Well, that was weird.
At the end of this semester, I will graduate –– four years of hard work and good times and everything else we love to call college. For many or most of us, these were our most formative years to date. And this was our president.
My parents experienced college under the leadership of George H. W. Bush. Others had Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. It is of course worth noting that the Republican Party has been run for decades by grifters hellbent on squeezing America’s poor to enrich the already-wealthy, to the detriment of the economy as a whole. But in America, that’s how politics work. We can wish all we want that both parties cared about the nation’s poor and working class, but the fact that Republicans don’t isn’t new or unusual. What is out of the ordinary, however, is Donald Trump.
I’m not going to argue that he was America’s worst president –– although I believe he is. After all, Bush invaded Iraq. Debate is welcome. What Trump did more than any other, however, was make his depravity so clear and extreme that it could not be ignored.
And so for four years, we were attentive. We followed the news and talked about it and watched as our country’s reputation rode an unwanted roller coaster. Whether business, or architecture or hotel management, we all went through this together.
Imagine a world without him. Would everything have been so political? How many protests would you have attended? How many senators would you have been able to name? Would you have voted? What about in the midterms or your local elections?
The past president, and therefore our politics, has been present, or at least lingering, in our minds and dorms for four years. Whether our thoughts were touched by the latest scandals or our numbness to them, he was part of our college experience.
What a strange time to come of age. But maybe necessary, too.
Boring government has allowed us to forget about its gravity. The demobilization of voters after Obama’s first win allowed counter-majoritarian ideologues to conquer statehouses with ease. These same people launched assaults on voting rights and democratic institutions, leaving our republic weaker than ever before. Believers in liberal democracy took a break and the country suffered for it.
I’m sure we all would have chosen four college years without Trump if we could have. Hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved, our economy would be more stable and our democracy would have been stronger.
But, he also woke us up. His repulsiveness turned Generation Z into a generation of voters. Since people who vote once are much more likely to vote again, we have quickly catapulted much of our generation into a lifetime of civic responsibility. Protest is as common for us as perhaps any generation since the 1960s, if not more so. Being informed, even to a basic extent, is an expectation. Being openly political is not frowned upon on college campuses and centering social justice on social media is all but expected.
We are now voters both accustomed to voting and to paying attention to politics. Trump didn’t just wake up the left, he injected a powerful, seductive and violent energy into the right, and our republic was brought to the brink of catastrophe. But a generation has been trained to preserve it.
I love the wild ride that was my time here. I enter this new semester with a full heart. These weren’t the years we expected, but the lessons have been invaluable. We are strong; the future is as bright as we make it.
Elijah Fox is a Senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He took this semester remotely to work the election in Michigan. What Does the Fox Say? Runs every other Thursday this semester.