“Do me a favor: Look up into the sky right now. Higher. No, higher still. Do you see that? Way up there? Way up above the clouds? That’s rock bottom. And we are currently way down here.”
That was how John Oliver addressed his audience on “Last Week Tonight” after learning of just one of the many scandals that have rocked the 2016 presidential election. In other episodes, he has alternately called this quadrennial event “lice on rats on a horse corpse on fire 2016,” “the electoral equivalent of seeing someone puking so you start puking, and then someone else is puking, and pretty soon everyone is puking 2016,” and my personal favorite, “a horrifying glimpse at Satan’s Pinterest board 2016.”
This year’s election marks the first time that I, along with many college students around the country, will be casting a vote for the president of the United States. But what should have been an exciting introduction to American democracy has turned into an exhausted topic that generates head shaking and eye rolls whenever it is mentioned. In fact, the rhetoric surrounding this year’s contest has grown so pessimistic, cringe-worthy and grim that it has become almost preferable to just stop following the news and rely instead on “Saturday Night Live” for equally ridiculous but much more lighthearted versions of each week’s events.
In past elections, I remember participating in mock debates at school, where my middle-school classmates and I simply repeated everything we had overheard from our parents and pretended to know the difference between various economic policies. Thankfully, these discussions became more informed as we got older and wiser, but I still didn’t feel the pressure to fully educate myself about the ins and outs of each candidate’s stance until I became a legal voter. Yet, now that I can vote, most of the past voters I talk to keep saying that it’s a shame this is my first election. They have taken to apologizing on behalf of America and counting down the days until the whole thing ends.
This landmark occasion in any young American’s life has been given some pretty bad press, to say the least, but I am still excited to be voting for the first time. No matter how strongly we love or hate each name on the ballot, contributing to the choosing of a new leader is a valuable right and one worth appreciating. Just 100 years ago, many of us would have been turned away at the polls based on gender or skin color, which makes me grateful to have a voice this year, even when the overall conversation isn’t quite so optimistic. We’ve come a long way in the past century and have plenty of ground to cover on the road ahead, but I think that slapping on that “I voted” sticker on Nov. 8 is a symbolic first step to influencing the future of America.
We’ve all heard some pretty gloomy forecasts about the nation’s fate based on the headline news of the past year’s race, and the question on everyone’s mind seems to be: What’s next? If most of 2016 was spent below “rock bottom,” as John Oliver put it, how do we climb back up to the surface? While the next four years will provide us with an interesting answer, I’m glad I got to see the “Satan’s Pinterest board” that was the 2016 election because it will be a turning point in the character of American politics in one way or another. And if nothing else, we got to see some of the best “Saturday Night Live” skits yet.
Contact Georgina Grant at gagrant ‘at’ stanford.edu.