8 Years Later

I wrote an impassioned post on October 11, 2008 called Why I’m Voting For Barack Obama and published it on Facebook, as we did in those days.  I was re-reading it today, on the eve of the end of his presidency (*cry emoji*) and am excerpting it below. The original post talks more about McCain, Palin, and the ugliness of that election. This speaks to my hopes, the things I wanted from an Obama presidency and which I now, 8 years later, think I got.

My favorite part of that DNC speech all those years ago, the one that made an Obama supporter out of me, is this:

it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper — for alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga,  a belief that we’re all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there is a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs, and having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief — It is that fundamental belief: I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

E pluribus unum: “Out of many, one.”

We’re so far from that. On the eve of a Trump administration (! can it really be?), I feel like we have never been further.

So I’m taking  a moment to be so thankful for the past 8 years, for the leadership of Barack and Michelle. We’re not more unified right now. We seem to be more like one big estranged family.

But I got hope. Not blind optimism and willful ignorance, but hope that the folks like me will come together yet, that we’ll reach out to our hurt, angry relatives (and they to us) and we’ll be stronger for it.

First, though, it’s going to get really ugly.

So I’m taking a moment.

—————————

I have been an Obama supporter since the beginning. Shortly after he entered the race in the spring of 2007, I stumbled across his address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Listening to it sent through me a surge of pride for America I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

I’m quite certain we all grew up believing everyone outside of America wanted to be in America. Everyone sees America as a land of opportunity and wanted to come here and live out the American dream. America is a land of freedom and equality and opportunity. Our constitution is the best, our military the most honorable and our people the most successful. This message has been repeated so many times in our lifetimes that most of us accept it without question. I did.

For two and a half years, though, I had been surrounded by people down on America, overwhelmingly because of President Bush and the Iraq War. They felt the hurt of family members in the US who had been discriminated against in the aftermath of September 11th. I met several Arab students who were forced to return because the government cancelled their visas. I met Iraqis frightened for their family members still in Baghdad. Iraqis who had to flee their homes, leave their jobs, their own country because circumstances in Iraq had gotten too dangerous and miserable to continue living there. But it wasn’t just Arabs who were upset. In 12th grade, my first year in the United Arab Emirates, I was grilled by many of classmates who wanted to know whether I supported Bush, whether I supported the war, and why so many Americans did. It puzzled me that they even cared. What does South Africa, Australia, Europe care what America does? No, I don’t support Bush (though I don’t really care all that much), or the war in Iraq and I neither know nor care why so many do. America rocks! The end.

I started college at the American University of Sharjah and began seeing America in a more complex dimension. America, the greatest nation *ever*, had hurt people. Lots of people, and very deeply. I traveled to nearly a dozen countries in the three years I lived in the UAE and in each place it was the same. They were excited to learn I was from America because they had a son, cousin, uncle or sister there and, oh, it is so beautiful. But isn’t it violent? (Thanks a ton, Hollywood!) I could never go there because I have a beard—or I cover my hair or my name is Khaled—and they’ll think I’m a terrorist. Many Europeans I talked to had great things to say about America and its people—they had actually been here—but, for one reason or another, were resentful for President Bush and his policies.

In June of 2006, I spent a week in Lebanon. Just days after getting back, Hizballah kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Israel retaliated and the rest of the summer was engulfed in war. Anti-Americanism in the Arab world spiked. Lebanese children were being killed, the airport and the road to Damascus (a main route out of the country) was bombed and the US—Israel’s closest ally—wouldn’t even call for a ceasefire. What happened to everyone being created equal?

I spent the summer in the US studying Arabic (no kidding) and on my return to the Middle East, I had to confront a whole new level of bitterness. People across the Middle East were openly and increasingly supporting Hizballah. One Lebanese friend got hit in the leg by some shrapnel. Another hadn’t gotten to see his family because the airport was bombed a few days before he was to land. Many more Lebanese and non-Lebanese expressed to me their resentment of America’s inaction.

I knew this was my last year in the country and thus my last chance to help my peers see the America I knew, an essentially benevolent nation full of friendly and hospitable, moral, nonviolent citizens.

I know it looks bad, what with the wars, the President’s incompetence and the outright belligerence of his administration. Okay, it looks really bad. But America really isn’t all that bad. Honest! Remember Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement? Remember Jimmy Carter? The Statue of Liberty?

But my peers hadn’t grown up on School House Rock and so they didn’t know that America was a melting pot. They didn’t know the progress we’ve made since its founding. They didn’t know that when a bunch of Americans come together and rally for a cause, change happens. They weren’t aware of all the criticism that had lobbied against the Bush administration. Most knew America through its entertainment and saw little more than moral decadence and violence. Most had experienced the negative effects of its foreign policy. Few knew of its warmth, beauty and diversity.

It was in the midst of this identity crisis, this reconciling of the two Americas I had come to know, that I came across this speech. He described my America. The one I grew up with, the one I was trying to keep faith in. His message, that America is not just a great nation, but a good nation, too, is the one I wanted to pass on to my peers. I wanted them to know that maybe America has been overshadowed by divisiveness and greed, but that our founding principles are still in tact. There are people in America who think that the nation could do a lot better and are willing to make it so, for us and for the rest of the world.

Most people know I’m excited about this election. My roommates know I can hardly refrain from talking about it. To my parents, I don’t shut up about it. The reason, above all, that I am so zealous in my support is that I have hope for America. I have hope that we can make our similarities more important than our differences. I have hope that we can be a force for good–not resentment and fear–in the world. I want to be led by a person who has proven himself above ordinary politics, smear tactics and who truly embodies change. I have hope that together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea —

Yes. We. Can.

You may also like