Students share how their political activity has evolved during the Trump era.
BY JOURNALISM II STUDENT ELLIE CRESPO, ’22. GRAPHIC BY LUCY O’BRIEN, ’22.
In his farewell address, Donald Trump reiterated a familiar claim, crediting himself for inspiring a nationwide movement, an assertion that he presented throughout the length of his presidency. “We built the greatest political movement in the history of our country,” he said, attributing the attitudes of his administration and constituency as the reason for this nation’s newly enthusiastic political climate. While some in the media choose to brush off this affirmation as simply a self-indulgent declaration, Trump’s claim has proven itself to be accurate given his involvement in the rise in political engagement among America’s youngest generation.
Though it may take years for the effect of former President Trump’s legacy to be fully understood, his impact on Generation Z’s level of political awareness is apparent. His tendency to go against the presidential standards set by America’s past leaders both excited his supporters and invoked visceral reactions from his opponents, inspiring a new wave of young voices to find their place in America’s political atmosphere.
Sophomore Katherine Bartlett believes that Trump’s administration played a major role in her political activity.
“How powerless I felt during the Trump administration made me educate myself and speak [about] my opinions to try to change the political climate near me,” she said.
Bartlett is a member of UAHS’s Students for Change, a group of educated student activists dedicated to change. Students for Change is just one of many student activism clubs that have been popping up in high schools all across the nation.
“[Trump’s] openly racist views and opinions—thinking that someone like that can gain a position of power really angered me,” junior and Students for Change member Joe Driscoll said.
Echoing the attitudes of other Americans, Driscoll’s impassioned reactions to Trump’s sentiments encouraged him to become interested in political activism.
“Before the election, I was agreeing with a lot of what [Trump] was saying but after the election, and after he brought several cases to court and they said he did not have enough evidence to do a recount, then I was starting to see Trump’s kind of being irrational here,” junior Nick Eggleton said.
Eggleton, like many others, made the decision to shift away from being a political bystander to an active member in this nation’s democratic ecosystem following his disagreement with attitudes Trump had shared through Twitter and other platforms.
“A lot of the election fraud stuff definitely encouraged me to voice my opinion, [though] I wasn’t taking a stance on whether or not there was election fraud,” Eggleton said.
During his time in office, Trump showcased his outspoken nature on Twitter, making him the focal point of every news headline and political discussion.
“What Trump was doing with Twitter was something that no president has ever done,” Eggleton said. “They have never gone directly, uncensored and just talked to the public. [Trump] would [even] cuss in some of his tweets, and no president has ever done that. So I think a lot of the time it was just funny to read those tweets and be like ‘Wow, he just said that’ or ‘Wow, the most powerful man in the world just talked to a basketball player on Twitter.’”
Junior Eleni Kourlas, however, had a different reaction to Trump’s tweets.
“I would see a tweet, and it … would make me get angry at him because what he would be saying would be so wrong. My friends would text me and would be like ‘Did you see what he said?’” Kourlas said. “I thought it was embarrassing to have a national leader who would tweet like a middle schooler.”
Kourlas also cited his comments on Twitter as causation for her to engage in political activism through sharing petitions and posts on social media.
However, once Trump’s departure from office went into effect, his self-induced surge of political engagement began to die down.
“Lately I haven’t been looking at politics as much because there’s not really as much happening,” Kourlas said, marking a regression back to political apathy after Donald Trump’s exit from office.
“It’s a bit disappointing that those that supported Biden during election season aren’t as vocal about their activism anymore,” junior Bhada Han said. “Not everything’s going to be immediately okay after we get Trump out of office.”