Whether you voted for Donald Trump or not, you have to agree that he is responsible for a positive outcome from his campaign and his election. He has animated the population he serves. It is no secret that Americans have, as a country, been largely apolitical. When I have traveled to other countries, especially when I first began, I have consistently been impressed by and even envied how much politics and current events were a part of the daily conversations among the people I was visiting. But that was not so in the United States. Throughout my academic life, in high school and college, there were almost no political clubs, and those that did exist had few members who were regarded as a little odd for their political passions. I have not found many people who were deeply interested in our government, its processes, its politics and its politicians. Indeed, spot person-in-the-street interviews regularly revealed that most respondents did not know who held which office beyond that of the president and perhaps the governor.
Not any longer.
Imagine my surprise when the 4-year-old son of a friend came home from nursery school and announced his opinion of President Trump, complete with reasons. A 13-year-old I met knows the name of the Environmental Protection Agency chief (Scott Pruitt), and a 15-year-old announced that she wants to register as a Republican as soon as her age allows so she can help decide who the party’s next candidate might be. These are not just youngsters parroting what their parents are saying. In some cases the youngsters disagree with their parents. How do they know to do that? They are now surrounded by news, whether on television, with blasts on their iPhones, from talking to each other in class or hearing many adults offering different opinions. Wherever all of us go, to a doctor’s appointment, to a casual restaurant, in and out of stores (with the exception so far of supermarkets), there is a television turned on and we hear the latest comments from both parties, outrageous or not. The media are having a field day reporting quotables. And the public is deluged. Kids, remember, are part of the public.
How long can you be at a dinner party before the talk turns to politics? When you wake up in the morning and switch on the radio or the TV, don’t you expect to hear the latest quote from Donald Trump? The president has managed to dominate world news so provocatively that his is the most well-known name on the planet.
I think what has happened is a good thing. An informed and engaged public is necessary for a democracy to exist. Our Founding Fathers said as much. The United States has had a dismal voting record at the polls during election season for scores of years. Less than half of those eligible actually vote here compared with other, newer democracies where voters may risk their lives in order to cast their votes. We, living in a nation that is the symbol of democracy, are too complacent to be bothered voting or too cynical to think that our vote might matter.
So I am delighted to see young people talking about politics and asking how government works. And we in the news business are validated by the sight of grown-ups arguing government policies on street corners. Let’s get everybody involved, even if it takes incredible, unprecedented comments and actions to stir us up. I came of age in the Vietnam era when marches and, yes, riots in opposition to government policy toppled a sitting president and eventually stopped the war.
The good news is we don’t have to riot. We don’t even have to march. All we have to do is go to the polls and vote. And if we don’t get what We the People want, we do it again the next time until we get the public servants we wish to represent us. An informed and engaged populace is a beautiful thing.