Across from the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. stands a memorial that exists to honor those who served during World War 2. Every time I pass the World War 2 memorial, I look in awe at the fountains and remember the person who helped create them: a father, grandparent, and a man who had three of his brothers serve during World War 2. He’s a man who went through the ups and downs of America, and still lives with his wife of 58 years in the same home they’ve lived in since the 1978. How do I know this? I know this because that man is my grandfather. He and my grandmother remember what America was like during World War 2, the civil rights movement, and Vietnam. They have witnessed the intense depths of pain that this country has gone through. They know that the worst that America has faced is not a mere election upset by an offensive Manhattan businessman.
My grandparents often put things in perspective for me. Before election day had come, I felt that this election was the most upsetting and terrifying thing that had ever happened to our nation. My grandmother quickly reminded me that this is not. When she grew up, they had drills to hide under their desks in case of a nuclear attack. When she was growing up, there were multiple assassination attempts on our nation’s presidents. When she was growing up, women were shunned for being in the work place. Black people were called the help – and that was when they were not being beaten in the streets. This election does not even come close to comparing to the worst times that America has had.
My grandma explained to me that these protests, this disunity in our country, is nowhere near the depths of the divides that our country has faced. She described to me what she saw as the lowest moment in our country. “The Vietnam War was the worst I’ve seen our nation. The war just went on and on. When soldiers came back, they were shunned. Our nation was so divided. This is nowhere near then.”
After the election results, I asked my grandfather what he thought. I assumed he would have something witty to say about Trump, as he usually brings wit to most conversations. But instead, he simply said “Well, our nation got through World War 2, I think we can make it through this.” Three of his brothers served in World War 2, two were deployed, one of which was killed during the war. My grandfather, and the nation, got through the intensity of World War 2, and we can get through this.
My grandpa explained to me what he saw growing up as the deep racial divisions in our shifting nation. “A person’s perspective depends on how they were raised. When I was growing up, my mom had a framed picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because she really admired him. When my family came up from the south, they’d turn the picture down.” Later in his life, when my grandpa was on a job up in Washington, DC, a worker came by. But he found out that this worker wasn’t there to work, he was there to march. From the time of my grandpa’s birth until now, he has witnessed the changes from a segregated nation to a united one. Now, today, we have our first African American president. We are nowhere close the division we once were, and we shouldn’t go backwards by going out of our way to divide ourselves.
Throughout its existence, our nation has gone through slavery, two world wars, segregation, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, Vietnam, defaming of our own soldiers, assassination attempts and assassinations, impeachments and a resignation of our nation’s presidents. Our nation has been through the highs of the first man on the moon, the first African American president, and the first woman presidential candidate. My grandparents witnessed some of the greatest highs and darkest lows of our nation.
Our poverty now consists of having iPhones. Our joblessness does not include forced child labor or women being shunned for working. Most everyone now has the opportunity to graduate high school and even go on to college, where my grandparents’ generation were often forced to put traditional education second to raising their family, working the farm, or providing financially, even if they were just a teenager.
Our country has gone through the depths of distrust and disunity. We have literally fought wars against ourselves and against the world and yet, we still are UNITED. An offensive businessman from Manhattan is not our darkest moment – not when you look at slavery, not when you look at wars, not when you look at the last time the Cubs won the World Series before this season – a time when women were not even allowed to vote.
We are the United States of America – and there’s a reason for it. Just go ask your grandparents.