Polarization is sparking political activism among young Americans


Luke Ziegler

Catherine Johnson

Catherine Johnson, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States. On Wednesday, Nov. 9, America woke up to a new world.

Never before has a presidential election elicited such a polarized reaction from the public. Plenty of people went to work or school the next morning wearing MAGA hats and chanting “Build the wall!” Plenty more spent the morning in terrified tears.

Trump’s election and the subsequent public outcry is a symptom of a problem that’s been looming for over a decade: the extreme polarization of the bipartisan system. The Democratic and Republican parties have been creeping farther left and right with each election, each demonizing the other’s platforms.

While 20 years ago, two friends could have a polite discussion over differing political views, people nowadays seem incapable of separating the political from the personal. Though this certainly leads to more arguments at the Thanksgiving table, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s easy, when political decisions won’t affect you directly, to look at others and tell them, “It’s not personal, don’t get so worked up.” For many people, however, decisions made at a federal level have life-changing ramifications.

Someone who is a part of the LGBTQ community, for example, will likely be concerned that Vice President Pence believes in gay conversion therapy for children, or that President Trump has denied transgender citizens the right to serve in the military, claiming the medical expenses are too much.

A person with Mexican heritage (or, frankly, any Latin-American country, since Trump certainly can’t tell the difference) is likely to be frightened by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, especially if they have a relative who is an illegal immigrant.

On the other side of things, people who grew up in houses with guns, who have been hunting with their families since they were barely old enough to hold a rifle, are likely to be encouraged by the current administration’s protection of Second Amendment rights. People who have been affected by gun violence, less so.

At times it seems that everything has been split into black and white, good and evil, no matter what side you’re on. While this can make conversations with classmates or coworkers extraordinarily frustrating, this polarization of ideas has come with a silver-lining: the rise of political activism.

Across the country, millions of people have begun to fight for their beliefs. Rallies have been held, protests have been sparked, and voting has been highly encouraged. As a result, voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections was at 49.3 percent, the highest for a midterm election in 50 years.

The apathy surrounding politics in previous years has been turned on its head. Citizens, young people especially, are beginning to find their voice.

People are beginning to realize that politics are, have always been, and will always be personal. Topics like abortion, immigration, LGBTQ rights and gun control have real consequences for real people.

When more people across a greater age range contribute to politics, our government better reflects the needs and beliefs of our citizens. While the lack of cooperation between parties continues to be a growing issue, the increase of young people involved in politics is an encouraging, if unexpected, outcome of the party split.

The future of our country will depend on the engagement of our youth, and they’ve made it clear that they’re here and unwilling to leave.