I remember the ease with which my friend said the words: ‘I don’t see the point in voting’. To her, the system seemed eternally rigged in favour of two parties, rich sponsors and people older and wiser than us, and the futility of this meant scribbling an ‘x’ onto a piece of paper had no meaning.
To me, the happy owner of a ‘Votes for Women’ mug, it seemed incomprehensible. Political apathy had never really (and perhaps naively) entered on my radar. Aren’t we the generation which loved dystopian novels like The Hunger Games, centring on characters that do realise their power under oppressive regimes and claim it? (Not to say every election is exactly a parallel for The Hunger Games) Indeed, we as a collective loved these stories so much so that Noreen Hertz wrote in favour of labelling us ‘Generation K’, after dear Katniss Everdeen herself. According to her analysis, we (those born between 1995-2002) are a group who grew up in a so-called golden, Harry Potter-esque few years of childhood, only to have terrorism, world economic crashes and student debt heaped upon us. We’re politically minded, fretful about the future, distrustful of governments, yet idealistic.
Why then, does this relate at all to Trump’s presidency? It was a distinct lack of apathy that got him into the White House; apathy of his supporters would have equalled his loss. This election was on both sides principled, passionate and driven. Yet in the case of Trump’s election, supposed ‘apathy’ has been brought into play; the inference seemingly being that if the ‘other’ side had only had a higher voter turnout, well, obviously, the outcome would have differed. The problem focus then, of course, is not the number of supporters behind Trump and his rhetoric, but instead on galvanising participation. In other words, ‘us’, ‘us’, ‘us’. This drive however, has thrown up two major points we must tackle. First is that focus on ‘us’, the losing side, if only we hadn’t been the losing side. Of course, Democrats must look at why their campaign failed, must decide on a strategy for four years time, but crucially, this cannot rely simply on shaming the winners. This is not to advocate for silence; opposition must be heard and defended in relation to Trump’s policies and that of the wider Republican government, on women’s rights, on the refugee crisis, on immigration bans, healthcare, gun control and every other issue conveniently excluded from the revamped White House website.
It is this ‘in the meantime’ opposition which leads me to the title of this piece. Why isn’t Trump’s presidency the worst thing ever? Eliminating apathy. Just the first month has shown us that. An estimated 500,000 participants arrived for the Women’s March on Washington alone, with a total of 4.9 million cited marchers worldwide, on all seven continents. All seven continents. Just think of that! Those numbers are proof that people can and do care. More than that, that our actions, our defence of our rights can be supported and do give us a voice. It is an acknowledgement that in a long historical line of leading figures and movements, we are no worse and no better; holding the same amount of potential to change in our hands as much as it was in theirs if only we use it. If there was a culture of apathy that won Trump the election, saying it was ‘more interesting’ for him to win, then it is true the response to his election has been interesting in a way not intended. Previously ‘interesting’ was ‘what will Trump do next’, more interesting is ‘what will we do next’. Far from an uninhibited implementation of his policies, the reality of his new power seems to have unstoppered an awareness of our own.
Outgoing President Obama continued to cite his own rhetoric of the power of citizenship in his leaving addresses, writing that ‘all the amazing things that happened over these last 10 years are really just a testament to you’. Well, in a way, he’s wrong. His administration should rightly take credit for its successes as the one who implemented them, but his wording creates a clever dimension to his politics. A popular leader, one could suppose, is one who makes the decisions but gives the people the credit upon its approval. Yet he’s also entirely correct. America’s constitution enshrines the principle of self-governance, that a country should be for its people. Where this might be construed as isolationist politics of the kind that puts ‘America First’, it is also a call for equality in voice and representation, of any colour, creed, or orientation. Apathy, in an environment where one is aware of this voice, cannot survive, and if Trump has taught us anything worthwhile, it should be this.