This post has been sitting half finished for a very long time. I hereby give up and post it as is…
So it was election night 2016, and it was becoming clear what we had done to ourselves. I began thinking about my daughter and what to tell her the next day. This would be her first memory of an election, and instead of being something to, at least somewhat, inspire her confidence about the power of democratic institutions, it would, instead, be a traumatic stain in her memory: someone got elected, under questionable circumstances, who, even an 8 year old could see, was clearly incompetent and indifferent to the democratic institutions of this country and the rule of law.
Then I began to think about my first memories of anything political: I remember sitting with my parents watching the evening news as Nixon announced his resignation, I had no idea what Watergate was all about, but I knew something really bad had happened, a corrupt leader breaking the law to gain a position of power. A traumatic stain on my image of our democratic institutions.
Then, I began to wonder if all of us have some memory like this, so I started asking around. My wife’s first memory was of Reagan getting elected (another dark day). My mother had a clear memory of her entire class going outside to stand around the flagpole as they lowered it to half-mast when FDR died. My father didn’t remember anything about elections or politics, it wasn’t something his immigrant parents ever talked about (though, to be fair, I don’t think they ever talked much about anything). But he says he remembers seeing B-17 bombers going overhead and the fear of what the Japanese might do. My mother-in-law remembered seeing a sign which said “I like Ike” and asking her father “do we like Ike?” and he said “Oh, yes we do!” So at least one of those was not traumatic.
I don’t know what this memory will do in my daughter’s head as she grows up and starts participating in our democracy. I can only hope that it will inspire her to be involved and engaged in making things better rather than descending into resignation, slacktivism and trolling on political forums.