Since the election of President Donald Trump, the political sphere has been filled with unfortunate firsts. We have seen Twitter, a social media platform which limits communication to a mere 140 characters, emerge as the main method of correspondence between high political figures and the masses. We have listened as political dialogue has deteriorated into arguments over hand size and sequences of distasteful, personal quips, abandoning meaningful debate over prevalent national issues. But, on the positive side, for the first time in decades, America has seen a rise in activism.
Sure, in all political respects, Donald Trump’s first 11 months of presidency have been, well, a huge disaster. According to ABC, Trump received the worst six-month approval rating, 36 percent, of any president in the past seven decades. He has officially ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which helped protect almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants, who entered the U.S. as children, from deportation, according to the Pew Research Center. And, as a sidenote, Trump’s reckless language with North Korea is increasingly provoking the dictatorship’s reckless actions.
But putting these policy flaws aside, as hard as that might be, Trump’s presidency has had one positive effect on American society: by simply being his racist, misogynistic, immoral self, Trump has single-handedly ushered in a new era of political activism.
The day following Trump’s presidential inauguration, and the culmination of a campaign riddled with sexist and demeaning remarks, the Women’s March attracted one of the largest single-day contingent of protesters (over four million people) in U.S. recorded history, according to the Washington Post. And, according to NPR, out of a sample of 500 protesters at the march, one third had never protested before. Applied to the whole Women’s March population, we’re talking over one million new activists.
But that’s not all. While Trump has prompted activism in all citizens—leftist, rightist, centrist, young, old—there has been a considerable rise in youth and young adult political engagement.
Historically, according to Pew Research, younger adults, aged 18-29, have been less likely to follow political news than their older counterparts. In fact, over the past decade, only 50 percent of young adults have reported that they regularly track political occurrences in Washington D.C., as opposed to approximately 70 percent of seniors. And, according to a 2014 study published in Psychological Science, there has been a steady rise in political disengagement among high school seniors since the 1970s.
In a democratic country, participation in government is crucial, especially among youth. Student activism is not a new phenomenon. During the Civil Right’s movement, the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-In, and countless other instrumental sit-ins and demonstrations were led by student activists. And later, protests at Kent State University against the Vietnam War garnered national attention. Youth have the potential to influence political decisions and instigate change for the future, and because younger generations will be the ones reaping the benefits or suffering the consequences of current government decisions, it is vital they engage in political activity to support the ideals they value.
And Trump has been the kick in the pants that young people need. Since the 2016 election, 24 percent of 18 to 30-year-olds have participated in demonstrations or protests, compared to only about 10 percent of older generations, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Even Marin has experienced youth activism. Following Trump’s election, over one hundred Redwood students walked out of their classes to protest, marching through Larkspur in solidarity with those alienated by Trump. Larkspur is a quaint town, home to only about 12,000 residents. It is by no means a center of activism, yet students eagerly protested for a cause they felt passionate about. A political cause. That’s big. And while the 100 Redwood student marchers may not have made an immediate impact on the current political climate —not even Trump’s advisors can control his decisions—the actions student activists take today will greatly affect their future.
According to Jocelyn Viterna, a Harvard sociology professor, activism as a young adult greatly influences one’s political and civic engagement later in life. She says young adults who participated in protests during the 1960s are shown to remain more politically active throughout their lives. Because this wave of youth activism since Trump’s inauguration has the potential to influence government for decades to come, the increase in political participation is vital. And we have Trump to thank for that.
Maybe America needed Trump. Maybe the world needed Trump, not for his ignorant, bigoted and infantile ideas and views, but for the public response they have inspired.