There’s No Comparison
by Stacey Harris-Papaioannou, DAGR Communications Chair
I read the headline in disbelief. Obama was at U of I in Champaign stumping for Democrats. U of I is the well-known term for anybody from the tri-state area – Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana – for the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, a 4-hour drive due south of Chicago. He was in his (and my) backyard so to speak. His last major speech as POTUS 44 was also in our Greek backyard—the then-brand-new Niarchos venue, in November 2016. It was his last overseas trip, to Democracy’s cradle.
We were all still shell-shocked over the election of Trump but somehow still clinging to some wild hope. As we watched Obama and listened to his words, we contemplated the threat the likes of a Trump presidency posed on the nation and the core of democratic principles. We had faced the results of a popular vote give the Democratic candidate nearly 3 million votes over the Republican contender – and yet thanks to the archaic Electoral College system, this man would become POTUS 45 anyway.
Obama’s words back in November 2016 tried to quell our panic, our fear.
“And so here, where democracy was born, we affirm once more the rights and the ideals and the institutions upon which our way of life endures. Freedom of speech and assembly -- because true legitimacy can only come from the people, who must never be silenced. A free press to expose injustice and corruption and hold leaders accountable. Freedom of religion -- because we’re all equal in the eyes of God. Independent judiciaries to uphold rule of law and human rights. Separation of powers to limit the reach of any one branch of government. Free and fair elections -- because citizens must be able to choose their own leaders, even if your candidate doesn’t always win. (Laughter.)
We compete hard in campaigns in America and here in Greece. But after the election, democracy depends on a peaceful transition of power, especially when you don’t get the result you want. (Applause.)
And as you may have noticed, the next American president and I could not be more different. (Applause.)
Fast forward 22 months. We noticed! And, now, he has returned to remind us what our priorities should be. The Dems have been criticized for using him to “get out the vote,” as it is unheard of for a former president to campaign for anybody, never mind lashing out at the man currently in office.
At Champaign-Urbana, Obama said the country is in a “backlash” moment.
“You happen to be coming of age during one of those moments,” Obama told the audience at U of I. “It did not start with Donald Trump ¯ he is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentment that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear, an anger that is rooted in our past but is also borne in our enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”
While Obama had in the past blasted Trump’s policies, this was the first speech in which he used his successor’s name.
Obama also addressed Trump’s tone-deaf comments after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, last year. The president claimed there were “some very fine people on both sides” during the mayhem that saw white supremacists squaring off against anti-racism protesters. Paralegal Heather Heyer, 32, was killed during the protest when a white supremacist struck her with his car.
“We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers,” Obama said. “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”
The former president also applauded the women who have taken a stand in the Me Too movement, and the teens of Parkland, Florida, who are standing up to gun violence and the National Rifle Association. That’s how real change starts, Obama said. But nothing will get done if this generation doesn’t vote, he added.
Setting the record straight, he also noted, “By the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate hit an all-time low, poverty rates were falling,” Obama added. “I mention this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started.”
“The threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Trump,” Obama said. “The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism. Cynicism has led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day. To all the young people that are here today, there are now more eligible voters in your generation than in any other, which means your generation now has more power than any other to change things.”
The only thing you have to do, Obama said, is “show up.”
Well, Obama showed up in my backyards, twice in 2 years—first in Athens and just a week or so back in Illinois. His words made me nostalgic – for a man respectful of all, charismatic and able to laugh at himself. His message is simple, framed to make us act, to reignite our enthusiasm and send everyone to the polls in November.
Show up! Engage! Vote!
I have done what I am supposed to do.
I don’t need to do any more.
Don’t bug me; I am busy.
So, you followed all the links, got yourself registered to vote in your local precinct, received a confirmation e-mail, have been checking your status and awaiting your ballot -- be it an e-ballot, an emailed ballot to be printed and mailed, scanned or an actual paper ballot received through snail-mail. The only thing left to do really now is VOTE and send in the ballot on time. Right?
Yes and no. You may have done everything right for your vote. Have you assisted others in getting registered, getting fired up, getting friends and acquaintances who have the right to vote in the game? Maybe you’re shy and you don’t like to push people on their politics, but this isn’t pushing an agenda of right, left or center. It is encouraging everyone who has the right to vote to do so -- you can’t get more American, patriotic or non-partisan than that.
You have a couple of expat friends who speak incessantly of US Politics and at this point you are fed up, because you have done what you were supposed to do and when the ballot arrives, you will do so then as well. You have convinced your adult children to register, your second cousin and Kyria Katina, who lives next door to the mini-market, who lived in the States for 20 years, before she and her husband retired in Greece.
It is easy to get complacent because you did what you were supposed to do. It is also easy to get cocky today as we have watched Manafort flip and it looks like the man who was elected by the Electoral College may soon find himself out of the Oval Office. When all the allegations directed toward him are being proven via sworn testimony or tape recordings, it seems that “Game Over” will soon be flashing on screens across the world and Pence will be sworn in as the 46th. (Not that this is a victory, but at least 45 will be out, no longer able to steer the entire globe on crash course.)
We can’t be complacent now, especially now. This is the time when we show our might -- we must keep talking about what is happening at home because if we don’t, the worst of it is bound to wash up -- literally or figuratively -- on Greek shores. We still have a full month to make sure anybody that can be registered, is registered to vote. We have to remind them to track their ballots. We have to keep talking to our uncommitted as well as our Republican friends. We have to keep pushing if the blue wave is to wash over the 2018 midterms. By nature, a wave is powerful and forceful and pushes aside what gets in the way. And that is who we have to be as Dems -- the embodiment of that wave.
We felt that power after Parkland -- those beautiful teenagers had more guts and gumption than a hundred senior senators - they lit fires under us, made us take to the streets and say -- this must end. These midterms can make the difference between a legislative body that is willing to stand against the deep pockets of the NRA and say -- No More. Gun regulation is going to happen so that every citizen feels safe. No more mass shootings with automatic weapons, no more deaths dealt from demons with delusions of grandeur and access to firearms.
Yes, it is easy to slip into cocky complacency -- but don’t. A democratic future for the globe is dependent on all of us being hands on and not sitting back and letting somebody else do it.
-- by Stacey Harris-Papaioannou
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” -- Plato
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