Reflection on political awareness during Trump’s presidency

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Katya Tolunsky, Staff Writer

I do not remember politics before Donald Trump was president. I was in seventh grade when Trump was elected and before then I had little to no political awareness. I just started to tune in and ask questions for the first time around the 2016 election.

My understanding of politics was limited, to say the least. Since I grew up in a liberal household, I knew Trump was “bad” and Hillary was “good-ish,” and based on what I heard my parents say at the dinner table, I also thought that Democrats were the “good guys” and Republicans were the “bad guys.” Red was the color of the villains in Star Wars, so it all checked out for me. 

When I was younger, I always associated a sense of prestige, dignity, and honor with our country’s democracy. Maybe it was due to the forced patriotism instilled by my elementary school’s daily pledge of allegiance, trips to the state senate in Albany, and the American flags in all the classrooms, but I was blissfully naive to the flaws in our two-party governmental system. I thought that the majority of elected officials and politicians were intelligent, moral beings with a longing to make the world a better place. 

And then I watched Trump speak on TV at his inaugural address. My faith in our nation’s democracy slowly but surely began to fade. As I grew up throughout the Trump presidency, I developed a growing feeling of disdain and distrust towards politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. Now, I question their motives constantly. My skepticism is driven by a barrage of stories of corruption, blatant lies, false promises to gain votes in elections, and the country’s shockingly partisan politics. Sadly, I have become desensitized to many of the disturbing and unnerving news notifications that pop up on my phone daily. 

Putting aside Trump’s bigotry, incompetence, and narcissism, the perpetually erupting scandals of the Trump presidency have caused me to view politics as more of a game, or reality TV show, rather than a body that governs and affects the lives of millions. After witnessing Trump’s divisive rhetoric, his impeachment trial, his monthly dismissal of staff, his laughable tweets, and the fact that he is never held accountable for his words or actions, I no longer associate dignity or prestige with the politics of the United States.

I no longer feel surprised when politicians do not make decisions in the interest of their constituents but rather act solely to maintain their power or advance their party’s best interest. From the Senate voting against Trump’s impeachment to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barett, our government has undermined our so-called “democracy.” 

I have become disillusioned with our justice system as well. Whether it’s the absence of justice for Breonna Taylor’s murder or the ability of five justices to eliminate a woman’s bodily autonomy or LGBTQ+ rights, our legal system seems both too powerful, too random, and too unjust. It is terrifying to watch the government that is supposedly built to protect the welfare of the people continually let the people down. At a certain point, it is only natural to develop a feeling of disdain and distrust towards politicians. 

Trump, his administration, and his supporters’ actions over the past four years have normalized corruption in politics. The President, who lives in and creates his own reality, is never bound to the truth. There is no pretense of morality in the White House anymore. I am sixteen years old, but I have a very bleak outlook on those who lead our nation. 

While I feel cynical about the last four years, I like to remember the small silver lining of growing up in the Trump era: I was forced into political awareness at a young age. My generation has been energized and propelled into action. From phone banking, to protesting, to simply spreading awareness through social media, we are more politically engaged, aware, and motivated than ever before. I sincerely hope that this political engagement is translated in the form of a vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

I acknowledge that my political views are constantly changing, as I am young and the little knowledge I do have is continuously expanding, but I am proud of my political engagement. I often wonder if I would have gotten as politically involved if I had grown up under a more capable, conventional leader. Now, no matter how “boring” the people in office may be, I truly can’t imagine not staying politically aware and active for the rest of my life. Although it often may seem like it, politics is not a game or a joke; our lives are deeply affected by it. The more people pay attention, the more we can work to hold our politicians accountable for their words and their actions.