From the Sidelines of the 2020 Election

How a student on the cusp of 18 navigates the election of the decade


As a 17-year-old, I got lucky, I'm spared a trip to the ballot-box this November. However, because of the internet and living on a college campus, I still fall victim to the intense political discourse in an atmosphere that would put John Paul Young's song “Love Is In The Air” to shame. How does it feel? Horrible, bringing back long-suppressed 7th-grade basketball team benchwarmer memories. Not getting a piece of the action in the “election of our lives” has a profound impact on a person, I would argue comparable to that of those voting.

As a responsible citizen and seeker of “the tea,” I have worked to make myself knowledgeable of all issues involved, and have been enlightened to some extent.  Back in 2016, I knew of illegal immigration, abortion, reproductive rights, improving our healthcare system, and the rest was either too boring or complicated to care about. My middle school friends saw no issue in supporting Donald Trump, and to this day I remember the lunch table celebration of the “meme machine” as Ted Cruz dropped out of the primary race, making Donald Trump the Republican nominee. I was an idiot in all areas of life back then, but the idea of someone taking a pro-Trump stance four years later being labeled a “deplorable” was beyond me, and to some extent still is. 

My major observation for this change is that over the last four years, democracy has weakened. This is the least surprising result when our democracy has been fed a Trumpian diet of poisonous, biased media on both sides, insincere officials, and out-of-control Twitter accounts; but most importantly, nobody believes in our democracy anymore. Every single time someone says, democracy is on the line, I see a banal misinterpretation of what democracy is. Democracy isn’t vested in the winner of the election and it never has been, it has never and should never be seen as a fragile system. The reason for that is because democracy is not a high institution, but a practice achievable by all levels of society. Democracy may have been fragile right after the first peaceful transfer of power between parties in 1800, but as we approach our 250th year as a nation, this precious democracy has stretched from "sea-to-shining sea," withstood civil war, invented the iPhone, defeated slavery, put Man on the moon, led in global outreach efforts, and has since then become a beacon of hope to freedom all around the world. Some would call it American Exceptionalism, but I think it’s just you and me. 

The one thing observing this election has done for me, is highlighted the power of you. The weight an individual can have on democracy, not by the largely symbolic vote, but rather through upholding the discourse by believing in the discourse. The moment “it isn’t worth it” to hear an opinion that challenges your own, or that one gets too comfy in their campaign talking points is the moment those pillars of freedom crumble. If I embody America, I cannot think my impact is actualized only by settling for a candidate each November. The impact is found in caring for my neighbor, working to guarantee that everyone has an equal opportunity to advance themselves, and embracing the fundamental freedoms America was founded upon; it doesn’t matter if I registered or not, because I, like all of us, can shape America in my own way.

Sitting on the sidelines and removing that burden has allowed me to take the pressure off and not settle for a two-party platform this election year, like most of us will. I was able to learn that the vote is only supplementary to the way you live your life and embody those distinctly American values, otherwise, we would all go mad, conveniently evidenced by the year 2020. So what’s next? For starters, I’m going to close that “cheap flights to Switzerland” tab and get to work, building my own America. As we all can, and I hope you do.

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