It’s Time For the Politically Apathetic to Come Out of the Shadows and Start Speaking Up
There are many factors that are attributed to the rise of President Donald J. Trump. He ran a campaign based on fear and an alternate world where Mexican immigrants were coming to the United States in droves and stealing jobs, and refugees are “a Trojan horse,” implying they’re actually undercover terrorists, not refugees. He appealed to the worst instincts and thoughts of some folks, particularly white people. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to every false and fear-mongering statement he has made in regards to the world and other Americans. His rhetoric is dangerous and we have seen hate crimes rise significantly after the 2016 election.
Among the political rhetoric of the election season of both sides, and some truly brave and awe-inspiring moments such as the speech of Khizr Khan at the DNC, there was a loud and notable voice that could be heard throughout the election: silence. The language of silence in the face of everything that Donald Trump did is notable, and frightening. There were plenty of people who spoke up and defended Trump’s targets — but there should have been far more. Speaking up about politics can be awkward, especially given how divided the country is today and the sense of apathy and hatred towards politics, but Donald Trump was outside the realm of politics. His campaign, his rhetoric, and his past actions that came to light would have been fatal for any other politician, but they just seemed to add fuel to his campaign.
There are two worrisome responses to Trump’s erratic behavior and hateful rhetoric: those who defend or ignore it, and those who are silent in spite of it (the subject of this post). You will want to be silent until that’s your only option. Despite Trump’s hostile and unprecedented attacks on freedom of the press (the constitution), there are those who remain silent in an era where we can no longer afford silence. To be silent not only enables his behavior and rhetoric, it normalizes it. People have often rebuked the enabling behavior of Trump supporters, but it’s long past time that we rebuke the surrounding and seemingly invisible silence that is part of this toxic environment. The 2016 election witnessed the lowest voter turnout in 20 years, with only a 55.4% turnout. This was a fatal example of a language of silence that pushed Trump to the finish line, in addition to those who cast votes for 3rd party candidates, but at least they showed up to vote.
There are many ways we can break silence: calling our representatives, joining a local activist group, even posting on Facebook or Twitter or so called “slacktivism” which has been proven can make a real difference. As long as we are speaking up, or making our voices heard, especially in the voting booth, we can prevent the rise of intolerant agendas and ideas. Whether sharing a Facebook post, sending a Tweet, calling your representatives, joining a protest, doing something is better than nothing. Even small acts of posts on social media can impact the perceptions and information of others, and it’s important that people be exposed to opposing viewpoints. Activism doesn’t take a single form, it is a multi-pronged and all encompassing effort where its presence is needed in all facets of life to be effective.
If you can be described as someone who is not enthused about politics, or doesn’t really pay attention to the news, or only uses one outlet as your primary source of information, you should change that. These times call for a wholesale level of civic engagement and people paying attention. We are starting to see more of it, especially with the historic women’s march and the organic protests taking place across the country in response to the Trump administration’s policies. The key thing to note here though, is these things only happened after it was too late. There should have been more, widespread action, far before the election. Only after a false sense of complacency was unnerved by the election of Donald J. Trump did more civic action take place — but it could’ve prevented his election from happening to begin with. The impact of James Comey’s letter to Congress 11 days before the election undoubtedly gave the race to Donald Trump, but it could have been prevented if there had been more widespread outrage about Trump’s rhetoric and behavior.
We should all make a promise to ourselves, in this new year, to be more engaged. We should pay attention. And even if we don’t want to voice our opinions to others, maybe we should try, but we should absolutely always do so in the voting booth. President Barack Obama addressed the duty of citizens in his farewell address, noting that the most important office in democracy is that of Citizen. Complacency and silence is just as deadly of a disease as bigotry and hatred; in fact it may function as a catalyst. As we face uncertain times and begin to find our voices it’s particularly important to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
We should heed his warning.