OPINION: The attempted coup is grounds for students’ changing faith in democracy
Thousands of flag-wielding Americans stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to protest the results of the presidential election on Jan. 6. Entering the Capitol Building mask-free and arms bared, the group of alt-right protestors showed its support for President Donald Trump, chanting “Trump 2020,” despite it being 2021.
Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that the violence and disregard for democracy Jan. 6 was the absolute rock bottom for the United States as a whole. However, the youth of our country know this is not true.
As these events unfolded, one thing became clear. These “rock bottom” politicians agree America has fallen to is not new. From performative activism and police brutality this past summer, to ignoring late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish not to be replaced prior to the presidential election, to anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers during a pandemic, to becoming a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention certified Level Four country; the U.S. is not just reaching a low point. We have been unacceptable since the start of the Trump administration.
The terrorism on our capitol and the disregard for American democracy has left students to wonder if this so-called democracy is even worth putting their faith in.
“America is so much better than what we’re seeing today,” Biden said in a tweet Jan. 6.
However, as a nation, we have not been better for far longer than just Jan. 6. It’s time to acknowledge that. The violence we witnessed Wednesday is what the U.S. is and has been. Young people know better, and we know we can change it.
The U.S. is, at its core, a melting pot of cultures, races, ethnicities and belief systems. However, after former President Barack Obama came and went, there was sure to be an uprising of those who see America as it was in the 1950s. The destruction of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was ordained when Trump was elected in 2016. Citizens, especially young ones, have been feeling the effects ever since.
With the current state of America, students have lost faith in democracy — plain and simple. The youth of our country have felt the betrayal of their parents and grandparents, who have supporting the outgoing president or allowed the bigoted mindsets that led to his election to go unchecked. The effects of these narrow-minded beliefs have been felt stronger than ever as the U.S. dug itself further into the hole that is the Trump Administration.
It would be easier to pretend like the issues in our country don’t exist. It feels safe to turn off a cell phone, to delete social media and to “unplug” from the real world, but the reality is that it’s not safe to unplug. It’s selfish. It is a privilege to be able to ignore the news and the riots and the homegrown terrorism at the Capitol last week.
However, many students have not done this, with youth engagement actually increasing.
Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported that between 52-55% of young people, aged 18 to 29, voted in last year’s presidential election. This is a sharp increase from 2016, when voter turnout for the same age group was 42%.
Terrified as they may be, young people refused to let the Trump administration repeat the past four years. America’s youth have been abandoned by their guardians again and again, left to face multiple “once in a lifetime” crises, and yet they still turn out to vote.
Stranded and rejected by American democracy, students have chosen to reinvent what the word stands for. Turning out in large numbers to vote in 2020, leading the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer and even wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic shows that young people — abandoned as they may be — still care. The reality of the U.S. may have stolen their faith in national government, but it reinstilled the youth with a faith that they could change it in themselves.