Differences in Approach To Politics: Then vs. Now

The opinions stated in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus at VCU. 

I have very specific memories of the 2008 presidential election in which Obama started his term. The TV was blaring, and I had come downstairs to see what my parents were focusing so hard on. If I’m being honest, I didn’t fully understand what was going on, and although my parents attempted to explain, I remained confused until several years later. However, I do remember glancing up at my father, who had been focusing intensely on the television and seeing him tear up. I now realize that he was simply happy, feeling like the world was moving on to a more progressive and potentially successful state as a liberal and African American man entered office. And yet, in that moment, my panicked 8-year-old mind didn’t understand them to be happy tears and forcefully offered him tissues in the hopes it would make things better. It was an emotional time, but there was also something beautiful about it. It was a peaceful and graceful transfer of power, the natural progression of things. 

Shortly after, my parents hosted a “Goodnight Bush'' party, the concept based on the children’s book “Goodnight Moon." This included personalized American flag mints, giveaway George Bush bobbleheads and plenty of politically charged toasts. Yes, it was silly and fun, celebrated with the promise of a better time. And yet, I also remember there being an underlying appreciative air to the whole affair. Regardless of the bobbleheads, it was fairly respectful in nature, and looking back, I realize how vastly different everything was to our current approach to politics. With the 2020 presidential election coming up in November, the American populace has had the honor (or great shame) of watching the presidential/vice-presidential candidates debate in detail. We have looked on as people support and protest in equal measure, all of this amid a global pandemic. Needless to say, it has made for a slightly different political climate, and I’ve started to miss 2008 as the simple times they were. 

Donald Trump Giphy

One thing that sticks out on both the internet and day to day life is the recent presidential/vice-presidential debates and (quite frankly) how ridiculous they were. During the entirety of the debates, I was texting my friends and family, the messages being filled with “lol” and “do you see this?” The general vibe surrounding the debate and the future of our country was similar to that of the Superbowl. “Are you watching the debate tonight?” wasn’t about keeping informed on our current political options; it was about entertainment and laughing to avoid crying. My personal favorite theme to come from that night was the stream of new drinking games, the rules branching from “take a sip every time a candidate interrupts the other” to “chug when a potential future president roll their eyes” to “down your drink every time the moderator looks just about ready to end it all.” In the past, "Saturday Night Live (SNL)" managed to make fun of political opponents, but it wasn’t quite to the same ridiculous degree. The debates were more about actually listening and getting to know the candidates running and less about who was interrupting who (I did feel terrible for the moderator). Although there may be exceptions, it also seems unlikely anyone watching the debate did so with any potential of changing their vote. 

HCM Design / Neula

It also seems more common for people to vote for a candidate in order to keep the other out of office rather than because they actually want that specific person in power. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard someone say, “well, this is just the lesser of two evils.” Isn’t it sad that instead of putting our full support behind someone we really want to see into office, we simply do so in a desperate attempt to avoid an even worse option? In campaigns prior, even if it was uncommon for a candidate to be perfect, I also feel as though this process was a bit different. 

This is more of a personal thing, but I’ve also found it increasingly hard to be close and open friends with someone of a different political standing than myself. This isn’t to say it’s impossible. In fact, I have both friends and family members who have managed to do so successfully. However, politics have moved away from how the government should be run and more into how they will allow people to live or not live their lives. I feel as though a difference of political opinions can often equate to a difference in morals and core values that could cause me to be so out of whack with the other person it would be difficult to recover from. This isn’t to say they’re a bad person, but I don’t always feel as though I can trust them enough to get super close. 

is tiktok banned Photo by visuals on Unsplash

I have also found that this entire presidential campaign to be a very large and extensive meme (while those in the past have been less so). This could just be because online interaction wasn’t quite as important several years ago, but it still doesn’t change the fact that I see more tweets about the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head mid debate than the actual content of what was being said. No one seems to be taking this race seriously, and I understand why. There’s something undeniably terrifying about the unpredictability of everything happening right now and I think our generation’s way of dealing with it is to produce as much sh*t internet content as possible. If everything's a joke, nothing is serious, and we don’t have to be upset about the current state of the world. Thinking back to my dad’s brief and relieved tears at the end of the 2008 campaign, I find them comparable. That respectable and mature showing of emotion has transformed into alarmingly specific (and effective) drinking games and chaotic TikTok culture. I feel that this is a good general representation and progression of past to current politics. 

On a slightly more serious note, I also feel as though current political opinions and stances have twisted away from the running of our government and more into morality and deciding how and if other people are allowed to live their lives. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with being more left or right as long as you respect the existence of others regardless of race, background, sexuality or socioeconomic status. Sadly, alarming stereotypes such as conservative equating to homophobic or racist or the bleeding hearted far left-leaning liberals has become the norm. There are minority groups in this country that fear for their livelihood and familial well-being because of this election, and that shouldn’t have to be the case. Being separated by certain opinions on how the government should be run and allowing that separation to turn into blind hatred, blatant distrust and widely accepted ignorance are two very different things. Even though past politics wasn’t ideal and never was nor will be, there are certain aspects of it that I miss in our current political climate. All we can do now is vote, have our voices heard, and push for inclusion, education, communication and acceptance.