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viewpoint

An election reflection

| Monday, November 5, 2018

I experienced my first election day thrill on Nov. 4, 2008. If you’ll recall, that day was the culmination of years of campaigning and diligent politicization that led to the victory and subsequent assumption of the first black man to the presidency of the United States. I was eleven.

I cannot understate my desperate supplication at my parents’ feet, begging and pleading to stay up later and later and later to see the final tally. It was the biggest election of my life and I wanted to relish in every moment. Poignant moments from that night quickly engraved themselves into the grey matter of my limbic system serving as a permanent epitaph to any future political apathy, an enduring etching of hope, an undying impression of American democracy at its finest.

I remember the ephemerality of that green check next to Barack Hussein Obama’s name and photograph as North Carolina swung blue by the smallest of margins (.33 percent if my limbic system serves me right). I remember the astonishment in my parents’ eyes.

I remember the juvenile excitement for school the next day, ready to break out the bodacious “I told you so” dance for my friends whose parents voted for McCain; for all my friends who, as impressionable eleven-year-olds, had propagated some of the worst playground conspiracy theories; for all my friends who had made jokes about Obama’s racial identity and his supposed communism and the downfall of America under an Obama presidency.

I remember waking up every few minutes, sneaking out of my room, down the hallway toward the ever-brightening light of my parents’ TV, quietly peeking into the infinitesimally cracked door to “make sure” he really did win.

With election day tomorrow, a short ten years after that memorable night of presidential excellence and hope, I can’t help but grieve for the naivete of my youth. I can’t help but grieve for the assumed infallibility of American democracy. I can’t help but mourn the loss of reason and honesty and decency and integrity and hope in our political consciousness.

When I think about politics today, no longer is Barack Obama and his idealism the image in my head. No longer do I think about the passage of the Affordable Care Act and how that gave over 300,000 Hoosiers (alone) access to healthcare. No longer do I think about economic stimulus and America miraculously swimming to the surface from the abyss of recession. No longer do I think about an increase of LGBTQ rights. No longer do I think about the pacification of the Middle East through historic nuclear disarmament. No longer do I think about a government writing and executing legislation aimed at helping the ordinary American. No longer do I think about an executive seeking to eliminate the lines that delineate Americans from each other.

When I think about politics today, I see red. I see the red-faced anger and hatred of Donald Trump and his accomplices. I see 54 different house votes attempting to repeal the evils of Obamacare. I see the hypocritical acceptance of a 1.5 trillion dollar budget deficit. I see stagnant wages and an ebb in job growth. I see the erasure of transgender people in our executive administration’s lexicon. I see an inflammation of tensions in the Middle East and war mongering for electoral support. I see an executive seeking to stoke fear of “the other” and deepen natural lines of division into trenches of demarcation.

I hate that this is the way my understanding of American politics has digressed. I hate that cynicism has pierced through my political nature. To be fair to myself, though, I think the cynicism 100 percent justified. My growing belief in the illegitimacy and vitriolic nature of America’s democratic institutions is not unique. Maybe it’s just a “young voter” thing. Maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, it doesn’t have to be this way. Our political system doesn’t have to operate as an alienated projection of power beyond our control. It’s built to do the opposite, in fact.

Yesterday — Sunday, Nov. 4 —I found myself in Gary, Ind. at a “get out the vote rally.” Barack Obama happened to be one of the various speakers stumping in support of current Indiana senator Joe Donnelly. Where my message revolves around lamentations of cynicism at the growth of hatred and fear in our politics, Barack Obama’s message revolved around his favorite theme — hope.

Something he said specifically stood out to me: “the only antidote to a politics of division and hatred is a politics of hope.” But this hope is not inevitable. It takes work. It takes the work of voters, the ordinary human beings that make this democracy possible. So, while my reflection is much more cynical than Barack Obama’s, I do share in his diagnosis. 2018 is an immensely important election: it will decide whether we want a politics of hatred or a politics of hope.

Don’t become alienated. Vote for hope. That’s the true antidote.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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