Back in 8th grade, my grasp of the political scene consisted of student elections. A time of year when two or three interested students elevated themselves to candidates and adorned the hallways with colorful posters and fancy messages that begged the rest of us to vote them into an office we were all too happy to avoid. The more hearts or stars one plastered on their posterboard, the more qualified that person became.
Myself, I had no clue what a class President was supposed to do and even less about what a class VICE President was supposed to do. I realize now that the Vice President was there to act as a replacement should the President be grounded by his or her parents.
What I did know is that we had to endure two weeks of campaigning by people who had no grasp of the issues that awaited them, nor the realization that once they were placed in office, they had absolutely no individual power or clout that would enable them to accomplish anything without it being the Principal’s idea in the first place.
Still, this particular year, we had two people willing to make a run at the presidency. One, was a student near or at the very top of our class. He was well-liked, kind, extremely intelligent, and seemed to have the temperament for a political or corporate future. I don’t remember anyone saying a bad thing about him.
The other, was a brand new student near or at the very bottom of our class. He came to our ultra-rural almost farm-like community from the inner city. He was rough around the edges, intimidating, bully-like, and had a set of eyes that looked in different directions. While one would be looking straight into your soul, the other was busy perusing his peripheral flanks for imminent threats.
He was a scary dude.
I don’t remember anyone saying anything nice about him, yet this scary intimidating dude had a ton of friends. Not so much because we treasured his character traits, but more because we were less likely to be squished should he go off the rails.
When the time came for the student body to hear from each candidate, it became the most anticipated debate in the history of politics, only recently eclipsed by Clinton/Trump.
Quite obviously, these two had very different platforms. The smart kid, dressed in a nice shirt and tie, talked about adding activities during lunch, pursuing change in a variety of policies that we had no idea even existed, and promising to represent the entire student body despite him only being one person. He finished his eloquent remarks and then sat politely to a smattering of applause, most of which came from nodding school officials.
Now it was Darryl’s turn. We really had no idea what he was planning to say because his entire campaign hinged on one poster that hung cockeyed in the front hall. He had obviously placed it himself. It simply read, “Elect Darryl…Class President.” It seemed like more of an order than a request, and I think that was the intent. In fact, the bottom right-hand corner had the remnants of “…or else,” which he must have erased to show a more softer side.
When Darryl stood from his slumped posture and approached the podium, the school officials’ applause and approving smiles turned to apprehension as they nervously scanned the student body. He had no notes, which meant that he was either very well prepared or completely out of his league.
The fact that it was the latter had absolutely no impact on the balloting.
His promise? Parties.
Not party politics, not cross-party cooperation, just…parties. He wanted more parties. He wanted popcorn parties and dance parties and carnivals. He promised these things. We all looked at each other like, “Is this guy for real?”
Darryl had no plan as to how he was going to provide more parties, but plans are irrelevant during an election cycle. First, you get elected with rhetoric that the masses like to hear, and THEN you work on fulfilling the plan. If such a plan goes awry, you just blame everyone sitting across the aisle. It’s a strategy that has worked for centuries and this particular day was no different.
As school officials shook their heads in disbelief, the rest of us erupted in applause. His platform was so simple and had no concrete plan behind it, but parties are the most pressing issue facing 8th graders, and that was all it took for Darryl to experience a landslide victory.
Now, whether he couldn’t get a ride to after-school events or was unable to get approval from the parole board, Darryl never attended one meeting.
See, Darryl never really intended to be presidential in the first place. He had casually said in jest that he was going to run for President and the ever-approving yes men gathered around him at this particular moment encouraged him to do so.
From the moment he entered our school, kids were afraid to say no to him and they’d certainly never give him the impression that he was completely unfit to hold office. We ignored the fact that he had zero experience in being cordial unless it was self-serving because all that really mattered was living vicariously powerful through him. In turn, his candidacy just naturally progressed and festered from there. Like a snowball building into an avalanche, he went from being a new kid that no one inherently liked to our class President.
We cheered when we found out he was elected because the things he said sounded great.
Do you really need a stronger platform than that at the age of 12?
In the end, after the confetti was swept and posters removed, Darryl was impeached. I don’t remember who replaced him but I do remember not having any parties. It taught me a valuable lesson…the person matters, not the slogan. Experience matters, not the promises. And most important of all…friendships matter, not the rhetoric.
The upcoming election is frightening to me. It really doesn’t even matter who wins, this country will remain divided for a very long time. I’ve seen some horrific things shared and believed on social media. I’ve seen friendships obliterated, hurtful words hurled, and misinformation scattered about in the form of “it’s gotta be true” memes.
Sadly enough, we have evolved from an Us society to a Vs. society, and I don’t see it changing in my lifetime.
I wish I could go back to the simpler days when popcorn parties dictated Presidents. Because, quite honestly, I’m gonna need a LOT of it if I’m gonna watch these two spar through election day.