This article, the follow-up to the winning essay of the 2017 high-school tier of the Nation Student Writing Contest, was written six months into Donald Trump’s presidency as an update to the original article, penned prior to the election. The original essay addressed the question, “What is the most important issue of your generation?” and argued for the critical importance of open borders. Here, Claire updates her thoughts.
At the onset of his presidency, I feared that Donald Trump would target minority groups, pushing them to the margins of society, creating room for racism, corporate greed, and countless other assaults on democracy. However, I had hope in the checks and balances that supposedly separate the United States from parliamentary and republican models in Europe and elsewhere.
Now, more than 10 months into his term, my hope in the democratic system has diminished significantly. Especially in light of events in Charlottesville, the altogether ignorant rhetoric that the president sloppily expounds in 140 characters or improvises at the rare occurrence of a press conference, has not only had harmful policy implications, but reenergized an increasingly empowered white-supremacist political movement.
While this movement has been present and active throughout the past, the historic success of the Obama presidency and the emergence of a female Democratic front-runner signaled a turn towards increased diversity and inclusivity in American politics. Still, an ardently nationalist, xenophobic patriarch managed to steal progress from under our feet, and as history shows, white identity politics results in violent culture wars, the dissolving of secular political infrastructure, and, in the most severe cases, genocide. Programmatically, Trump in the absence of his own legislative victories, is trying to dismantle his predecessor’s accomplishments one at a time.
Nonetheless, as a young activist emerging in such a turbulent political and social era, I am compelled to approach the situation, not by ruminating on the true awfulness of the Trump administration but by trying to understand how Trump came to power and to use this information to mobilize grassroots resistance efforts.
As much as we Americans love to tout our free elections, we must also examine the deeply ingrained inequalities within our society and political structure, resulting in a government truly ruled by the will of the few. I would argue that, although Trump perhaps holds the title for the most publicly outrageous presidential candidate, the Trump presidency was inevitable. While our founding documents may in theory outline an ideal democratic nation, when put into practice their principles serve very few. A nation whose fundamental political and policy decisions rest in the hands of the ultra-wealthy will eventually fall into the hands of a self-interested oligarch.
There is nothing new about an extreme, rich, white, male governing the United States. Our Constitution was built on the idea that only white, land-owning men deserved the rights it codified. The majority of the “founding fathers,” glorified by every prominent American politician, were brutal slaveholders. While one might argue that they were simply acting according to their time, we still live in a country governed by a document that was written by these men; their ideas may now be outdated, but our politicians still glorify them, and our governing bodies still function according to their doctrines.
Therefore, the core foundation of our democracy relies on historically perpetuated inequalities and continues to do so unexamined. Trump’s presidency forces us to reconsider these seemingly unquestionable tenets and to evaluate how civil disobedience provides a healthy counter narrative.
As bleak as the situation may seem, I still hold hope in the work of grassroots organizations, which have tirelessly been working towards peace and justice since the Trump election. Although many citizens no longer trust in our government to work in our best interest, activist and advocacy organizations have proven to have meaningful influence on policy. Peaceful marches in solidarity with the counter-protesters in Charlottesville and pressure from coalitions of nonprofits across the nation swayed the president to remove the racist Steve Bannon from his inner circle.
To achieve lasting change, the social-justice movement must unite across issue groups and put differences aside. Racial-justice groups, gender- and sexuality-justice groups, immigrant-rights groups, and environmental-action groups must cooperate to resist and create change. As signs of this type of movement already abound, I hold immense hope for the future.