My political education made me a journalist

by Ryan Williams-Jent
(Ryan Wiliams-Jent is managing editor of Watermark, based in Orlando, Fla. The following editorial appeared in the August 31, 2023, edition of Watermark and appears here with the permission.)

Watermark’s Ryan Wiliams-Jent

I turned 18 in December of 2002, just five months before I graduated high school. A quick Google search tells me that only 9.1 percent of the world’s population used the internet at the time, so it wasn’t big news.

There are around 5.18 billion users online now, which amounts to 64.6 percent of the global population. It was a much slower world in 2002, one with only three million websites to visit, which is why we used Internet Explorer.

These days there are 1.13 billion websites to choose from, with another built every three seconds. The information superhighway’s never been more super: 85.95 percent of cell users carry the internet with them everywhere they go.

That wasn’t the case back then. I didn’t dare launch the web browser on my Nokia, the brick I primarily used to play state-of-the-art games like Snake, for fear of its absurd charges and crawling speeds. Information could be scarce if you didn’t know where or how to look.

It was in that slower world that the nation was still healing from 9/11, understandably so, while many Americans were finding new ways to hate because of it. It was also when I was tasked with casting my first vote for president. No pressure.

I didn’t know it at the time, but just two days before my 18th birthday one of the nation’s two viable choices began to form his campaign: John Kerry, the former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State. He now serves as the nation’s first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate and seemed like a fine choice to me.

After he received the Democratic nomination for president, he went on to face incumbent George W. Bush in 2004. Even as a teenager, I could tell how inept the Republican was.

I didn’t think that because of his party affiliation, or because I was a Democrat. In fact, I was initially registered to vote as a Republican myself.

It was basically a default setting. My immediate and extended family never talked about politics or religion growing up, out of apathy or what I assume they considered to be a courtesy, so I knew only two things about either for years. That I was a Southern Baptist and a Republican.

I’m proud to say I’m neither now, but I didn’t think much about politics at the time. It didn’t seem like politics thought much about me, so I was just returning the favor.

It was in that context that I cast my first presidential ballot — for Bush, even though I gravitated toward Kerry. It felt like that’s what I was supposed to do, and he was re-elected with 50.7 percent of the vote.

I regret it these days, and it’s not something I’ve told many people over the years, because the man was terrible for our country and community. But I share it to express how important it is to educate others on what truly matters, particularly with so much information available at our fingertips.

That’s one of the reasons I became a journalist. I’ve long believed that listening to every side of an argument is the best way to understand one’s own point of view, which is why I also recently watched the GOP’s first 2024 presidential primary debate.

I wouldn’t vote for Bush today, and I’ve proudly voted Democrat in every election since I did, but I can tell you I’d choose him over any of the Republican candidates standing on that stage. They made that choice for me when almost all of them said they’d still support Donald Trump — the twice-impeached ex-president who clearly tried to steal the 2020 election — should he win their party’s nomination next year.

The man is the only president in U.S. history to face criminal charges, and he was indicted for the fourth time the next day. He faces 91 charges so far and now holds another distinction: it isn’t Trump’s presidential portrait history will remember, it’s his mug shot.

The man should never have been elected president to begin with, but if the destruction of his first term — before, on and after January 6 — can’t sway a Republican’s devotion, there’s no hope for the party. So much for law and order.

Volume 25
Issue 8

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October 18, 2023