Polarized is a weekly series featuring Americans from all 50 states sharing their views on the 2020 elections. Click here if you would like to be a part of this project
Nancy Shively has a difficult choice to make.
The school she works at has announced plans to reopen just as it normally would after the summer months, despite a raging pandemic that has taken nearly 150,000 American lives.
When the students return to classrooms in mid-August, they won’t be required to wear any face masks, according to Shively.
The 63-year-old Oklahoma resident lives in a little town just north of Tulsa, and has feared contracting the novel coronavirus since it reached the United States earlier this year. Shively has multiple autoimmune diseases, and is immunosuppressed because she does not have a spleen.
“I’m pretty high-risk for bad stuff if I catch it,” she says about Covid-19. “At the moment I’m trying to decide whether I’m going to go back or not.”
The decision not to go back to school next month, where Shively works in special ed intervention for kids who are struggling with math and reading, would put her out of work — but it might also save her life.
As she mulls over the unfortunate reality of having to choose between her students or protecting her personal health, at least Shively can rest easy knowing her mind is fully made up when it comes to the 2020 presidential elections.
The pandemic has provided Shively — and many voters like her — with a moment of reckoning. A lifelong Republican who has voted for every GOP presidential candidate since 1976, Shively will be casting her ballot in November for former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
She’s completely withdrawn her support for Republicans, going so far as to change her voter registration to independent just a few months ago in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. And it all started when Trump began addressing the nation about the coronavirus on a daily basis.
“I voted for Trump very reluctantly because I just couldn’t vote for Hillary, so I held my nose and voted for Trump,” she explains. “I wasn’t that engaged politically, I hardly ever watched the news — until the pandemic hit. Then [Trump] started doing the pandemic press conferences. That’s when I got to see who he was on full display.”
Her opposition towards the Republican Party wasn’t just at the federal level, however: Shively also became concerned about the local Republican agenda in Oklahoma, and the GOP’s disdain for funding public schools and the education system.
Check out more of The Independent’s series, Polarized: Voices From Across America
Shively participated in a teacher walkout in the spring of 2018, an experience she recalls as eye-opening.
“We went down to the state capitol and I witnessed the Republican legislators running away from us and not wanting to fund schools,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘This just is not the Republican Party I grew up with. It’s just not.’ So that, paired with Trump’s insanity on the pandemic response, I just didn’t even know who these [Republicans] were anymore.”
As Shively fears what might happen when the schools reopen next month, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt is continuing to put voters in jeopardy, she says.
“Our governor is — pardon my French — determined to kiss Trump’s ass as much as possible, so he’s not going to mandate masks — despite the fact that he got coronavirus himself,” she says. “There’s a lot of people that are Trump supporters around here. Oklahoma is as deep red as it gets.”
And yet, more and more Republicans like Shively appear to be breaking away from the GOP to instead support Biden — something she never would have predicted happening in her life.
“Over the years, I’ve always been conservative, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more moderate,” she says. Still, she felt Trump was “gross and a misogynist” during the 2016 election, “but picking between him and Hillary Clinton was like choosing the lesser of two evils.”
“I figured he was the lesser of those two evils,” she says. “Well, I was wrong on that one!”
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