Republican Fear Mongering: What They Thought after the ’08 Election

This may be very, very old news to those of you who have been liberal for years, but I was raised by conservative parents in a deeply religious environment, so seeing this from the other side is still new to me sometimes. I was cleaning out my closet the other day, and I happen to keep my old diaries in there. One in particular, from back when I was in high school, gives a response to the 2008 election, when President Obama was first voted into office. It came at a point in my life when anything I said was basically a repeated opinion belonging to someone else. I hadn’t yet started to formulate my own opinions. Here’s what it says:

An old diary entry from 2008. It's very disturbing to remember the crazy things I used to think about the president.

An old diary entry from 2008. It’s very disturbing to remember the crazy things I used to think about the president.

11/4/08

Dear Diary,

It’s official. I heard the announcement on the radio: Obama was just elected president. I’m afraid. Mom says he’s just like Hitler, lots of Charisma, [why the capital letter, 2008 me?] terrible ideas. He’s going to remove all restrictions on abortion, then he’s going to start a 3rd hollocost [sic] (abortion being the 2nd). He’s going to chase down every white man and woman and child in the country and he’s going to kill us!

I don’t want to die! I want to grow up and write stories and go to college and get married and raise a family!

I want to marry the guy of my dreams! Have my fairy tale ending! Please don’t take that away from me!!!

Thank you for reading.

As tempting as it is to spend this entire post making fun of myself for starting a journal entry with “Dear Diary,” here’s why I think this find from my past is worthy of a post here: I genuinely believed these things because the adults in my life–the people who were supposed to instill some basic moral values and people skills in me–were saying them.

These opinions, in varying degrees of panic, were brought up at the dinner table, whenever my family watched or read the news, whenever I attended my Catholic homeschooling co op or other activities run by homeschoolers. This was my reality. These opinions were everywhere, and I rarely, if ever, heard anyone disagree with them. I was living in a conservative echo chamber, and with any echo chamber, it’s easy to see how one idea–in this case, the notion that a particular candidate is the worst possible candidate ever and shouldn’t be elected, can get blown out of proportion; it’s like a game of telephone.

Remember that game, where you sit in a line or a circle, and one kid says a phrase or a sentence, and passes it on to the next kid, who then passes it on to the next one? Somewhere down the line, it nearly always got changed, often because someone did it deliberately to be funny, but sometimes simply because someone misheard the message as it went down. All it takes is one exaggeration or other slight change in each retelling for a story or an idea to morph into something completely different. A brown bear becomes a mythical monster. A man becomes a god. A run-of-the-mill establishment politician running for president as a democrat becomes a black Hitler. Never mind the fact that historically, the comparison itself is ridiculous and in bad taste. Never mind that having concern for the way minorities are being treated is not the same as hating the majority group.

I will admit I had a tendency to be over dramatic in my diary entries, which were often the oh-my-god-that-cute-guy-looked-at-me nonsense that’s typical for someone in the grasp of adolescent hormones. But I tried not to lie. It’s very possible that these were just the absolute worst things that I heard, and I skipped over the more rational ones. But it’s the terrible things that stick in your head, isn’t it? Especially when you’re young. I got an education and thought my way out of that nonsense, but what about the kids who didn’t?

I don’t know where those rumors originated because of how oblivious I was to actual politics at the time. Did a conservative talk show host bring them up? Were they spreading through conservative news organizations? Were they simply the terrified whisperings of racist middle aged republicans? I don’t know. One thing I do know, though, is that the conservative echo chamber leads to fearmongering. It lead to panic about a “black supremacist” president, who in two terms has clearly not done anything to indicate such a mindset.

This is what some Republicans thought at the time. Surely not all, but some.

Having switched sides, I hope that I’m not living in a democratic, left-wing echo chamber now. I hope I’m evaluating my fears about a President Donald Trump or Ben Carson or Ted Cruz adequately. I believe that I understand that the worst that’s likely to happen with any of them is bad policy decisions, not world war III. We need to be aware of this human tendency to imagine the worst, and not turn these candidates into caricatures. They’re doing a good enough job of that by themselves already.

Do any of you have memories of the ’08 election and what the two sides were saying about each other? Were the campaigns then anything like the ones we’re seeing today? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy