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American Teenagers in the Trump Era

3 november, 2017

Trump Tower in Midtown NYC

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Yasmine Dahlberg

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This time last year I wrote an article about America’s presidential election (http://vrgdt.se/winning-ugly/) and next week marks one year since the unexpected victory of Donald J. Trump. Since taking office, Trump’s words and actions have ignited controversy among Americans.  Nearly every day I see polling data about Trump’s decreasing approval ratings and read opinion pieces about how Americans feel about their president. However, are all Americans included in these studies and articles?

Teens have long been excluded from most research and discussions about politics because they aren’t eligible to vote until they reach 18 years of age. Yet even before they can go to the polls, American teens are developing their political identities. They evaluate the society and governance that adults have created, determining what aspects they’ll support or oppose.

Currently I’m in the United States visiting friends and family.  During my stay, I’ve had  many conversations concerning Trump and have  observed both ends of the political spectrum.  Some are pessimistic about America’s current situation, whereas others are more optimistic for the future.

 

Mika, 14, Illinois
There still is a lot of commotion about Trump, especially in Evanston. In Illinois, a lot of people are against Trump because of all the disrespectful things he’s said and it’s just really obvious that there are certain people that he doesn’t respect because they’re different. He’s the type of person who has shown the world that it’s not okay to be different. I am especially concerned for those who are undocumented here. They are hard-working people who don’t deserve to be torn apart from their families.

Astrid, 16, New York
I, as a 16 year-old American female student of color, feel very nervous about America’s current political situation. I feel like the basic principles that America was founded on are being threatened and that America is under a constant impending threat due to the instability and weak communication skills of Donald Trump. Trump hired the wealthiest White House staff to ever exist, all who look out for their own interests rather than the interests of the American people. These include sexist, racist, and homophobic members of his selective cabinet. He has attacked inclusivity programs such as transgender acceptance in the military; aims to reverse civil rights rulings such as a woman’s right to birth control; and has made claims stating climate change was a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese”, threatening the environment not only on a national level, but on a global level.  America is headed away from the progressive reforms that were just starting to develop and thrive under the Obama administration and I think we are headed in a wrong and backwards direction.

Grace, 21, Michigan
I really like Donald Trump. I think the US has really gone downhill and he’s so different because he is willing to say it how it is. I really like Trump’s tax policy and his views on the economy because when the economy is good, people are more happy. It’s been such a mess here and we really needed a businessman running things.

Sarah, 15, Illinois
Obviously everyone has their times when they’re mean or negative, but I feel like watching and listening to someone rude and discriminating like Trump, who’s supposed to lead our country in a positive way, creates such a bad atmosphere amongst citizens.

Olivier, 17, Virginia
I think Trump has good intentions and I think he wants to make America a better place. Nevertheless, I don’t agree with everything he does and I’d love to see less Twitter feuds. As president, it’s too hard to say how he’s doing or how successful he’s been. But I think he’s working on the three biggest issues: immigration, taxes and healthcare. This makes me hopeful.

 

I also noticed how teens, like most American adults, believe their country is divided over critical issues such as immigration, diversity, free speech, international engagement, and even over the concept of ”patriotism”.   Young  people notice distinct differences based on ideology, ethnic group, religion, gender, etc.  Some do see this variety of opinions as beneficial to the country, but teens of different races— and especially political parties—have very different takes on the current political situation.

 

Astrid, 16, New York
My school has become literally divided by race. Incidents immediately after the election resulted in an in-school suspension and two expulsions.  The environment remains civil, but black girls aren’t friends with the white girls, and white girls aren’t friends with the black girls. Being both, I’m always considered “too white” or “too black” and haven’t  been able to find a place in the society where I live that feels as it used to before Trump.

Mika, 14, Illinois
If there is that one person in your class that supports Trump, that person is going to be judged for that. For instance, if someone wants to be friends with someone, and then someone’s like “Oh, don’t be friends with them, they support Trump”, that person is gonna be like “Thanks for telling me; I’ll definitely stay way from them”.  Like I’ve noticed that your political view changes people’s perspective of you now, more so than it did before.

Olivier, 17, Virginia
A lot of people have been saying that they can’t be friends with people who support Trump, like it’s that serious.

Yasmin, 16, Florida
I’m an American Muslim, and that can make me nervous at times. The early days of Donald Trump’s presidency were an anxious time for many Muslim Americans and we can perceive a lot of discrimination here.  Many hateful individuals are empowered by Trump’s rhetoric. For example, I’ve received deportation jokes from people at my school. A lot of this hatred is also due to the expanding gap between Democrats and Republicans on questions regarding the government, race and immigration. I see how each party has become more ideologically homogeneous, which has led to more hostile opinions of opposing parties. I try not to let my political beliefs decide who I’m friends with, but it can be difficult at times.

Sarah, 15, Illinois
I disagree with the way Trump carries himself just because the way he expresses himself is so cruel. For example, I remember watching ‘CBS Sunday Morning’ once, and it was about a woman who was a Trump supporter who later on became a Clinton supporter because of the way Trump made fun of people with disabilities and her daughter had disabilities. The way he criticizes people has really had an affect on me, and I think after a year—oh wow, it’s really been a year—his remarks have changed me because it’s got me thinking of how I don’t want to end up being.

 

In addition to asking teens about the country’s future, I also asked them to elaborate on the November 2016 election and its candidates. Overall, teens remained enamored of Obama, with less favorable assessments of the two 2016 presidential candidates, Trump and Hillary Clinton.

 

Astrid, 16, New York
I think the November 2016 election was corrupt in many ways, the most notable being the electoral college process. Though I am a self-defined Democrat, I felt that Republican candidate John Kasich was the most fit to become president. Generally moderate, he was experienced, soft-spoken, and educated within his field. Unfortunately, he wasn’t considered sensational enough to sway public opinion. My perspective is that none of the candidates were especially strong. Americans were more inclined to follow radical candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and follow what they found to be a comforting rhetoric. In the end, most Americans claimed they were forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils”, while I personally couldn’t understand how choosing Hillary Clinton would be so difficult compared to the plethora of negative examples with Donald Trump. The morning of November 9 was one of the most tragic events of my life. The moment I saw who had become the president of the United States was a moment I will always remember. I immediately erupted in tears and checked different sources over and over again, hoping that the result was incorrect, and that it was just a sick joke. Since then, the feeling sporadically returns, knowing that America no longer is the country of liberty and justice for all.

Grace, 21, Michigan
I do admit that Trump can be very blunt and should work on trying to stop making some mistakes involving that, but all in all I like him and I think he’s a thousand times better than the alternative which would have been Hillary.

Sarah, 15, Illinois
I loved Obama and I loved Michelle. Both of them were bright and assertive leaders. I also like that Obama is cautious. He thinks before he speaks, especially when speaking to the public. This is something I don’t see with Trump.

Mika, 16, Florida
I really liked Obama and Hillary Clinton was a very qualified person to be President. Nevertheless, I know many people who support Trump, and they’re usually more religious or traditional, or they have a socioeconomic standing where they’d benefit from his policies. I think it’s sad that Trump has enough influence to make a lot of positive change, but instead he’s using his presidency for personal gain, and that’s something I can’t support.

 

 

Though they can’t vote yet, American teenagers share adults’ hopes and concerns about their country’s direction; the Trump administration; and the expanding divide between political orientation and democratic principles of freedom and equality.  It’s crucial to understand teenagers’ viewpoints regarding current events and policies because this shows what the future holds.  Most American teenagers will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election and by analyzing them now, we can get a glimpse of possible political shifts as well as a sense of the forces that shape them into citizens and political beings. In addition, we Europeans follow American presidencies with a great deal of interest and there is so much at stake depending on the results of U.S elections.  Our security partnerships, trade relations and climate agreements–to name a few–can very much depend on the political awakening of the American teenager.