Zurie is an investigative reporter for Youth Journalism International and Editorial Advisor for The Cramm. He focuses on U.S politics
“The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations. There can be few who believe that in the coming year a record as great as, say, the Stooges’ Funhouse or Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On will be released. Still less do we expect the kind of ruptures brought about by The Beatles or disco. The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed."
— Mark Fisher
My Political Awakening
I was only six years old in 2008, barely able to comprehend algebra, never mind politics. However that year was the spark that signaled my political awakening, and the election that occurred within it forever ingrained in my mind. I was far too young to remember George W. Bush and his cabal of marauders, my perception largely being formed by my parent's reaction when he and his policies were brought up on television. The early 2000s exist to me only in fragments, fleeting glimpses from a cloudy part of my brain.
For me George W. Bush was nothing more than a funny man on T.V- my awareness of his power and importance being slim to none. Dubya- in my undeveloped and naive mind- was a comedic character, like Groucho Marx or Chaplin's Tramp. He would say silly things- "put food on your family"- and get into ludicrous situations- not being able to open the door of a Chinese embassy- always with a mischievous smirk. News anchors called him the "president" but that word meant as much to me at the age of four and five as tax deduction or rent payments. They were adult words, so joyless and dour that even hearing them uttered cooled the air. To me, "Dubya" was a live action cartoon, something to be laughed at and forgotten about soon after. Yet my response to Bush was directly contradicted by those of my parents. When Bush would speak about an "axis of evil" or a "mission" having been accomplished they were disdainful and aghast. Every utterance from my parents regarding the Bush Administration was contemptuous, infused with a latent confusion at how a man like him could reach such high office. It was only when the Iraq war devolved that I began to realize who- and indeed what- Bush was.
From Naivety to Cynicism
I remember watching the Battle of Baghdad from my living room couch, looking on in terror as the bombs fell. Every part of the aerial bombardment was broadcast live by news networks- so interested Americans could watch from the comfort of their homes as a city died. Engulfing clouds of fiery smoke filled the air and buildings crumbled to dust in seconds. Despite my age, I knew that Iraq was a country far away, with children just like me. Images of boys and girls huddled in the dark with their parents cradling them- tears streaming down their face as they pray that their home won't be the next one struck- permeated my mind.
How afraid they must be, and so powerless that their only course of action is hide and whimper. What monster could do something like this? I of course had no idea why we were fighting the war- I wouldn't learn about the real causes of the conflict until my tween's- but I knew that the glimpses of it I saw were stomach churning. Only then did the contrast between Bush's public image and his private actions become clear. A man I had laughed at and been amused by before, bombed a city until it was only decaying husks and burnt rubble. At that moment- sitting on my living room couch, watching the news my father turned on- I understood the difference between public persona and private decisions. Recognized that the man I saw bumbling and tying his tongue was also the man who ostensibly signed off on those airstrikes, and that one persona was perhaps more true to the man's identity than the other. One moment completely shattered my view of Bush and indeed my understanding of politics. Cynicism towards the presidency- and the political system as a whole- began to grow within me, only strengthening its hold on mind as the war worsened, the economy crumbled, and bodies piled high.
Hope and Change
The most distinct memory of my childhood relating to the Bush administration is sitting between my parents- my mom on the left, dad on the right- on the couch and watching footage of New Orleans post hurricane katrina. Houses submerged under dirty water, people standing on the rooftop, waving their hands and holding placards, hoping the helicopters above would rescue them before they too were submerged. Families packed on the top of car roofs, inside of overcrowded stadiums, the sum total of their lives fitting in suitcases and luggage bags. American citizens living in third world conditions- largely as a result of FEMA incompetence. Unbridled callous disregard defined the governments response to this catastrophe their foibles documented for all the world to see.
I wondered what kind of country would treat its citizens this way- realizing it was the same kind that would destroy a foreign one for seemingly no reason at all. It seemed there was no escape from the likes of Bush, or Cheney, or the other hulking spectres of governmental excess that held the United States hostage. That is, until 2008. The 2004 election passed by without my recognition, as I was only two years old. 2008 was the first presidential election I was sentient for, and no other politician- let alone presidential candidate- captured my imagination like Barack Obama. He was charismatic, eloquent, and young. He- unlike every other Washington ghoul that haunted my television set- looked like me, and emphasized the concerns of people like me and my family. Obama was less a person and more an idea- an amalgamation of all the desperate prayers for a better future uttered by millions across the country- made flesh and given the platform to convey our frustrations. It seems silly now, but I was enamored. One of my clearest memories is standing on my parents bed at night, mimicking Obama's hand gestures and speech patterns, as he gave a speech on the campaign trail. He won, and for the first time in my life I watched a president's victory speech- tears in my eyes, not unlike the people in the audience watching him stride onto the stage. By taking to the podium, he was announcing to the world that a new era was upon us, one defined by compassion, innovation, and most of all, hope.
Reflections from the Future
That was twelve years ago. I am older and wiser now, with eighteen years of experiences behind me. Obama's promises were proven to be empty- his presidency nothing more than the rapid continuation of Neoliberal policies under a more amicable facade. Yes civil rights were advanced- the legalization of gay marriage cannot be understated- and minor alterations to climate policy and reproductive rights were made. Nonetheless, the Obama years were defined by gridlock and disappointment. Then, on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president- and the rest, as they say, is history. What can be said about Trump's regime that hasn't been said before. He was the human embodiment of America's darkest impulses- the latest and most successful incarnation of those quintessential pathologies- harnessed by Joseph McCarthy and Huey Long before him- that taint the very core of American history, billowing from our textbooks like protoplasmic ooze. I was happy, when he lost the election, and am excited to see him clamor out of the white house- of his own volition or with a little push from the secret service- tail between his engorged, wrinkled legs.
Irregardless feelings for Trump, watching Biden declare victory- after a prolonged and anxiety inducing electoral battle- on November 7, the overwhelming feeling that imbued me in that moment was emptiness. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't convince myself that Biden's win was like Obamas- a political game changer that would shake the very core of this country. People celebrated in the street- cars honking, flags waving in the breeze, tears streaming down faces- and I couldn't relate to any of them. Mostly because I spent the better half of 2020 researching Joe Biden and discovering how awful his voting record was, how often he lied, and how consistently he capitulated to moneyed interests. Was I relieved that Biden was out? Sure, but I was under no illusions that a Biden presidency would lay the foundations for a new and glorious world.
The Eternal Past
Not that Biden and company promised one. He- unlike his far more celebrated partner,- never promised a bold vision for the future. Indeed, he didn't speak of the future at all, in any true sense, instead preferring to recreate the past- the Obama glory years, 2.0. He paid lip service to climate change, but only spoke about combating it in terms of reinstating Obama era policies. Both Biden and Trump built their campaigns on recreating a mythologized version of a previous period- Biden the post 2008- Aaron Sorkin inspired shangri la imagined in the minds of white, upper middle class liberals, Trump a vague hodgepodge of all things classic Americana. No fundamental change, certainly no political upheaval, just two variations of the same vicious machine. I am a liberal, however I am not excited for a Biden presidency. I look on at what lies ahead and shudder, because I know the future Obama spoke of some twelve years ago will never come to fruition. Even worse, it will never come to pass because we've built a system in which all of us, left and right, are hands outstretched, grasping for a future that will never arrive.
© 2020 Zurie Pope