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You don’t always have to agree with your politicians

We all seek the perfect embodiment of our personal beliefs and ideologies in those whom we support politically. We look to them for guidance, leadership, justice, and integrity. We also might look to them to affirm and validate our own convictions or perspectives. As global citizens, we are hoping to find political representation that perfectly aligns with our vision of what society should be. However, as strong as this desire is, it’s an impossible reality. Unfortunately, time and time again we are disappointed by the politicians we support, and often we disagree with their policies and actions, too. I’m here to say that this frustration is completely justified.

You don’t always have to agree with your politician. In fact, you don’t even have to consistently agree with just one singular politician. You don’t have to advocate for just one particular person to represent your beliefs, either. It is okay to be disappointed by your politicians because politicians are, by default, problematic.

But first, I’d like to make a distinction between problematic and corrupt. Politicians are often problematic which means they sometimes defend policies that you don’t agree with. Or they vote on a bill with a decision you never expected. Or they endorse a candidate you despise. Or a scandal from their past surfaces. A corrupt person, on the other hand, is someone who is tyrannical. It is someone who actively acts in favor of their own selfish gain and in opposition to society as a collective whole. A corrupt person’s goal is solely to gain control and oppress. So, Bernie Sanders? Problematic. Mitch McConnell? Corrupt and tyrannical. They fall under two different categories.

But, to some degree, all politicians are problematic from one perspective or another. This is simply due to human difference—differences in lived experiences or growth, differences in epistemologies or ideologies, and differences in intention. And still, it is acceptable for us to support someone despite those differences.

It took me a while to accept this. I, like many others, naively wished for a political hero to save us from all of the corruption within the American government. Once upon a time, I supported Andrew Yang as a viable democratic presidential candidate; he was logical and intelligent, personable and charismatic. Many of his policies seemed like great solutions to some of the economic, political, and societal problems we have in the United States today. Universal basic income to combat artificial intelligence taking over some of the most common jobs in America? Yes, sign me up. Ranked choice voting so we never have to vote for just one person for any office ever again? That could solve so much in terms of party politics.

However, as Yang continued to share more of his proposed policies and took actions I opposed, he became just as problematic as any other political figure in my eyes.

Yang didn’t support universal healthcare. He also wanted to keep American troops deployed overseas. Both things I personally disagree with. This confliction didn’t sit right with me. I kept thinking: How could I support someone who may ultimately have a hand in shaping the future of my country, while opposing some of the things he believes in? Would it be right for me to support him? I felt unsure.

He also sometimes reaffirmed Asian stereotypes with catchphrases like, “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math!” and his MATH caps. For Yang to use this phrase and capitalize on it was, in a way, to cater to his white audience by essentially legitimating a stereotype that claims that all Asians are good at math—a stereotype many non-Asian people perpetuate.

When the spread of COVID-19 fueled anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, and Trump himself deemed coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” many Asian Americans looked to Andrew Yang to call this behavior out. In an attempt to address this racism, Yang wrote an opinion letter in the Washington Post that was published in April. Rather than condemning this racist rhetoric, Yang called for Asians to step up as Americans saying “Asian Americans need to embrace and show [their] American-ness in ways [they] never have before…. [they] should show without a shadow of a doubt that [they] are Americans who will do [their] part for [their] country in this time of need.”

This was, as many critics have expressed, an unsettling message. Yang, as an Asian American, was not explicitly defending his fellow Asian Americans. Instead, he made a flawed argument that states Asian Americans need to make themselves appear more agreeable to white Americans to combat this racism. Yang faced backlash from Asian communities across the country. Simu Liu, who is set to play an Asian American superhero in the Marvel universe, called Yang’s op-ed a “slap in the face.” Conversely, writer Hannah Nguyen defended Yang stating Yang did not call for Asians to assimilate into American society, but rather to embrace the American identity—a statement she supports. Others appreciated what they perceived as a message for Asian Americans to come together with all Americans. But, in my eyes, Yang made a grave error in wording which led me to rethink what his values about race, ethnicity, and diversity are.

So much of the public seemed to hate Yang after his opinion letter was published. I almost hopped on that bandwagon, too, until I realized that criticism is not the same thing as hate, and frankly it should not be the same thing. People are undeniably quick to attack those with whom they disagree. This is a major problem in American politics today. Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American ancestry and was, rightly, vehemently attacked for it. But this dire mistake should not overshadow her efforts to fight for Medicare for All and affordable college. Ilhan Omar voted “present” on the Armenian genocide resolution. This was also justifiably criticized, but it shouldn’t take away from her agenda to establish proper paid family and sick leave. So, despite my disagreements with Andrew Yang, I realized these don’t cancel out the things I do agree with.

I still think Yang would be a great leader despite his being problematic. Many of his ideas would do wonders to improve America both economically and societally. That said, I also continue to be disappointed by some of his ideas and some of the things he has done—but this is natural. Let’s keep critiquing those in power, but let’s also normalize disagreement and disappointment without blacklisting our problematic politicians.

By Dola Haque

Dola Haque is a Master of Arts student in English at Northeastern University. Her research includes rhetorics of immigration and race, global feminisms, and narratives and storytelling. Language is her obsession. She is an aspiring novelist and public scholar who hopes to crush the hetero-normative patriarchy while unapologetically finding ways to be joyful and singing her way through life.