Reflections on the U.S. American Presidential Elections, 2004 to 2012.
I almost didn’t go to class that day. My eyes were swollen from tears and a lack of sleep. I didn’t want to look anybody in the eye. I didn’t want to be seen in this state. I felt angry with everyone, because we all could have tried harder. We could have done better. Because this shouldn’t have happened…again.
But I did force myself to shower and dress. I forced myself into the car and off to campus. My first class that day happened to be with one of the most progressive and enlightened professors from whom I’ve ever had the honor of learning. I kept my eyes down. I knew she’d have to talk about it. She was a Communications professor, but not just any kind of Communications: I would later have her for Mass Media and Society. That particular year—2004—I was in her Intercultural Communication course.
There were students in the class that didn’t like her style of teaching. She had been honest with us that there were times she felt afraid for her job. It’s been a long time since I lived in the U.S., so I don’t know what things are like now, but in 2004, there were more than a few university professors justifiably afraid for their career—tenured or otherwise.
I happen to know that at least one student had threatened to “report” her—for what? For empowering us to think about the world differently? For drawing our attention to the fact that the world’s suffering didn’t stop because U.S. Americans became uncomfortable hearing about it? For all of that. He had the Patriot Act on his side, anyway. That dissent was often the noblest form of patriotism never seemed to occur to him.
And on that morning, she too looked down. She was tired. Her podium held her up as she spoke to the class. She didn’t want to be there either, but she was there. She was doing her job. At one point our eyes did make contact across that massive classroom where I sat toward the back, and she said to me, without attempting to lower her voice in any capacity,
“Ann, I’m sorry, but I can’t look at you today. I’m afraid I’ll burst into tears.”
And then we both did. As did several other students, because we were ashamed. Because we felt every bit the bumbling (not to mention dangerous) clowns we must have seemed to the world around us, beyond our borders.
As ever, there were plenty of theories: Diebold was boldly given the task of tallying the votes yet again, for crying out loud. But the bottom line was that enough U.S. Americans chose to vote for Bush—chose—that in the end he was, for the second consecutive four years, the President of the United States of America. That fool. That murderer. That liar. That idiot. That puppet.
I decided when I was 16 or so that I didn’t want to live in the United States if I could help it (I realize, incidentally, how privileged I am to have the choice). But on that day, my skin began to itch, my heart began to race, my nerves began to fray in a way they never had before. I had to leave. And a year later, I did.
I remember the buzz around Obama’s book Dreams from My Father.
And I remember hearing that he might run for the presidency. (Let’s hope he doesn’t, said a Jamaican friend. I tell you, if he’s elected it’s only a matter of time before the man’s shot.) None of us thought it would really happen, but I bought the book just the same, just in case. I read it on the bus on my way to and from work over the course of three days.
One night, coming home from work, as I neared the end, another woman on the bus stared at me until she caught my eye. She beamed. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” she said. Afraid she’d hear my telltale accent, I just nodded and smiled.
It was. After all we’d been through over the last eight years, that this man could be our Commander in Chief—that we could somehow overcome the shadow that Dubya brought upon us in so many ways—the mind boggled.
And on that day, when I woke up to hear the news (no more all-nighters—not after that last one), how my heart soared! I literally floated to the bus stop. My shoulders back, my chest out, for the first time in my adult life, I was well and truly proud to be a U.S. American.
It hasn’t been perfect, has it?
There are some things that grate on me so profoundly (his shady stance on Israeli Apartheid; his use of drone warfare, as though that’s a viable alternative, as though it somehow means he’s not a warmonger). But there have been some extraordinary things, too.
Not enough has changed, but in his four years I have seen more positive changes in U.S. American domestic policy as a direct result of his presidency than I’ve seen from any president in my lifetime.
Now they’re saying that Mitt Romney could very likely win.
Have you heard this? Listen, I’m not saying the Democrats are the answer. Obama hasn’t ended these terrible wars, there remain prisoners in Guantanamo, and the state of the nation is not good. But this is the United States we’re talking about. The Peace and Freedom Party is not going to win. The Independents are not going to win. Not this year. I have hope that those things will change— it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. But my hopes for the U.S. American presidency this year are thoroughly tied to one outcome: Mitt Romney cannot be the next President of the United States.
There are so many issues with the Romney/Ryan platform, it could take up an entire article.
With threats to cut education funding by a further 20% and eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, it’s not just hard to find hope—it’s downright frightening. Not to mention, the man is simply dodgy. Not only is he unashamedly pushing to make the rich richer and just about everybody else poorer, he’s also got tens of millions of dollars stashed away in the Cayman Islands on which he isn’t paying a red cent (and then some).
But this isn’t just about Romney/Ryan. This is about what happens when those who voted for a man on a pedestal see that man step down. Obama isn’t Superman, for crying out loud. The editorial of the Utne reader this month called him “pragmatic”—Merriam Webster defines that (in part) as “practical as opposed to idealistic.” Remember the 2008 campaign? It was founded almost entirely on idealism! That’s why everybody’s hurt. Because the big boom trailed off into little bumps. Because Obama knew then what he knows now: that slow and steady wins the race. But loud and flashy won the election. He couldn’t be straight with the country, and now people feel lied to. But would he have won otherwise?
We should have run for the hills in 2004. We should have told George Walker Bush under no uncertain terms that we did not, we could not support his and his cronies’ tyranny any longer. We should have stood proudly against this man who had hurt us personally, who had hurt our image for the rest of the world, who, along with Cheney and Rove and the lot of them, was responsible for two of the longest, most heinous wars in U.S. history. But we didn’t. And now, what we couldn’t do to Bush is what we’re willing to do to Obama. I contend that this is patently insane.
The bottom line is this: A vote against Obama—whether we like it or not—is a vote for Romney.
And a vote for Romney is a vote for the same values that drove George W, George Senior and Ronald Reagan.
I realize that many people might think that as an ex-pat I have no right to opine on the matter. Hell, even when I lived there, I was told regularly and in no uncertain terms to get out. But the fact of the matter is that the U.S. remains a tremendously powerful country. They’ve still got the most nukes. And although 15 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, although the national debt is roughly $16 trillion, they’re still the seventh wealthiest country in the world.
That means that for all the changes the late 20th and early 21st centuries have brought us, one thing remains: the person elected as President of the United States matters—not just to Americans, but to the world.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger