2016 presidential electionI’m supposed to have an opinion. Generally, when writing an opinion column, that’s the case. And certainly as an educated person with strong feelings on controversial topics, it would seem highly likely that I would not only have an opinion but express it forcefully.

Indeed, because it is a presidential election year it seems that everyone around me has a strong opinion — if not for a specific candidate then for a political party or ideology. I’m told to vote for “Anyone but Trump” or “Anyone but Hillary.” I’m told that “There’s too much at stake to let the GOP win,” or that “There’s too much at stake to let the Democrats win.” It reminds me of a hastily penned letter that my great-grandfather sent to my grandmother when she was away at school: “Vote Republican. Will explain later.”

But folks, you’ve explained and you’ve explained, and all you’ve managed to do is make me want to go live somewhere without internet access (harsh words, I know).

This is what I’ve gleaned from listening to a lifetime of political banter: I’m supposed to pick a political party that most closely represents my political opinions. Then I’m supposed to pick a candidate who most closely represents my political opinions. Then I’m supposed to yammer on and on about it until you see the light, too. Then we all go to the polls together and sing “Kumbaya,” and as long as Those Bad People Who Think Differently don’t steal the election, we all can go home happy, secure in the knowledge that we have saved the universe by Being Informed.

Here’s the problem, though: How can we really be informed? I don’t truly know a darn thing about any one of these people who are vying for the highest office in the land. I know how they present themselves. I know how their people spin them. I know some of the things they have done, but I don’t have a full knowledge of the circumstances in which they have done them. I don’t have anywhere near the information I need to make an informed decision.

“So get informed,” you say! Read their websites! Watch the debates! Watch hours and hours of political commentary! Because, of course, I have nothing else going on in my life. I’m all about presidential politics. I don’t have children to feed or a job that relentlessly requires my presence or my own intellectual pursuits or the need to sleep more than four hours a night.

Folks, if I have to choose between helping with homework and reading your vision statement, homework wins. And if I have a quiet moment between work and sleep and I can choose either working on my own creative writing or slogging through yours, I’m not sorry to admit that I choose poetry over the purple prose of politics, because I can be hoodwinked by people whom I actually know in real life, people whom I can look directly in the eye and get my own personal read on. I can know someone for years and think we are on the same page when we aren’t even in the same book.

So how am I supposed to figure out which one of these complete strangers, whose hands I have never shaken, can be trusted with this country that I adore? How am I supposed to know who will make the right judgment call for situations I may never know of? How do I know who has a good heart? There isn’t a speech out there that will tell me that information. And it seems ridiculous to pursue that information at the cost of other important things in my life when — let’s face it — we know how the general election is going to go in Utah.

Or so I thought, until I watched state after state fall to Trump. While I still acknowledge that the facade may not be the entire truth of the man, the fact that this is the facade he chose tells me all I really need to know. I decided that I needed to check my apathy (at least during the contentious 2016 presidential election season) and attend my local Republican caucus. Apparently, many folks had that feeling, because they were not prepared for the size of the crowd (although, thankfully, it wasn’t as crazy as the Democratic caucus). I found a seat on the hard risers in the middle school gym and settled in for a long night of Democracy in Action.

2016 presidential election
The Republican Caucus in Springville, Utah. Photo: Marianne Hales Harding

First was the election of the precinct chair. Five names were put forward, but four had been volunteered by other people and were immediately withdrawn (generally with a wry chuckle). Only one candidate remained, but we still had a call for a brief speech. His speech ended with “I ask you to vote for me, as the only option.” And yet it was not to be that simple. Before we could vote, the poor man was grilled about things like whether or not he would commit to living in the precinct for the two-year term, what his intentions were with his employment, etc. Finally, we voted. He won.

It was a similar story with the race for vice chair, although all three of these candidates chose to give speeches before two of them withdrew (one in order to run for state delegate and one “to make this quicker”). The race for county and state delegates was more lively, but for the most part, if you volunteered you got the job.

Finally, we got to the main event, and as the ballots were being passed around, someone called out, “I’m voting for Ronald Reagan!” Another voice answered, “You’ll have to wait until the Resurrection!” Then we all dutifully made our X’s and passed the tiny papers to the proffered baskets like so many middle-schoolers passing notes in class: “Dear Utah, will you make me embarrassed to be an American? Check yes or no.”

It took a few minutes for the workers to count votes. Five? Ten? Fifteen? Time had lost meaning at least an hour prior. In the meantime, everyone around me was talking politics, and I passed the time by listening. I nearly turned around several times to interrupt the rant of a little old lady sitting behind me. She just didn’t understand why people had a problem with Trump. After all, the mean-spirited liberals were at the gate, just waiting to take away the church’s tax-exempt status and get their hands on our tithing. Only Trump, the Great Defender of Religion, could save us.

It took tremendous self-control, but I remained silent. What would yelling at a little old lady accomplish? I know people can discuss politics without yelling, but there is something about Trump that makes me go full-on Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk — so much so that I generally refrain from talking about the 2016 presidential election for reasons of public safety.

I hadn’t really examined why this was so until a recent political discussion with my relentlessly logical brother-in-law who, while not a Trump supporter himself, was genuinely curious about my reaction to this particular candidate. I don’t usually subscribe to sensational political language or doomsday election predictions. I have survived elections wherein my candidate did not win. The sky did not fall. Life in America was not forever ruined. Nobody was forced to become a Communist. But this election and this candidate seem fundamentally different. Something about this candidate speaks to issues I fight for and that I do believe will have dire consequences if not addressed.

The only other politician who has made my blood boil this much is the city councilman in Pleasant Grove who argued that you couldn’t call it rape if a man had sex with his sleeping wife. Because, you know, she doesn’t have the right to control her own body once she becomes her husband’s property. It’s that mindset that gets my blood boiling with Trump, too.

He’s the embodiment of rape culture. He unabashedly objectifies women, reducing even his own daughters to breasts and legs that he would apparently chase after sexually if it wasn’t, you know, incest. Sexual harassment is a huge part of his braggart persona — because who doesn’t find it entertaining when a boss uses innuendo to further humiliate an employee, as seen on the now infamous episode of The Apprentice? He encourages violence at his rallies and is dismissive of anyone with a different viewpoint, especially if she is female and stands her ground (hello, Megyn Kelly).

And people are OK with this. By a landslide! It doesn’t matter if you support other things he says; if you are going to support Trump, you have to either embrace or set aside his treatment of women. Objectifying women is not a game-changer for you. Sexual harassment is not a game-changer for you. Unfettered violence is not a game-changer for you. I’m flabbergasted by that. More than flabbergasted, I’m furious about that.

2016 presidential election
Republican Presidential Debate moderator, Megyn Kelly, whose experience with candidate Donald Trump illustrates his troublesome reactions to people, especially women, who ask tough questions.

We have worked so hard to get the world to hear the voices of victims of sexual violence. Voting for Trump is saying that none of this matters (so long as it’s entertaining). And don’t think for a minute that seeking to dominate people sexually in conversation doesn’t pave the way for seeking to dominate them physically. That is what you are endorsing when you endorse Trump.

America, do you really believe what he is saying? Do you really embrace what he embodies? Doesn’t anyone care about women’s voices? Doesn’t anyone stand with me against sexual violence?

At the caucus, Trump lost by a large margin. They called out the numbers to the crowd. “Cruz: 137” … 137 people cheered. “Kasich: 25” … 25 people cheered. “Trump: 13.” Everybody cheered. And then we all walked out to our cars and went home, feeling we had done our civic duty. But I kept thinking about those 13 people, 13 of my neighbors, people who felt strongly enough about the 2016 presidential election to sit for hours in a middle school, some on the hard gym floor. People who felt informed enough to make an unpopular decision. People who watched a man tell the world who he is and either didn’t believe him or didn’t care. It shook the apathy right out of me.

I still feel woefully uninformed and ineffective. I still don’t know who to vote for. I still choose poetry more often than politics. But I’m not biting my tongue anymore. I stand with all those who will not be silenced by shameful ignorance.

So it turns out that I do have an opinion about the 2016 presidential election: Let’s vote for a person who recognizes that women are people, too.