EDITOR IN CHIEF
In the spring, some wide-eyed, uncomfortably energetic Biden Institute interns approached me on The Green, shaking a pamphlet and imploring me to register to vote. Not a concern, I said, already registered, and I walked on.
There was such a self-righteous enthusiasm to the whole thing, I thought. Finally, a politically neutral approach to politics in the world of Trump and Ocasio-Cortez. These people had hit the mark.
The same tone rang in an email I received from Joe Biden on Friday. I opened it with excitement, thinking that maybe the request(s) for my long-sought interview had finally been honored. Instead, I got a bolded command to register to vote, accompanied by a high-def video featuring the usual pantheon of student leaders, showing me how cool and easy registering is.
But somehow, I’m not convinced that increasing college student voter turnout will do anything useful. Forget the Trump flags flying in frat boys’ windows. The issues today’s world faces, particularly the ones we’re inheriting, aren’t going to get fixed with a few million votes, and college kids give me little reason for optimism.
People say that the stakes are higher than ever in the upcoming elections, both in 2018 and 2020, and I couldn’t agree more. Environmental regulation, health care, automation, trade. Fixing these things requires sweeping federal oversight, and the Republican Party has no evident interest in doing anything useful.
That’d be fine, if the current strain of Republican ideology, with all of its perversities and contradictions, in any way reflected the popular will. But it simply doesn’t, and millions are utterly disenfranchised in this country, left at the mercy of a sadistic Republican agenda. This is why it’s so important for people to vote.
But only so many of these disenfranchised voters can plea helplessness, and many outspoken Democrats are not among them. Many, for all of the anger they express online, seem to be perfectly at peace with things, still going to school, still going on vacation, enjoying the most comfortable economic circumstances of their lifetime. Whatever might be going on at the border, or in Israel, or in a nearby poverty-stricken area, they feel absolved of guilt, knowing that they voted blue in 2016, and will do so again in 2018 and 2020.
And, if Trump retakes the presidency in 2020, and if the Republican Senate retains control, they’ll be at peace when the world goes to hell, knowing that, at the very least, it wasn’t their fault. That they voted, and did what they could to make sure others voted too.
Except it will be their fault.
Educated Americans live in a moment of both unprecedented prosperity and unprecedented public knowledge. We know that our lifestyles contribute to climate change, that thousands are dying of malaria each year, that there are refugees in need of help and that our dollars and action can help mitigate all of this.
Yet, with this knowledge, we do nothing. We continue to eat the beef that pumps methane into the atmosphere, drive the cars and buy the products that contribute to CO2 emissions and purchase the plastics that pollute our world. We pour thousands into gadgets and college and nice dinners and political campaigns. Instead of enacting the solutions we demand of our government, we sit by and blithely endure the storm.
What startles me most is that none of this has rattled college students into any real seriousness. Here, in college, we have not only unparalleled opportunity and information access, but also a chance to change our ways. We’re not tied down by decades of a consistent lifestyle or an outdated social paradigm, and are in a better place than ever to breach convention, start new trends, to set the world on a new trajectory.
But, amid the most tumultuous political period of our lives, we don’t. Our money gets poured from pitchers at Grotto’s while we lick our lips at the sight of a dead cow between two buns. We drive trucks and beamers around campus when we could bike, and cross our fingers for America’s political future, attending lectures about “populism” (at best) instead of talking to Trump voters. Rather than make the most of our educations, intending to put knowledge to practical use in the future, we watch Netflix in Morris.
When and if this “Democratic surge,” led by young people, takes over, people are going to realize that big government requires big responsibility. All of the things that we have the opportunity to do now — live environmentally conscious lives, donate our ever-powerful dollars to the needy, lead healthy lifestyles to ensure that federally funded healthcare doesn’t bankrupt the country, boycott unethical industries — will become compulsory, and they won’t be popular for long.
If college students can’t handle moral responsibility in today’s world, and there’s little evidence that they can, then nobody can. Ultimately, we want the lives that our parents had, and those lives are driving us straight to extinction. But go ahead, cast your vote, and feel righteous in your actions. Attend Joe’s registration party. Whatever it takes to help you go to sleep with a clean conscience.