In the midst of this election season, I’m reminded of President Barack Obama’s message of empowerment in 2008. In his campaign, he declared, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Fast forward to 2016, and it seems like many young people have forgotten this call. Instead of a “Yes, we can,” mindset, I’ve heard refrains like “I’m not voting,” and “This election is such a disappointment,” from many of my peers at Yale and beyond.
For young people, a certain amount of frustration is justified. For the first time in American history, millennials will be the largest eligible generational voting bloc. Yet next month, we will have to choose between two of the oldest candidates to ever run for president. Our generation was a driving force behind the campaigns of Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and many of my peers feel disillusioned by our options in 2016.
But on Nov. 8, only Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and Donald Trump have any reasonable prospect of being elected president. The youth vote has a massive amount of political power, if we turn out to the polls. So what are we waiting for? If young voters merely see Clinton as the lesser of two evils and do not participate in the electoral process, we are abdicating our role in America’s future.
The media has sensationalized both Clinton and Trump. Despite this, I am confident that if young people examine the candidates’ positions on the issues, they will find many reasons to vote for Clinton. She has released comprehensive plans to improve the accessibility of mental health care, strengthen rural communities, protect voting rights and solve numerous other issues. The absence of policy discussions in our political discourse isn’t for a lack of trying on Clinton’s part. It’s because her proposals are rarely covered in the news. And when they are, these stories are rarely read.
The clear dangers of a Trump presidency should be another compelling reason to act. He has shown blatant disregard for the Constitution, by suggesting limits on the freedom of the press and a ban on all Muslims from entering the country. His scheme to throw Clinton “in jail” if he wins also represents a direct attack on our democratic norms. Trump has questioned America’s most vital alliances like North Atlantic Treaty Organization and entertained the prospect of nuclear proliferation across the globe, including in nations like Saudi Arabia. Trump is a threat to our fundamental values and would be reckless with our nation’s security.
Polling has indicated widespread disapproval of Trump’s views and temperament, but has also shown that less than half of millennials “definitely” plan to vote. My worry about this election is that people, particularly young people, will fool ourselves into believing that our votes don’t matter; that many of us won’t bother to vote or will simply cast a protest vote, handing the Oval Office to someone unfit to lead our nation.
Contrary to many pundits who label millennials as “lazy” or “entitled,” I refuse to believe our generation is apathetic about the world around us. Young people changed the national conversation about LGBTQ rights, shifting the attitudes of older generations and building a nation where marriage equality is now the law of the land. Millennials have led the Black Lives Matter movement and spoken out on issues of race and privilege at campuses across the nation this past year.
Yet Trump has said that as president, he will “strongly consider” naming Supreme Court justices who would overturn the 2015 decision on marriage equality. Clinton, in contrast, wants nominees who will overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and diminish the influence of big money in our political system. Clinton will work to create consensus on criminal justice reform, while Trump wants to enact unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies. There are stark differences between the candidates in this election: that’s why Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and so many progressive icons have been campaigning vigorously for Clinton.
This election may not seem inspirational or satisfying to many voters, especially those of our age. But better candidates will only be elected — and sound policies enacted — if we stand up for our core values and hold the next president accountable. We need to resist the temptation to view this election through the lens of false equivalence and we must take the initiative to vote. Our political system will improve only if we do our part.
Jordan Cozby is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .