I’ve found that people in my mother’s generation, the Boomers, can’t usually remember the first presidential election they participated in. I find that interesting, since the people I’m most often in political arguments with are Boomers. I have inferred from these two things that 1, Boomers weren’t terribly political people until they got older, and 2, that Boomers, above all else, are characterized by a desire to talk.
I did the math, and my mother turned eighteen just a month before the Nixon v. McGovern election. I know that she voted for McGovern. I know this because her father was a Democrat, and therefore she registered as a Democrat.
When I first learned this, I thought it was terrible. I couldn’t imagine voting for someone just because my mom did. I have thoughts, values, and opinions that are dramatically different from my mother, so often our political opinions are quite different. It took a while for me to think about why that was so awful, though. It’s because I had the time. I had the luxury of time to investigate the candidates. I googled their positions on topics important to me. I wasn’t being pressured into getting married right out of high school. I wasn’t a minority for not having ended up pregnant in high school. I had options and free time, and I had been encouraged to know and understand the world around me. My mother wasn’t privy to ANY of that.
When my mother was eighteen, she was graduating high school, getting her first divorce, figuring out where to live so she didn’t have to move back in with one of her parents, had no idea what she was supposed to do with her future, AND her senior year was sullied by riots and violence caused by the hostility of desegregation. In the small city my mother was raised in, it was the norm for girls to get married in high school, get knocked up, and never finish high school, much less go to college. This was doubly true when kids were scared of going to school because of the rioting… people could get killed. My mother had gotten married, but insisted on finishing high school. She was also not on board with being barefoot and pregnant while relying on some good ol’ boy from her hometown to take care of her. My mother was, and still is even if she’d never admit it, a freethinking feminist.She didn’t know that at the time, of course… and she really didn’t want ME to be one, oddly enough.
I’m fortunate that my high school career was pretty boring. I went to an a public school in a nice neighborhood (even if we didn’t live in that nice neighborhood), with a mixture of races, creeds, and religions, and never had to think twice about it. I was literally so fortunate that I didn’t even understand that I was going to have to decide what to do with my life until like my second year of college. Even now I kick myself for living in that dream world… but my academic life is a post for another time. My point is that I lived a life of security, and so when my first election year came up, I was prepared AND I was excited.
I guess it helps that my first election year was the year of hope. Obama spouted off about hope a lot that year, and while I knew that hope was a fickle thing that could leave at any time, I was excited to be part of something so much bigger than myself. My friends were equally excited. One even had an Obama party for election day. That win was amazing. It was a win for hope, and it was a win that put the first black president into office. (I am aware of the strangeness that mom’s first election was marred by the violence of desegregation and mine was highlighted by the election of the first black president… if this were a work of fiction, that would be a genius plot device.)
This election was a joke, and it took a lot away from me. Actually, the whole campaign season was a joke, with half the country backing a candidate that didn’t even win the party vote, and the other half backing a caricature depiction of what every country in the world sees America as: a racist, stupid, entitled fuck. I was legitimately ashamed of being American this year. (Although, Australia also had political catastrophes this year worthy of laughing at… but the world doesn’t have all eyes on Australian government.)
I was so sure, so very sure, that the American people wouldn’t let me down. Maybe a candidate like Ted Cruz could have garnered enough votes to win. He’s still a ludicrous Republican with no idea how the average American lives, but he’s a legit politician with a sense of decorum and people watching what he says so he doesn’t shout, “KILL ALL THE (insert pretty much anything that isn’t a cis, hetero, white man here)” from the rooftops. Surely, I thought, no one was REALLY going to vote for Trump, though. I mean, last time he ran for office he was laughed out of the election before the primaries. Much to my dismay, and true to form, America let me down.
Even before we get into how the American electoral system let me down, America let me down. The fact that there was ANYONE in the country, my country, that could listen to this bigot talk and not hate him was beyond me. The idea that there are people in the world that could back someone with his history, with his mouth, with his blatant disregard for the courtesy of lying to the American people about what you stand for just to save face… This man isn’t a Republican who is against abortion and for religion, and I’m mad because his idea of America is more “traditional” and less “politically correct” than mine. This is a man that scared other Republicans. This is a man that bad-mouthed people in his own party with blatant disregard. This is a man who had pending legal actions against him for rape. This is a man that has no political experience. This is a man that This is a man that seems to have a weird bromance with the would-be dictator of Russia. (I know he’s the president, but if he could swing a dictatorship he would do it…)
I found myself wondering if the fear and sickness I felt was common after losing an election year. Would I have been scared of McCain or Romney? No, I decided. Palin made me nervous, but I wasn’t SCARED of her politics… just her idiocy. Did people feel this way when Bush was elected? A lot of scary things happened while Bush was in office, but no was the answer I got from those who voted in that election. They’d been disappointed, sure, but not scared.
It wasn’t until the election results were finalized that I understood how the electoral system had failed me. I’d never seen the popular vote not match the electoral vote before. I didn’t realize that was a thing that could happen, though I was sure I learned that in Discrete Math back in high school. Furthermore, when presented with all the information, I was sure that the electors would HAVE to represent the people. The electoral college was created as a barrier between the American people and a bad choice, a last ditch effort at protecting the public. At the bare minimum it should act to represent the people, right? Apparently… no.
2016 has been a dumpster fire of a year. It wasn’t until now that I realized just what it’s taken from me, though. It stole my hope.
I’ve lost interest in the government. If the actual popular vote means nothing, then why DID I vote? If the government, built on hear its people, doesn’t give a fuck about the people, then what freedoms can the American public actually claim they have?
In what world is it okay that every politician in the game is BEGGING the American people to give Trump a chance? BEGGING they not riot or revolt… BEGGING that we not start killing each other… and yet Trump isn’t begging his supporters for shit. Even when they wage domestic terrorism against the LGBTQIA+ Community, and the Black Community, the Latino Community, the (insert anything not cis, hetero, white male here) Community he remains… like the stone faced villain of some bedtime story meant to scare children.
It’s weird to feel so disillusioned, and so afraid. I never knew I put so much faith in my fellow Americans until they let me down. I never considered the holes in the electoral system until it spat in the face of the people.
I know a lot of people who already felt this way about America, but I never understood the reasoning. No, one vote doesn’t win an election, but until now I always thought that my vote still meant SOMETHING. I felt like it was important, even if it just got lumped into a pile with the others. Now, when I think about it all I feel empty… dirty even, for being so naive. It’s not that I thought America was the greatest country in the world… I just… I thought… I thought we we safer than we are.
A war hasn’t been fought on American soil since we fought ourselves. People don’t understand the security in that. I’m scared for the next eight years. I’m scared of what can be taken from me. I’m scared of what might happen to people I care about. I’m scared that the choices of a single, stupid fucking man could take me to an early grave… I’m scared of my life turning into a Young Adult novel set in dystopian, post-apocalyptic America…. I don’t have the gall to be a Katniss. I don’t have the heart to be a Tris. I am just numb to anything that isn’t fear when I think about our futures…
This is a feeling I will never forgive my government for.