Students, staff respond to the alarming, historic changes in modern politics

Trump supporters laid siege to the nation’s Capitol on January 6th, a violent display that is now at the center of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump. Photo courtesy of Connect Savannah & Wikimedia Commons.

Learning from the past

With former President Donald J. Trump’s term coming to a close and Joe Biden’s incoming administration entering the White House, tensions amongst American constituents were high as the nation felt a need for closure from the 2020 Presidential election. What started as a protest to express political frustrations quickly turned into a riot as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in hopes of overturning the Electoral College’s votes. While January 6th, 2021 was a historic and monumental moment for the nation’s federal government, the topic continues to stir up controversy. The second impeachment of former President Trump is currently underway, with allegations that Trump both incited the violence of January 6th and did little to quell it once it became out of control, wounding many and killing five, according to the latest reports from that day.

Freshman Tyler Boecker, a member of Political Action Club, said the DC riots could be attributed to conspiracies around the validity of the election. The 2020 Presidential election garnered much concern regarding election security, and as a result, several constituents and members of office, including former President Trump, argued that the election was fraudulent. Boecker said such claims played a major role in cultivating doubt and distrust, ultimately leading to the riots.

“They were justified in the sense that they were misled by people of authority with trust in society: everyone from top ranking senators and the President,” Boecker said. “People were putting their ‘careers’ on the line for this idea of election fraud but at the end of the day it was a lie … I honestly blame them for believing it but I do not blame them for taking action on the lie.”

As the riots progressed in the nation’s capital, many were quick to draw parallels to Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer. A common observation was the lack of security and presence of law enforcement in the Capitol, which sophomore Yazmin Santillan pointed out was a stark contrast to BLM riots.

“Had it been a Black Lives Matter organization, the casualties would’ve been much higher, so I think that’s what frustrated me. I don’t think there should’ve been more casualties, it’s just frustrating to know that if it had been other people, there would have been,” Santillan said.

Santillan, also a member of Political Action Club, mentioned that while she can’t condone riots of any nature, she was more tolerant of those stemming from BLM than of those related to the election.

“I don’t agree with the riots. I don’t think they solve anything, but I do understand riots coming from people who are upset that their people are being murdered more than I understand riots for the loss of an election,” Santillan added.

Still others, like AP US Government and Politics teacher Brian Schaeffer, expressed the news was disheartening. Despite being initially saddened by the riots, Schaeffer said that he’s hopeful they will spark discussion and a period of restoration.

“As somebody who loves the government process, I was very upset to see that that happened in the United States. At the same time, it was telling that it can happen in the United States and that democracy is fragile,” Schaeffer said. “But our democracy is also resilient and so while I was upset, I knew that we’d bounce back and that this would be the starting point of some discussion.”

Later that evening, Trump took to Twitter to release a video statement addressing the rioters, asking them to go home and stop the violence even if the election was thought to have been stolen from them. He also sympathized with rioters, acknowledging that they were special and loved.

To some, like AP US Government and Politics teacher Tyler Van Landeghem, Trump’s response to the rioters was not what he was expecting but said that the response was not as black and white as it initially seemed. He continued to explain that there are multiple perspectives to consider when looking at Trump’s response. 

“[Looking at] him as President, his response was terrible. He needs to support the first branch of government and he didn’t. His response as President was lacking authority,” Van Landeghem said. “As Donald Trump the civilian, he was trying to make them stop. Those people should have listened to him. They are his supporters and I’m surprised they kept going after he said to be peaceful. I think as the leader of that group, he probably did what he could. As President, he didn’t do nearly enough.” 

Soon after the riots, Twitter permanently suspended the former President’s personal account — a first of a series of social media platforms banning Trump from using their services. Prior to suspending the account, Twitter had flagged several of Trump’s tweets related to the election as misleading or fraudulent. The controversial decision to finally ban him from using the platform sparked questions regarding the role social media plays in politics. In a report published by the New York Times on February 10th, Twitter announced that it would officially invoke a lifetime ban on the former President, even if he runs for office and is elected again.

“As somebody who loves the government process, I was very upset to see that that happened in the United States. At the same time, it was telling that it can happen in the United States and that democracy is fragile. But our democracy is also resilient and so while I was upset, I knew that we’d bounce back and that this would be the starting point of some discussion.”

— AP US Government and Politics teacher Brian Schaeffer

Senior Teegan Mathey, a member of Political Action Club, argued that flagging his tweets was justifiable in the sense that the public shouldn’t be misled. However, she also mentioned that it’s difficult to come to a concrete conclusion on the issue, pointing out that there are several factors to take into consideration.

“I thought flagging the tweets was necessary, because people need to understand when something they see on the Internet is not true,” Mathey said. “But at the same time, it’s important for everyone to see what he’s saying, because we have to understand where others’ views lie and it’s important in history to see what happened since this time is so crucial in our history.”

She continued that it raises the question of how private companies should regulate speech, as the line between the right to free speech and the right of private companies to establish their own terms of use becomes increasingly blurred.

“By shutting down Trump’s Twitter and other social media platforms, we’re essentially silencing him on the biggest platforms, which I don’t necessarily agree with for the sake of freedom of speech. It’s a private company, though, so that’s an issue that I’m still grappling with,” Mathey added.

Senior Tristen Hart, President of Political Action Club, shares a similar sentiment with Mathey but explains that the freedom of speech has become a difficult area to rightfully moderate as new factors come into play. 

“Free speech is no longer a two way street, it’s a three way street. Before the era of social media and the internet, speech was governed by only two entities — speakers, us the people, and the government. It was a direct one-to-one relationship,” Hart said. “In the United States we have a lot more bandwidth because of the first amendment. It’s no longer that simple anymore because there’s a third entity involved and that’s the private corporations that govern social media.”

Breaking down the present

Aside from being banned on several social media platforms, another consequence that has come of the DC riots is Trump’s impeachment.

The motion to impeach the former President a second time with only a few weeks left in office came with mixed reactions. Some argued that it’s unnecessary and impractical given the short timeline. Others said it’s needed to make an example of the situation and prevent it from happening again.

Hart explains that regardless of whether the impeachment may or may not be justified, it truly only appeals to a small fraction of the country. 

“Trump’s impeachment appeals a lot to the partisan extremes of politics so the people on the super super far left love that he’s getting impeached again because there’s a chance they’re never going to have to see him in public office again. The people on the really really far right are super upset,” Hart said. “Then everybody in the middle, the other 80% of the country who is just trying to make it through the week living paycheck to paycheck, they’re like ‘Why are we doing this again?’” 

A significant difference between the current impeachment and the previous one, however, is that this time votes seem less determined by political affiliations. While the previous impeachment was decided by a party-line vote, several Republican representatives have condemned Trump for playing a role in the DC riots and voted in favor of the second impeachment.

Santillan expressed that she was happy that party lines weren’t as clear this time. She said that it’s important to have people in office who are more occupied with the state of the nation than they are with party politics. 

“Because of [those Republican representatives], the impeachment was able to happen, since they were able to say ‘You know what, it wasn’t right what he did.’ Even if it were to be Biden that did something that people didn’t agree with, it’s essential that we have people that don’t care that much about political party and care more about the nation,” Santillan said.

While for some people like Santillan who feel that the second impeachment is cut and dry, Van Landeghem reflects on the grey area the nation has reached based on the precedents set by Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.

“It’s this weird situation where the first [impeachment] was a crime but he probably shouldn’t have been removed. The second one’s not a crime but he probably should be removed,” Van Landeghem said. “It says more about the state of politics than it does about him, which is that we are so dug in that we hate the other side no matter who they are.”

A major issue of contention with this impeachment is its constitutionality. Given that there has never really been a precedent set for a situation like this, in which a President is impeached right before leaving office and the trials are held once he has left office, there’s a lot of gray area to navigate. 

Schaeffer warned that regardless of the outcome, Trump’s second impeachment will likely be cited as justification for similar events in the future. He pointed out just how historic this impeachment will be, saying that it’s an example of how the vague language of the Constitution was meant to allow for interpretation.

“Depending on the constitutional scholar you look at, they’re going to say different things. One scholar will say that this is 100% unconstitutional and you’ll have another person who had the same classes, same professor, same everything, and they’ll say it’s 100% constitutional,” Schaeffer said. “We’re creating history, essentially.”

Though Trump’s defense argued the impeachment was unconstitutional, the Senate ultimately decided otherwise on the first day of proceedings, and will go on with the trial.

Looking to the future

As Trump’s impeachment trial goes on, President Biden has been tackling several issues that the country is currently facing, with COVID-19 as his primary concern.

Throughout the primaries and general election, Biden ran on a comparatively moderate platform. He promised, and continues to promise, that he will be a “President for all,” regardless of political affiliations. Similarly, he’s claimed that as President, he’ll work towards reuniting the country after a period of high tensions and polarization.

However, despite marketing himself as a fairly moderate candidate, many of the changes he’s already made while in office reflect progressive ideas.

Hart expressed that he was disappointed in Biden’s stance during the election and how little variety there was between the candidates in the DNC. 

“Joe Biden along with many of the other Democratic candidates aren’t really different when it comes to their policy platforms. They’re all just kind of watered down versions of Bernie Sanders to varying extents,” Hart said. 

Like Hart, many are concerned about Biden’s progressive ideas, worried about what they might mean for the rest of his term. Within his first few days in office, Biden had already gotten to work on COVID-19 relief, supporting LGBTQ+ (specifically trans) rights, and implementing regulations that will aid against climate change.

While the number of progressive changes has been alarming to some, Schaeffer said that it’s quite normal to see. If anything, he said, it’s reflective of the fact that Biden is President during a time of crisis.

“I think it sets a tone of they’re going to move forward with whatever they need to do, regardless of what people think,” Schaeffer said. “It’s also that a lot of what he did was what normal Presidents do. They come in and reverse policies, it’s just that this time there’s more of them. It’s a President in a time of emergency, and Presidents in times of emergency do more.”

As Biden’s work in office at this point is mainly targeted towards more pressing issues and soothing the political tensions, people like Hart are worried about what Biden’s progressive ideals could mean for certain policies in the future. 

Hart, a supporter of the second amendment, expressed his fears that down the line Biden will implement tighter restrictions for gun owners, something Hart is not keen on seeing.

“I’m a big second amendment guy, I’m a real big fan of it and I’ve grown up around firearms and I think it’s the best part of the US Constitution aside from maybe the first amendment,” Hart said. “I don’t know how much he’ll actually change but just the concept of that, of him being in office and having the potential to restrict the rights of gun owners is a concern for me.”

On the other hand, Mathey is hopeful that Biden’s presidency will bring much needed change, especially with respect to COVID-19 and environmental concerns. She hopes his term will mark a return to trusting science on such issues.

“For the next four years, we’re going to be getting a President and an administration that is following science. Especially with COVID and the environmental issues that we’ve got right now, it was really important to me that the administration believed in those things,” Mathey said. “I was overwhelmed with hope while watching the inauguration.”

“Because of [those Republican representatives], the impeachment was able to happen, since they were able to say ‘You know what, it wasn’t right what he did.’ Even if it were to be Biden that did something that people didn’t agree with, it’s essential that we have people that don’t care that much about political party and care more about the nation.”

— sophomore Yazmin Santillan

While many people are on opposite sides of the spectrum in regards to supporting Biden’s varying policies, Van Landeghem contributes that healthcare may be a point of contention in the future. 

Van Landeghem adds that as Biden was a member of Obama’s cabinet and played a major role in creating Obama care, the country could expect to see some changes to the healthcare system. 

“The question of health care I think is going to be the most important one. I think there’s going to be a lot of people who want to improve health care in the Democratic party and I think Joe Biden is going to push back against those people and try to come up with a compromise in the middle,” Van Landeghem said. 

He added that maintaining a moderate view will be important to leading the country out of the extremely divided state it’s currently in.

A moment of reflection

This period of polarization, however difficult it has been, played a large role in shaping the political beliefs of younger generations. Santillan noted that the controversy and division that were prominent in Trump’s presidency helped her determine and solidify her political beliefs.

“Having someone so controversial in office definitely opened my eyes up to what I believe in. I was able to quickly understand what I like and what I don’t like, what I believe in and what I don’t believe in,” Santillan said. “As hard as his presidency was for a lot of people, it was very eye opening in a lot of ways.”

Hart shared this same sentiment, adding that as someone aspiring to enter public service in the future, the recent political events have solidified his choice even further. 

“I found [Trump’s presidency] very inspirational in some ways … If [the last four years] weren’t motivation to try and fix things myself, I don’t know what is,” Hart added. “The Trump presidency has inspired me to do better.”

A hallmark of Trump’s presidency was its role in redefining how social media can be used in politics. From the former President himself using his personal Twitter account as a tool for communication to members of Generation Z making a name for themselves through their use of social media, the past few years have certainly raised questions about the relationship between social media and politics.

For junior Jacob Janus, Republican President of Political Action Club, growing up during a time when the Internet is so accessible has affected how he interacts with politics.

“Being a young guy online in the world of politics, if that interests you, is a strange time. There’s a lot of ideologies being thrown around you … I’ve changed personally but I’ve kept a lot of the same core values. I just differ on how we should implement that into society,” Janus said. 

Senior Nathan Sein, also a member of Political Action Club, shared that as someone who relies on social media for political updates, it has affected his involvement with politics. He also acknowledged that while it’s useful for staying updated, it’s easy to be misled online.

“I get a lot of my political news from Twitter. It helps in a way to get people informed, but it can also be a double-edged sword, since it can misinform people,” Sein said. “A lot of people, especially in our generation, get their news from social media, which is a positive and a negative in some ways.”

Similarly, Mathey said that being aware of how biased social media can be is important to how she stays unbiased in news consumption. She said that she avoids extremely biased news sources, and is sure to consult several other sources before reaching a conclusion.

“Social media makes it seem like you can only be one way or the other, when in reality, if you really educate yourself on politics, there’s a lot of gray,” Mathey said.

Moving forward, Schaeffer said that civic education, along with teaching media literacy, will be crucial to cultivating educated members of the public who know how to navigate a time where social media is so heavily involved in politics.

“It starts with civic education … That’s step one. Step two is to teach media literacy: understanding what media is, understanding media bias, understanding confirmation bias, understanding how to find credible and non-credible sources,” Schaeffer said. “That’s going to help understand why the message is the way it is in certain media outlets … It’s understanding more than one side and giving people the opportunity and ability to see the different sides.”

At the same time, Biden and his administration’s actions will play a large role in leading the country through a period of depolarization. Schaeffer explained that transparency, honesty, empathy, and having discussions is what it’s going to take to restoring a sense of normalcy.

“The problem with any President … is that these individuals are put on a pedestal. They’re usually wealthy and not very connected to the middle class or poor. That empathy takes a lot and means a lot to the country,” Schaeffer added.

As much responsibility as Biden has to reunify the country, the general public will need to put their differences aside and work alongside Biden to restore the nation. 

Janus shared that it’s all about keeping an open mind and if everyone can learn to listen to one another, there’s hope for a brighter future. He said that in order to become a unified nation again, people need to be Americans first before affiliating with a political party. 

“[We need to] help each other understand where other people are coming from,” Janus said “When we can come together and try to just understand what they mean and either disagree with it or agree with it … then we’re going to be okay.”

Samantha Anderson & Sriya Veeramachaneni are staff writers for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

Leave a Reply