February 26, 2024

Where's the Party?

Opinion Columnist
By Mary Keyes Rogers | Feb. 10, 2024

I thought I knew myself. I like my sandwiches cut on the diagonal. I am uncomfortable being jostled in a crowd. And, when given the option, I opt for blue cheese dressing on my iceberg wedge. This is who I am. I’m also a Democrat. Maybe.

I’m a Democrat who votes for a lot of Republicans, who is very uncomfortable with the goings-on of the Democratic National Party, who believes its leadership is out of touch with members, and, well, I could go on and on. I am being very generous to the blue party when calling myself a Democrat.

While I cannot see myself diverting from my position on the diagonal sandwich cut, I can easily see a future where I no longer identify as a Democrat. Perhaps that day is here. I long for the days of Sen. John McCain. I am concerned by the departure of Sen. Mitt Romney’s moral compass. Can you imagine?

So, I ask, “How committed are you to your party affiliation?” These parties have significantly changed positions over the years. This is not Ronald Reagan’s Republican party or John F. Kennedy’s Democratic party. Put another way: What happens when the fundamental values and policy positions of the tribe you’ve embraced, perhaps for a lifetime, change so dramatically from what you recall that you can’t wear the label?

This reminds me of that point in high school when some of your lifelong friends started partying, and you had to decide if you would follow them in hopes of becoming a popular kid instead of being seen as a nerd at the risk of losing your friend group. Do you stay or do you go?

Both Democrats and Republicans can be heard saying or whispering, “The party doesn’t represent me anymore” or “I’m embarrassed by my political party.” This is not because another party is so very attractive.

Here’s what I think: Our party system isn’t going away anytime soon, so call yourself whatever you want, the Party of Peter or Patty, skip the primary election if you wish, and in the general election, support candidates with positions on policies that address problems, not voter attraction. You might inform your local, state, or national party in writing or a phone call of what matters to you rather than writing "none of the above" on your ballot.

Pew Research reports, "Nearly a third of Americans report holding negative views of both the Republican and Democratic parties… higher than at any other point in our nearly 30 years of polling. Sizable minorities see flaws in their party: 48% of Republicans and 35% of Democrats say their party ‘too often makes excuses for members with hateful views.’”

The political parties are now convenient for tidying primaries, fundraising, and encouraging groupthink. Voters don’t need to think too hard. No need to explore the issues too deeply, taking a step back for five minutes or five days while some facts roll in. We look to the loudest members of our tribe to tell us what is true, and what we think, and then accept the Fox or CNN version.

We have stopped expecting ourselves and our political leaders to tackle the significant external threats to our daily lives. Where is my guru to tell me what I think? Am I being heard and seen?

While we’ve ignored the warning signs, urgent problems still exist facing our people and planet. We have hearings. Nothing happens. Twenty-seven bills in 12 months. There is serious work to be done, and we need serious people to solve those challenges. I mean, come on, while Congress was fighting over Hunter Biden’s laptop, who uses which bathroom, favored pronouns, George Santos, etc., they only managed to pass 27 bills into legislation, a new low.

Unfortunately, I can imagine 2024’s slew of campaign strategists will have candidates distracting the electorate from what is essential in order to viscerally connect with specific tribes via wedge issues. I predict the mean-spirited tension between the two parties may drive Americans to tune out of political conversation altogether, which I imagine is good for our collective mental health.

Honestly, while I find my new lack of political identity as uncomfortable as being jostled by strangers for days on end, I yearn to be part of a club, but maybe I just need a support group.

Mary Keyes Rogers is a resident of Traverse City, providing consulting services to small business owners. Her career has included her radio show Mary in the Morning, Marigold Women in Business, executive director of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and Michigan Small Business Development Center.

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