Opinion: Obama calls on us to be the change

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Former President Barack Obama speaks as he campaigns in support of Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

If you’ve been on the internet at all lately, you’re probably aware that former President Barack Obama delivered a pointed speech at the University of Illinois on Friday, September 7th. That’s right, Barack Obama is back to energize young voters in the run up to the upcoming midterm elections. He has emerged from his well-deserved retreat from politics to call on students, like you and me, to exercise our civic duty and vote this November.

If I were to summarize the past two years with a single word it would be destructive. Donald Trump’s White House has made extensive efforts to diminish democratic norms and American progress. Trademarking the phrase “fake news,” the president has avidly tried to undermine the credibility of well-renowned news platforms and journalists. In addition to attacking the fourth estate, the president has repeatedly disparaged the department of justice, most notably the FBI, threatening that they need to start “doing their jobs and doing it right”. Lastly, Trump has frayed relationship with our allies. All of these tactics have led Obama to abandon the usual practice of former presidents to avoid commenting on the policies of their successors.

Most frightening to me, the Trump administration has made a forceful effort to destroy our civility. Whether it be by tweeting, name-calling, making inaccurate claims or blatantly lying, Donald Trump has proven time and time again that he does not value respect. The Republican controlled Congress, which has majorly embraced Trumpism over the last two years, has unfortunately only emboldened his efforts to destroy the moral and democratic ideals on which our country was founded. This is what makes this November so important and is why our former President has thrown himself back into the mix.

“You need to vote because our democracy depends on it,” exclaimed President Obama in his speech to University of Illinois students and staff. The infamous senior administration official op-ed published recently by the New York Times bolsters Obama’s claim that we have real reason to fear for the preservation of our institutions. The anonymous op-ed writer has reinforced, first hand, concerns that our current president “shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.” This is merely one example of the dangerous abnormalities of this administration that Obama calls attention to in his speech.

I understand the urge to become cynical about American politics with all of this going on. Our president is an unstable reality TV star who resorts to twitter rants and scapegoating groups of people when faced with problems. It is absurd, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t cynical about government myself right now. While this midterm election will not fix all the damage this administration has done, electing candidates who will stand up to this bully, is a start. With a majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats would be able to dive deep into issues Republicans are virtually ignoring, such as Trump’s violations of the Emoluments Clause and nepotism. In his return, Obama emphasizes the importance of making things “better.” He reminds us that “better is always worth fighting for.” Well isn’t it? We can’t just sit back and watch while our democracy is in serious jeopardy. As the former president argued, Democracy remains healthy and intact when citizens exercise their right to vote in elections. So, we cannot become so cynical that we don’t bother to participate in our government. That is where the real damage begins. Barack Obama would not spend his time reaching out to the American public after his 8-year presidency if he did not believe that we could make things better.

As an 18-year old freshman in college, I feel a lot of pressure to make our government more representative of the American people. We all should feel some of that pressure. As our former president reminds us, college age citizens are the largest and most diverse American generation, yet we have extremely low voter turnout, especially in midterm elections. Too much is simply at stake for that to be the case this November. That’s why I am not only voting in this midterm election, but I am helping to register others to vote. The only way we have a chance to preserve our democracy and our institutions is by standing together.


Margaret McGuire is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at margaret.mcguire@uconn.edu.

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