When democracy crashes

Diego Filiu | SIPA Class of 2018

President elect Trump. Let that sink in.

It’s a failure. A failure of a generation, of a nation, of its economy and of its electoral system. The youth. The millenials were supposed to turn out en masse to grant Clinton a way to victory. They did not. Neither did they sufficiently mobilize themselves to build up public momentum for the Democratic candidate. The incessant Facebook and Twitter posts, phone bank offices, and “Get Out The Vote” operations all across the nation were largely run by middle-aged Democrats.

At Columbia University, in the very heart of New York’s intensely Democratic upper class environment, very few actually made the required sacrifices, in time and in energy, to actually affect change in this election. Very few took time from their studies or their sleep to mobilize other voters. I was not one of the courageous few who turned online activism into genuine grass roots action. And I watched myself, powerless, drowning into despair through the last seven hours, as a Trump Presidency gradually made its way to reality.

From a nightmare to a reality. Today, America woke up to president elect Trump. Writing these lines is insane to me. Who could have predicted it? Who even considered Donald J. Trump as a viable presidential candidate two years ago?  Who, from our introspective ultra-liberal Columbia community, would have bet that Trump would win?

Inequality is also at the center of this election. America is divided. Not even in a constellation of blue and red states, but in two rigid, homogeneous blocks: the North East and the West Coast on one side, and the rest of the country on the other. It is “the rest” which wins tonight. The America of the forgotten, of the unseen, and of the unrepresented. The American “us,” the liberal elites of tomorrow, have forgotten and too often have despised them.

Clinton won the popular vote. However, had more young people like me mobilized not only themselves, but people around them and in crucially important swing states, we might have had a Madame president elect today. Had the electoral college’s insanely skewed rules been reformed, as they should have been long ago, we might have had a more just and truly democratic result.

The two phenomena combine to create the same emotional reaction among us, the educated youth of 21st century America: a feeling of despair, and even of resentment, at the political system we dare to call “democracy.” But that would be too easy. Too easy to lock ourselves into hatred and fear, into passivity and despair. We, the youth, have failed to truly mobilize in this election. We have failed to channel our passions into the political system of the day, using it to impose our open, inclusive, and forward-looking ideals. It is through this system, rigged and skewed as it might be, that we will fight for the next years, to regain our rights and our future.

We, the youth, have lost our conscience. We need a wake up call. Let this election be it.


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