know about atrocities I cannot fix. I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO U? We may never know what the subliminal message Melania’s infamous Zara coat represents, but it has become a motif in my understanding of politics at this point in life, or rather, in making the personal political.

I don’t really care. Do you?

When no one is looking? Do you really care about climate change, or is “environmental activist” ingrained in your identity because it looks impressive in your Twitter bio? The world’s oxygen supply could disappear within the next 60 years, but let’s be real, by the time that happens you’ll already be dead. Let’s be real, you still use Amazon Prime overnight delivery even though the Amazon is on fire, and every time you choose one-day shipping to buy fucking toilet paper, you add accelerant to the inferno.

Did you retweet that “Know Your Rights” message from the ACLU with instructions on what to do when ICE comes knocking on your door?

Cool! Many have shared their experiences in dealing with ICE after learning their rights from this viral tweet.

So yes, in this case, hashtag activism had an essential impact. You helped make a difference, but don’t conflate the importance of your role in the significance of its outcome.

When ICE comes to your town, will you foster your undocumented neighbors? Will you risk your liberty by actively involving yourself in the situation? Because that’s what it means to really care.

Retweeting is as effortless as it gets. Even the most emotionally burdened among us can take a literal second to retweet the ACLU. Even I was able to muster up the energy to share that post. I’m glad I did. But it was all I did. Does it prove I care about the cause? To care about something means doing more than the bare minimum. I can care about something in theory, but to really care would mean thinking constantly about a problem and doing whatever it takes to solve it.

I am not doing that. I am not constantly thinking about immigration, gun control, climate change or even women’s rights. I’m not subjecting myself to the crippling burden of really caring about anything other than my own reality. Currently, that burden is crippling enough.

Politics aren’t always personal. Accept this, and empathize with those who are too invested in their personal matters to politicize them. It doesn’t make you selfish to step away from something you cannot conceivably change. Am I speaking from ignorant privilege? Or is it privilege that allows you to devote time and strength to political activism?

I don’t assume to know the answers to these philosophical questions. I don’t really care.