As the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration recently passed, media platforms from Fox News to TIME magazine have reviewed Trump’s time in office and debated what, if anything, he has done to benefit the nation in the last year. While considering this question, I am confronted, almost immediately, with an answer: Donald Trump woke us up.
Prior to the presidential election of 2016, the national government reached what can only be called peak establishmentarianism, an unchanging institution that firmly shut out any politician who might dare challenge the status quo. Each new candidate stepping into the race seemed only to be a variation of the candidate before them, and the American people lost interest. According to the U.S. Elections Project, 2014 midterm elections produced the worst voter turnout in more than seven decades. Texas had one of the lowest turnouts in the nation, with only 28 percent of the eligible population rousing themselves enough to grace a voting booth, according to The New York Times. It seemed that the American people had grown dangerously disenchanted with democracy.
The election of President Trump roused us from our stupor. His election made us all, Republicans and Democrats alike, hyperaware of the fact that we can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect others to vote for the policies we desire or the candidate we want. And now we must turn this awareness into action.
Political organizations at UTD, such as the nonpartisan groups No Labels and Texas Rising have already begun the process. In the last year, Texas Rising participated in political protests and opened voter registration booths for students, while No Labels brought congressmen Beto O’Rourke and Pete Sessions on campus to hold open dialogues with students about the state of our nation.
The day following Trump’s inauguration, roughly 3.5 million women gathered around the nation in a Women’s March aimed to express frustration over the election of a candidate, whose remarks involved inappropriately grabbing women without their consent, many considered to be inherently sexist. Over 5,000 gathered in the city of Dallas alone, and roughly half a million people gathered in Washington D.C., making the march the largest one-day protest in American history. And that was just the beginning. From #NoDAPL, a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, to #MeToo, thousands of protests, marches, strikes and demonstrations have taken place across the nation as the physical embodiment of millions of voices striving to be heard.
It is important to note, however, that it is not just Democrats and Independents who have experienced a sudden reinvigoration. A study conducted by Pew Research Center concluded that “the Republican coalition is deeply divided on such major issues such as immigration, America’s role in the world and the fundamental fairness of the U.S. economic system.” With a president whose political rhetoric and ideology has consistently strayed from that of the traditional GOP, conservatives have been forced to reevaluate their own values and how they compare to those adopted by Trump. What are the policies which one can acquiesce to and which policies would one argue fundamentally misrepresents conservative beliefs? This is something that all Republicans must answer, or risk having the foundation of their ideology washed away in a flood of cryptic tweets.
It can hardly be denied that, under Trump’s presidency, the American political system has been transformed. But if we want to truly and permanently change our nation for the better, we cannot simply stop with protests and tweets of solidarity. We can no longer support, with decided indifference, whichever politician happens to fit within our party lines, press a sticker onto our shirts and proudly conclude our duties in the democratic process. In a world of 24-hour news and a myriad of social media, we have no excuse for being uninformed about the issues that matter most. For too long we have taken our representative government for granted, but now we must stand up. As the midterm elections approach, we cannot allow ourselves to slip into complacency once more. Instead, we must continue the spirit of activism that has so permeated this country since last year. If there is one way in which Trump has benefitted this nation, by making us realize that we can no longer afford to be silent.