In my third-grade school year, my teacher instructed us to create an informative poster about an influential African American person for Black History Month. At the time, my mind immediately went to the new president, Barack Obama. His inauguration had been only a month before, and it was one of my first glimpses into the enigma that is American politics. My comprehension of the election system was limited then; I had heard of the term Electoral College a couple of times, but as far as I was concerned, Obama had been elected president simply because he was the most popular and competent candidate.
When he was announced as the new President of the United States, I was overcome with elation and national pride. In my simplistic and idealistic third-grade mindset, Election Day was basically a national holiday: Americans democratically vote for the candidate who will best run their country, and all of the suspense and excitement culminates when the results come out the following morning, as a child eagerly unwraps their present on Christmas day. In retrospect, I probably would have reacted similarly if McCain had been elected instead of Obama, as I really had no political opinions of my own at this point- my father was a staunch Republican and my mother was a Democrat, and I had heard countless dinnertime lectures about the strengths of both parties. But just the idea that someone new had been democratically elected to lead my beloved country, someone who had experience, intelligence, and hope, was enough to fascinate me.
Although he was elected as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama was my first president. With every inch I grew, the hair on his head gradually became grayer, and the troubled creases on his forehead became more pronounced. As I matured and began to curiously probe beneath the surface of American politics, I grasped spare phrases such as “Obamacare,” “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act,” and “Trans-Pacific Partnership.” Though many of his domestic and foreign policies did not dramatically affect my life in a manner that my third-grade self could understand, I still felt incredibly indebted to him for running the country that was my home.
With my chubby third-grade fingers, a myriad of crayons and colored pencils, and boundless creativity, I did my best to demonstrate my appreciation for Obama’s humanitarianism and diligence as President in the poster that I created. In the center of the poster is my rather embarrassing attempt to draw Obama himself, complete with shapes as facial features and some regrettable color choices. On the sides of the poster is some bullet-pointed some background information about Obama’s childhood, education, and career, decorated with intricate patterns and designs. When presentation day finally arrived, I wore an ironed button-down shirt and dress pants, appearing as professional as a scrawny third grader can possibly be. As a finishing touch, I tied my tangly hair behind me and held a print-out of Obama’s face in front of my own as I presented to my classmates and their parents. While I may not have been as charismatic and compelling as the man himself, surely I was much cuter.
The crudely-drawn poster still sits in the obscure corner of my closet. Its crayon drawings and garish embellishments along the sides have been preserved through lamination, but a thin layer of dust lies on its surface. The dust is only visible on particularly nostalgic days, when the afternoon sun shines into that corner of my closet and wonders, “After all these years, all the “change” that Obama advocated for and carried out during his historic presidency, how can everything still seem almost the same?”
To me, the poster is an artifact from simpler times. It reminds me of the days when my ignorant, hopeful eyes saw cohesion in everything, from the harmonious calls of the birds in the springtime, to the blissful feeling I got when my hand fit perfectly into my father’s, to the open learning environment that my elementary school fostered.
But now, especially after the most recent presidential race, I can’t help but see the division and incongruity hidden beneath that peaceful facade.
The first of my naive misconceptions was my romantic notion that the most popular and competent candidate is always elected as president. With the Electoral College system in place, the candidate who receives the most votes is not necessarily the one who wins the electoral vote and becomes President-Elect. In the case of this past presidential election, more than two million people’s votes were futile in changing the electoral vote results. As a child, I was continually reminded that my voice mattered and that every vote counted in such elections, and yet now I realize the flimsiness of this promise that I held onto dearly then.
In the most recent election, both presidential candidates ran campaigns largely based on frustration, anger, and inaccurate accusations, rather than hope and unity. Even after the results were released following Election Day, this torrent of negativity and disunity continued and even worsened. Eight years ago, I treated Election Day as a holiday, similar to Christmas. But on November 11th, 2016, millions of people across the nation mourned the “death” of America and the ideals it was courageously built upon: democracy, opportunity, and equality.
Not only have people been grieving the fall of America, but others have even refused to accept President-Elect Trump as the future President of the United States, spreading the mantra “not my president” as Trump does not reflect the values they believe in. When Obama was elected, I regarded him as my first president. I admired him and his family for upholding the same principles my parents had thoroughly instilled in me, from fidelity to tolerance and respect for all.
It is indisputable that Trump stands firmly against many of Obama’s effectual reforms and has a very different set of morals and values than Obama. It is indisputable that Trump has manifested sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic behavior in his past, behavior that parents would condemn if it came from their children, and yet some of them ignore and condone it in the person who will inevitably shape their children’s lives as Obama shaped mine. It is indisputable that he does not have the amount of political experience the President of the United States should have. But it is also indisputable that he has been elected as the 45th President of the United States after a controversial and divisive campaign period, and that we must end this foolish dispute in our society as soon as possible. Violent demonstrations protesting that Trump is “not our president” and continued left-wing bias in media are not the answer. Unity and rationality are and have always been.
The ageless poster still sits in my bedroom, and it will continue to sit there. Rather than being a sad reminder of Obama’s admirable presidency, it will serve as a reminder to me that American politics, though much more than complicated I thought it was in third grade, does not have to be a story of failure and regression. With the earnest involvement of myself and every resident of the United States, it can be a wondrous story of never-ending perseverance- a story that would elicit a radiant smile from my third-grade self.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.