Letter to my peers

March 7, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

To my fellow young adults,

Most of us tend to think that politics is either boring or entertaining. Donald Trump has been entertaining for a while; Hillary Clinton is pretty boring.

Would we even know the name of the current Secretary of the Treasury if it weren’t for the likes of Jon Stewart, John Oliver and SNL to keep us somewhat engaged? (Do most of us even know the name of the current Secretary of the Treasury?)

We generally don’t vote. Of all age groups, we have consistently held the title of lowest turnout in presidential election years, and we have even lower turnout in non-presidential elections.

But we’re not alone in our lack of civic participation. Even the grown-ups generally don’t vote. Sure, a few more of them vote than we do, but our country as a whole has generally low turnout, especially in non-presidential elections.

(Now, to be clear, we did vote in 2008. We helped elect Barack Obama president. He inspired us with his youthful vigor, his optimism, his message of hope and change … but then, we’d lost interest by 2010.)

It’s easy to blame today’s gridlock on the Republicans in Congress, but we put them there. We didn’t vote for the Democrats. In all honesty, did you vote in 2014? Probably not.

So when we complain about the Senate threatening to not give fair consideration to Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, shouldn’t we be blaming ourselves?

Why aren’t we voting? Well, because politics is either boring or entertaining, but it’s not really that important to us.

Some of us say things to the effect of, “I’m not going to vote because I dislike all the candidates running. They’re all bad.”

Do you know why they’re all bad? Because we don’t vote (and because we don’t run for office).

But really, no matter how bad they all may seem, they cannot all be equally bad.

Government may be influenced by money, but it is controlled by the voters. If we want the politicians to respond to the issues we care about, we need to vote.

A vicious cycle only perpetuates the concept of “all bad” candidates when we find working in government unappealing. We don’t vote, allowing candidates we don’t like to take office; then, we dislike how the government is run by those people we don’t like; we form a negative opinion of government; and we think that we would never want to actually be a politician someday.

How many of your friends want to be a politician in the future? I can count a few of mine who want to be president one day, but future city council members, not so much. (Maybe the future presidents will be councilmembers as a stepping stone to something more glamorous.)

Some believe that government is just not the best possible path to address the issues they care about. They may have lost faith in government’s ability to address the most pressing issues. They may prefer to pursue activism, philanthropy, private business or a variety of other pathways to address those issues, and those are all certainly valid aspirations. Not everyone has to (or even should) run for office, but if you want to see change, you need to do something, and if you’re not going to run for office, at the very least, you can vote for those who do.

There are many, many people disenfranchised in the United States — affected by everything from voter ID laws in the South that target racial minorities to several states’ restrictions of voting rights for convicted felons. Those people can’t vote, and many are fighting to exercise their basic right to participate in the political process, while many of us freely give ours up.

Plato is credited with saying, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Nearly every state so far in the 2016 presidential election has had lower Democratic turnout than in 2008, while at the same time, nearly every state has had record-high Republican turnout. There’s a revolution happening, but it isn’t being led by Bernie Sanders.

2016 will be a pivotal year in American politics. Let’s not hand our government to inferiors, and let’s especially not hand the White House to Donald Trump.


Contact Ruairi Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Ruairí Alfredo Arrieta-Kenna (BA Political Science '18) was a columnist for the Stanford Daily.

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