In the days and weeks following the presidential election, reports poured in from all parts of the country regarding the dread many young people felt at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. Exams were canceled, protests organized, and apparently, copious amounts of hot chocolate were consumed.
This outrage was on display Friday when thousands protested the inauguration of President Trump.
To the credit of the students in my Advanced Placement American government class at Wilson High School, they seem to be made of sterner stuff.
Their political maturity since the election has allowed us to carry on with an in-depth political analysis of the unexpected electoral outcome, free from histrionic demonstrations of grief.
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Out of these discussions came one student’s straightforward question — not an unusual question, but in the context of recent events, a powerful question:
“Mr. Jankanish, what can we do to impact our politics?”
The question put me off balance. It was easy enough to rattle off a typical list of action items: register and vote, attend local council meetings, work on campaigns, read a variety of news sources and generally, get involved.
I even suggested a specific policy orientation: Our liberties are threatened by growing regulatory administrative agencies, making a wreck of federalism, and draining away the creative energies of the American people.
Still, it seemed a deeper response was needed.
Regardless of the results of the election, our politics seems to be mired in dark times. A high percentage of the American people indicate they believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. Identity politics and populism create an overheated political rhetoric.
How can our young people be heard? This societal chaos would be particularly hard to endure by teens that find themselves in stressful home and neighborhood environments. Indeed, what can they do to be effective and impact politics? If teens are going to play their part in fashioning responses to the issues facing the country, they must develop certain habits of mind that will make their political actions meaningful.
In the spirit of the New Year, I am hoping young people will consider these political resolutions:
1. Hold to your principles, but know prudence is the necessary link between principle and policy. Prudence is the recognition that principles rarely can be attained all at once. Accepting less in the short run can create opportunities to move principles forward in the future.
2. Know, as a human being, you are flawed. Your political opponents share the same limitations of human nature. Therefore, tolerance is required. There is no justification for trying to eliminate unpopular speech. Do not succumb to the popular impulse to use narcissistic sensitivity to silence political opponents.
3. Think. Political thinking is the capacity to see issues from the perspective of others. Hannah Arendt, one of the most renowned observers of politics in the last century, attributed the appearance of evil in the political world to people’s inability to think from the viewpoint of others.
4. Hold fast to the U.S. Constitution, state and local constitutions and charters. Their purpose is to limit power and protect liberty.
5. Do not accept euphemisms as substitutes for reality. Demagogues and ideologues distort language to confuse and dominate. Abortions are not “medical procedures.” Illegal migrants are not “undocumented immigrants.” Water boarding is not an “enhanced interrogation technique.”
6. Finally, resolve to live your life in liberty, accepting the challenge to take chances and make decisions with the expectation you are responsible for the outcomes. Reject the siren call of statists, at any level of government, who offer a Faustian bargain of perfect equality and security in exchange for your liberty.
Michael Jankanish of Tacoma is the chair of the history department at Wilson High School, where he teaches Advanced Placement U.S. history and American government.