I adore the young activist, marching downtown, across her campus, down the highway and through the mall; writing elegant op-eds, blog posts and term papers on poverty; arguing with the ignorant on the importance of giving a damn; and spending her weekends organizing instead of going out to party.
I love that even when she does go out on the town, to a club perhaps, she stops to mourn the homeless she sees, to hand them some food money and say a few kind words with sincerity and feeling. Through this work, she pushes our democracy forward, one painful inch at a time, movement barely noticeable to the rest of us. But when combined with millions of inches from others like her, the world changes.
And yet I despise the girl, in the way she quickly moves from righteous anger to arrogant self-righteousness. I have no regard for how she judges others with a different point of view, slanders and insults them, instead of taking the time to understand and comprehend.
I am a populist and an elitist.
I love the farmer, getting up before the crack of dawn when America is asleep. He tends to his crops, his cattle; he tends to us, growing the food we eat, making our Christmas dinners and Easter hams possible.
He may not know Shakespeare or be a particularly literate man, but through his vocation, he has become a poem himself. He’s the kind of citizen Jefferson loved, our soldiers died for, and no good politicians swoon over today. He’s the kind of man who is better than you and me—and doesn’t even realize it.
And yet I deplore how he treats his son, as the boy lies in bed, face toward the wall, cowering like a frightened bird.
“You disgust me! I don’t want to look at you! You need to go away and get this problem taken care of! It’s a lifestyle choice Jack, nothing more”.
I see the kid’s heartbreak, the tears scalding like acid down his cheeks. He adores his father, always has; it’s why he followed him around growing up, volunteering as his little helper. He prays every night for God to change his nature, to make him right in his Dad’s eyes–but the boy remains who he is.
“I can’t believe you would do this to me,” the farmer says before stalking off.
I am a populist and an elitist.
I love myself. Yes I do. I love how I overcame a childhood rife with bullying and illness, more often than not laughing and joking my way through. I remember starring in the school play, Shakespeare it was, and playing the dirty, funny old man. My heart jumps as I see myself up there, the verse flowing out like cool water, my performance getting roaring laughs from the crowd, all the time I spent practicing in the shower paying off.
That struggling, sick kid, performing his heart out, getting an ear-to-ear grin from his mom and pop.
I see him in bed, overcome with fatigue, trying to deal with a flurry of text messages from his best friend. His body tells him, “No, tell Joel another day. You’re too tired. You need to sleep off your medicine.”
But his heart, full of love for his pal, decides otherwise, and so he walks to the sink and pinches himself till his face grows flush, summoning just enough energy for a day of fun.
And yet I condemn him for how thoughtless he could be, joking behind people’s backs and justifying it with stupid excuses:
“Jane knows I love her. She won’t mind”
Yet Jane or Joe or John always did and felt betrayed by someone they thought was a friend. I should have appreciated people better, cherished them in the way they deserved to be cherished and been more self-aware of my failings as a person.
Which is why I’m a populist and an elitist.
I find people to be infinitely beautiful—striving, loving, dreaming, kissing, caring—endlessly stupid, and always worth fighting for.
Joshua Heath is a Valencia resident and a political science student at UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party.