From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
What Kind of World Is This?
by Charles Yu
I commit to vote in 2018 because I have children.
They are ten and eight. These are good ages. Kids at this age are funny. And they know stuff. Often they know more than I think they do.
But sometimes, it’s the opposite. Sometimes my kids will say something and I’ll realize how young they still are. Of course they are. They’re still looking to me for answers. Answers to questions of all kinds, many of which boil down to this:
What kind of world is this?
Not in a cynical way. Not in the way we adults have been asking this question of ourselves lately. From them, it is a straightforward, sincere inquiry:
This world, the one I’m just starting to try to make sense of, what kind of world is it?
My older kid was born in 2007, my younger one in 2009.
Which is to say, prior to Donald Trump, the only U.S. president they had ever known was Barack Hussein Obama.
Not many presidents in my lifetime (or maybe theirs) are going to be in the same league as President Obama in terms of intelligence, wit, or grace. He was and is a leader of uncommon gifts and temperament.
Prior to November 9, 2016, when my kids asked, What kind of world is it, sometimes I’d point at the TV, at Obama giving a speech, and say, Well, it’s the kind of world where this guy is the President of the United States.
Since November 9, 2016, when my kids ask that question, it’s been harder to answer.
Since that date, I’ve found myself trying to convince them (and maybe myself) that the world is one thing, and meanwhile everything in the news, everything they’re hearing from the world of adults, is telling them the opposite.
We tell them that respect matters, that intelligence and reason and critical thought matter. That empathy matters. All of these things that they learn at home and in school. All of these things that fall under the general umbrella of education.
I’m committing to vote because I want my kids, and other people’s kids, to have the tools to figure out what kind of world they live in.
To do that, they’ll need good schools.
In his first State of the Union, President Trump failed to articulate even a basic concern for education—not even a rhetorical gesture toward it in the emptiest, most costless way. A line of a speech, and he couldn’t be bothered to do it. Or worse, he, his advisers, and his speechwriters consciously chose not to say anything about education.
A vital public education system is our real infrastructure. Immigrants lucky enough to live in the U.S., and their children (including me), understand this as well as anyone.
President Trump, in word and deed, in speech and action, according to all available evidence from his time in office, does not value critical thinking. Does not place a high priority on respect for language at all. He degrades our language, our discourse, our sense of who we are. Our sense of what kind of world we live in. Want to live in. Hope we still do live in.
So I’m committing to vote in November so that when my kids ask me what kind of world we live in, I can honestly say: The kind of world where people’s voices still matter, thinking matters, words matter. So they can grow up in a world like that.
Take action today: Take the DCCC pledge.
Charles Yu is the author of three books, including most recently Sorry Please Thank You.