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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Cautious optimism for 2018

<s eleven, and politics were fun. It was a presidential election year and I was loving every minute of it. When my mom watched debates on TV, I thought, “one of these people will be the president,” and the thought made me feel happy and proud of our democracy. The word “president” itself was lofty and impressive to fifth-grade me, evoking elementary-school picture books about the life of Abraham Lincoln and the story of George Washington and the cherry tree.

One day that year, I came home from school to tell my mother that my social studies teacher had given us an interesting homework assignment. We had to talk to an adult, any adult, about the election. “Hop in the car,” my mom said.

With my younger brother and me in tow, my mom drove into downtown Baltimore, parking outside the 1st Mariner Arena and making our way through the crowds of busy Baltimore residents who had made time in their day to come and listen to Barack Obama speak.
We were so high up that the then-Senator was shorter than my thumb, but it’s a moment that has stuck with me, years later. I’d like to think I have a better and more nuanced opinion of Obama’s politics now than I did as a fifth-grader, but back then as now, he was a great speaker. “Yes we can!” was ringing in my ears for the entire car ride home.

Now, it’s different. Sure, I’m older, more aware, more cynical. Maybe that would have been the case even if the country had elected a different president in 2016. But I can’t answer for what I would be like in hypothetical situations. All I know is the real one.

In 2008, the candidate for the president of the United States was a respectable human being. In 2018, the president of the United States is misogynist and racist. In 2008, I used to beg my mom to talk to me about politics; it was a fun way to feel like a grown-up. In 2018, having conversations about politics gives me headaches, and now it’s more important and necessary than fun. In 2008, listening to Obama speak gave me a thrill and a sense of belonging. In 2018, I try to avoid listening to Trump speak, preferring to read about what he says. In 2008, I loved my current events assignments in social studies class. In 2018, I still keep up with politics and news on a daily basis, but out of a sense of necessity and urgency, not out of pleasure. In 2008, politicians served the people. In 2018, I have lost faith in all of them.

This sounds fairly pessimistic, and I am not usually a pessimistic person. It’s true that I have lost all faith in politicians. But I haven’t lost all faith in humanity. In 2018, despite everything that’s happened recently, I still think that most people are generally good at heart. And I think that the will to turn the tide of recent politics will come, and is coming, from ordinary people, not from anybody sitting in an office on Capitol Hill. Sure, maybe there are some politicians I agree with more than others, and I’m hopeful for Democratic victories in the midterm elections. But there’s no one in government who represents my beliefs as much as people in my real life do.

They prove that it is action, more than optimism, that will make change. I’ve never been more disillusioned about Congress, but I’ve also never been more proud of and inspired by people around me. As long as there are still social studies teachers who get eleven-year-olds interested in the world and moms who take their daughters to see future presidents speak, my political outlook for 2018 is—despite everything—optimistic.

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