The students were curled around the bulky TV from the early 2000s in pajamas and slippers, staring intently as if watching the moon landing. I couldn’t hide the smile sprawled across my face when I saw those students gathered in the lobby of my summer dorm building. For me, they served as counterexamples to something that has frightened me since the start of this campaign cycle: the terrifying sentence, “None of this matters because Donald Trump will win anyway.”
I have heard so many Democratic voters say this in the last six months — young and old, moderate and progressive — that I have begun to recognize the real threat this thinking poses. This mantra of the 2020 campaign cycle, repeated over and over and over, engenders a spirit of political apathy that Democrats simply cannot afford.
Pessimism or even just lack of enthusiasm about the 2020 election on the mere grounds that defeating Trump will be difficult is like refusing to study for an exam because you know how challenging the questions will be. The conversation needs to revolve around a different axis: “All of this matters precisely because Trump could very well win another four years in the White House.”
At Yale, we often find ourselves overextended and exhausted, having taken on one credit, one weekend party or one extracurricular too many. This year, try not to confuse academic and social fatigue with political indifference. Don’t stop reading the news every morning or listening to that political podcast that clarifies the daily presidential hailstorm for you.
Engaged citizenship is not just a term to be tossed around the week before Election Day: It’s an everyday responsibility like doing your laundry or brushing your teeth. The only difference is that this daily chore in some small but significant way is one that affects our entire democracy — not just your dental hygiene.
Returning to Yale, I have thought a lot about why I’m here. I keep asking myself a question that may remind you of your common app: “Why Yale?” The cliche response is “to make a difference in the world,” which, although true, feels a little too simple of an answer. I think a more honest and realistic reason to be here is to ensure that you never stop caring — about others, about yourself and about your country.
In the last month alone, the president said that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal,” tried to purchase an autonomous country of 56,000 people and backed away from implementing common-sense gun reform after two mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. People across the world feel the profound toll of the Trump Era everyday, whether it be in polarized conversations with friends and family or in a news cycle completely consumed by a single personality. Four more years — 48 more months, 1,460 more days, 35,040 more hours — is a haunting prospect.
I’m not saying that we should avoid the sobering conversation about the likelihood of Trump’s reelection.
It seems like everybody keeps mentioning the fact that an incumbent president has a historically large advantage in an election. But that conversation should only be had in the context of planning how to defeat Trump — not as an excuse to tune out the news and wait until 2024 for another chance. And though there’s a chance that the economy will enter a recession before next November, we shouldn’t depend on the possibility of an event that will harm millions of people to come up with powerful political messaging that resonates with the American public.
If we learned anything from 2016, it should be that politics is fundamentally unpredictable. Anything can happen. So if you find yourself queasy every time you see an @realDonaldTrump tweet upending a decadeslong consensus on foreign policy or another disturbingly unqualified nominee being put forward to lead a major federal agency, think about who you want to vote for in the Democratic primary and why.
Register to vote if you haven’t already, make sure that old friend from your neighborhood and your 83-year-old grandma are registered, too, organize a debate watch party and never — never — convince yourself that it doesn’t matter. It might matter more than anything else.
Gabriel Klapholz is a sophomore in Branford College. His column runs every other Thursday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.