Essay: As a First-Time Voter, I Wonder — Is This Normal?

Megan Walsh | The Phoenix

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I was 14 on election night in 2016. I remember going to bed thinking I would wake up and have the next president of the United States be Hillary Clinton and that was it. I didn’t go out of my way to research and watch the news as I do now — I was 14, so my biggest concern was whether it would be Hazel or Augustus who died at the end of “The Fault In Our Stars.”

Now it’s 2020 and it seems like it’s the end of the world. Every election ad is about how the other person will be worse for Washington — it’s never who’s better. They make it seem that if one person is elected, citizens will lose rights and if the other side is elected, the supporters won’t accept their defeat. 

I watched the first debate this year on Sept. 29. I already knew who I was voting for, but I figured I should be a good citizen of our democracy and hear from both candidates and not just listen to my own. Just in case former Vice President Joe Biden loses, I have to mentally prepare myself for both results.

The first debate was strange, and I felt there weren’t any boundaries the candidates wouldn’t cross. President Donald Trump started to shame Biden for having a son with an addiction. I could see the grief in Biden’s eyes when he told the camera he was proud of his son. The candidates kept talking over each other and the moderator, Chris Wallace, had to tell them to be quiet — Trump in particular. After the debate on CNN, no one felt confident about the outcome, with political commentator Chris Cuomo saying no one won the debate but the American people lost that debate

I don’t remember much about the 2016 election, and I for sure don’t remember the 2012 election with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But I recall civility and respect that isn’t present now, unless I was romanticizing one of my career goals as a child. I remember there was a peaceful transition of power both years, while this year it has been threatened by Trump

Back when he won in 2016, I still didn’t fully understand what was going on, but I recall watching Obama and Trump on the news, sitting across from each other in the Oval Office discussing how to smoothly transfer power between the two. I remember thinking how respectable this was of the two candidates because I understood they didn’t agree with each other on anything, but still respected the role of the presidency. 

But I was 14. Old enough to know what an election is, but still too young to know what it meant — that’s not the case for this election. You can now see on all forms of social media, kids as young as 10 years old speaking out in support for a certain candidate. Kids are getting into each other’s comments, starting arguments and fact-checking each other. 

When I was that age, I had the luxury of not being solely focused on the election and being able to just be a kid. I was able to geek out when popstar Shawn Mendes would say something scandalous — or what I thought to be scandalous — in the teen magazines at my local grocery store. 

The kids now have real threats to worry about. I was a very optimistic child so maybe that’s it, but I can’t help but notice this election is different. I know everyone on the news and in my family says it is, which makes sense with how much is at stake in this election: Roe v. Wade, same-sex Marriage — to name a few.

As an 18-year-old, I’m supposed to make the decision to vote for a candidate and be an active part of democracy, but so many children now are growing up too fast in the toxicity of current politics. They never had the time to be a kid and geek out over whatever was published in the latest issue of Seventeen, or wait anxiously for their show to come on TV for a season premiere. Some kids who pay attention to current events are constantly in fear for their future and realizing that the world is messed up and that it seems like no one is attempting to fix it. As a first-time voter, I wonder — is this normal?

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