When I started college in 2016, the nation was gearing up for one of the most contentious presidential elections we had ever encountered in recent memory. It wasn’t just Republicans versus Democrats; it was nothing short of a political civil war that threatened to tear the country apart at the seams. And yet, so many of us—especially the vast majority of collegiate “elites”—looked at the Trump campaign and the wave of passionate alt-right nationalism it mobilized as a definitive impossibility. There was no way that Donald Trump could be elected President of the United States. Sure, there were all those white-nationalists and establishment Republicans who would give him their support, some more enthusiastically than others, but this wild sensationalism couldn’t possibly overcome Hillary Clinton, who in many of our eyes was without question better qualified and more capable of running the country, even amid her many, many flaws. (I voted for Hillary with raised eyebrows, more with the mindset of “Well, out of these two people, this shady career politician is infinitely better than a blatantly corrupt, sexist, racist, egotistical orange monster; at the very least, she’ll know what to do in the dire situations faced by the highest office in the land”). Once the election had passed, it would be politics as usual.
Truly, our blindness to the passion of Trump supporters was an arrogant and ignorant mindset. The anger and frustration of poor, disenfranchised whites that had been building up over the years had surpassed a boiling point, and we chose to ignore it. Hillary herself gave fuel to this populace by describing them as “deplorables,” which only exacerbated the already growing disparity in political values across the country. She contributed to the “us versus them” mentality.
So when Trump won, we sat dumbfounded. I’ll never forget how surreal the following Wednesday felt; it was as if everything had been frozen in a vintage polaroid photograph with all of the colors decidedly muted. My immediate response was a stoic piano improvisation of the Star-Spangled Banner, but in a minor key. I just couldn’t put into words exactly how I felt.
It wasn’t so much that Hillary had lost, but that we as Americans no longer lived up to the first word in our nation’s name. We were not united. We no longer engaged in dialogue over the issues that divided us, but rather screamed and threw tantrums like insolent children fighting on a playground.
Now, I could go on and on (and on) about how disastrous the Trump presidency has been in the last few years, or how wrong his supporters were to vote for him, or about how inexcusable it is that at this point in time anyone can stand up and defend a man who clearly has no intention to respect and defend the sanctity of American democracy. But that’s not why I’ve decided to write today. Instead, I want to focus on the next step for our nation. I want to focus on a source of hope and healing for a nation still reeling from the 2016 election. This next step is Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
I have always been an extremely proud South Bender, which hasn’t always been easy. When I was younger, my friends and classmates often dismissed any municipal pride because South Bend just wasn’t that exciting of a place for them. It was run down, rusted out, a poster child for many formerly industrial Midwest cities. But I never stopped loving my city despite its flaws. I loved exploring its history and heritage. For my eighth birthday, I asked my mom to take me to the Copshaholm House Museum, a turn-of-the-century residence built for the Oliver family, one of South Bend’s industrial giants. I went to as many South Bend Symphony Orchestra performances as possible, and played horn and piano in the city youth orchestra. I had a stint as the organist at one of the downtown Catholic churches, founded by Irish/German immigrants, which oddly sits across the street from another Catholic church, St. Hedwig’s, founded by Polish immigrants. My family setup tailgates at Notre Dame football games in the fall, and went to South Bend Cubs baseball games in the spring. Every morning I read the South Bend Tribune, following stories of potential developments and new businesses moving into the city, looking for even the faintest flames of hope. My high school sat atop a hill overlooking the city’s downtown, and the humble view of revitalization never ceased to inspire me.
When Mayor Pete was elected into office, my hope grew. He empowered his city—my city—and worked to put South Bend back on the map. He showed us that we needed to redefine our goals to bring our city into the future. We could no longer rely on a gilded industrial past as a blueprint for a comeback. And pretty quickly, we started to see great changes in our city. New businesses in the tech industry opened up shop in Ignition Park, formerly the site of numerous Studebaker factories. New restaurants and bars helped revitalize a once desolate downtown and have brought young millennials into the area. New infrastructure initiatives gave our city a fresh face and made it more appealing to new businesses moving in. South Bend continues to grow, and every time I return home from school I am delighted to see something new.
I’ll never forget the day in June 2015, just a few months after I had come out as gay to my friends and family, when my dad handed me the newspaper with the headline “South Bend mayor: Why coming out matters.” I cried. One of my personal heroes, someone who loved South Bend just as much as I did, someone who had lived the narrative of a closeted teenager in a conservative Midwestern city, had the courage to come out of the closet and augment the hope of so many of the city’s LGBTQ+ young people.That feeling of validation stuck with me. I didn’t have to worry about my future as a young gay man anymore. Pete was paving the way for more of us to live happy, honest, fulfilling lives regardless of our sexuality.
And today, Mayor Pete announced his candidacy to be the next president of the United States of America. A young gay man from a city once considered to be dying in a state that historically bleeds red with conservatism is running for the highest office in the land.
This is the hope this nation has been waiting for. This is the candidate whose progressive politics combined with bipartisan experience can unite this country under the very ideals that make us American. Yes, I am aware that Pete, like any candidate (or any person, for that matter) is not perfect. But his ideas are relevant, and his approach refreshing. He has empirically shown his ability to work together toward a common goal, and has been open to compromise. That word—compromise—must be an essential component for any political candidate regardless of political affiliation. If we want to move forward as a nation, we must listen to one another, we must find common ground. We cannot do the Hillary/Trump thing in which we alienate the “others” and perpetuate an “us versus them” political environment. Pete listens. Pete communicates. Pete takes a stand and thoroughly explains where he is coming from. Pete doesn’t coddle us but forces us to confront our reality and find practical, common sense ways to overcome the obstacles we face. He did it in South Bend. He showed us that if we kept dwelling on “the good ole days” of Studebaker and kept trying to recreate the past, we would never see any progress. And then he showed us how to move forward. The city is in the midst of a true Renaissance, and this is without question thanks to Mayor Pete. So let’s bring this Renaissance to the national level. Let’s make Mayor Pete Buttigieg the next president of the United States of America.