Claire Messud in Salon:
When you were seven weeks old, we took you to a wedding in New York City. We dressed you in an embroidered white linen dress I’d also worn as an infant, we combed what little hair you had, we popped you in the car seat and zoomed down from western Massachusetts. With the exception of the lovely bride, you were the belle of the ball — handed from aspiring grandmother to aspiring grandmother, chin-chucked, dandled, cooed over, cuddled. Daddy surreptitiously changed your diaper in the library of the fancy private club. A television star praised your dimples. You loved every minute and didn’t cry once. Two days later, less than twenty-four hours after we got home, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked passenger jets and flew them into a field in rural Pennsylvania, the Pentagon, and the Twin Towers, killing thousands. The world into which we thought you had been born was ineradicably altered in a matter of hours. So began the terrible Time of Fear, the better part of a decade in which our actions and reactions as a nation were premised on constant dread and anxiety. We prosecuted wars on false pretenses; we blithely dispensed with our fundamental moral beliefs and turned a blind eye to extraordinary rendition and torture. With arrogant ignorance, inadequate military preparations, and botched strategies, we sacrificed countless young men and women, both on the battlefield and afterward, many of them victims of severe injuries whose lives can never be fully restored. We treated our allies in the region with cavalier indifference (remember Kirk Johnson, Daddy’s friend from Berlin, who started the List Project and worked so hard to help Iraqis abandoned by the American government for whom they’d worked?). In the course of these years, we alienated a generation of young people across the Middle East. When I visited Turkey in 2007 as a cultural guest of the State Department, it was explained to me that under Bill Clinton, the United States had had a more than 75 percent approval rating in Turkey. By the last years of George W. Bush’s presidency, that rating was 9 percent. And 50 percent of the Turkish population was under twenty-five years old, which meant that most young Turks had never thought well of our country.
In 2008, Barack Obama ran for president with the slogan “Yes We Can,” on a platform of “Hope.” You turned seven years old that year — the age of reason — and both at home and in the country, the optimism was palpable. Your friend Annie favored Hillary and dressed up as HRC for Halloween; you liked them both, Hillary and Obama, and didn’t mind who won. Even though you were still small, you laughed at Sarah Palin jokes — not realizing, I think, that they were funny only because she wasn’t elected. We believed that we could, as a nation, surmount our fear together. We believed in choosing peaceful dialogue instead of conflict; in openness and tolerance instead of division and hatred. We believed in a progressive future instead of a return to the past. These past eight years have not been without problems or limitations. But it has a been a gift for you — and for us, raising you — to grow to maturity in a political culture that supports equal rights, dignity, and mutual respect for all, that believes in global cooperation on important issues as diverse as climate change and world peace.