In 2008 Barack Obama emerged to be elected President of the United States. Now, in 2016, a truly vile man seeks to succeed him as leader of this nation.
The hope and optimism of 2008 seem more and more like a distant dream. Optimism? Sarah Palin (remember her?) spoke derisively of ‘hopey-changey’ stuff. She was the asterisk to the hope of the Obama campaign, the one sour note of that joyful year in politics. But the rancor of the 2016 presidential campaign shows that she was not a bug of the Republican party. She was a feature.
I was an American who was inspired by candidate Obama’s call for unity, his rhetoric of not a red America, or a blue America, but a United States of America. Bill Maher once said he was tired of politicians hailing the heartland, wondering why people from the rural center of the country were considered more American than those of us from cities and suburbs from other parts of the country. Obama’s campaign gathered those of us who didn’t come from the amber waves of grain and reminded us that we too are America. His effort at inclusion wasn’t just geographic, uniting all regions of the country (minus the Southeast), but also racial, making those of us who are not of WASP-descent feel like an equally vital part of this nation. If the biracial candidate with African and white roots, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, and had a last name as uncommon as mine, could unite the country and reach the highest office in the land, anything truly seemed possible. We had always learned that anyone could grow up to become President of the United States. He represented the best in us, and he gave me, and many others, immense hope.
So it is important to remember the good feeling that prevailed eight years ago in order to appreciate how horrid things are now. All of the optimism is gone. I, a descendant of immigrants, have been made to feel in the current political climate that I am less than some of my fellow citizens. Rather than inspire the better angels of our nature, the presidential candidate of the opposition party fuels hate. The election is rigged, he warns, not because sinister forces conspire to steal the election, but because some citizens, his followers believe, are less legitimate than others. They- Arabs, Mexicans, women, Asians, African-Americans- aren’t “real” Americans like we are, so their votes don’t count as much as ours do, their thinking goes. We have to watch the polls to make sure they don’t do anything fishy, they protest. It is terrifying for all citizens of good conscience to watch half of our country descend into the fever swamps of hate. 2008 was a season of unity and hope. 2016 is a season of division and anxiety. It has clarified for me, like no history lesson ever did, an understanding of 1930’s Italy and Germany. I just hope that the hate sown by Donald Trump doesn’t give way to violence. I hope.