In the age of social media and Donald Trump, politics have become increasingly polarized.
Whether Trump positively or negatively impacted the country, he certainly made his mark, arguably bringing a new era to American politics. Politics are no longer shared through facts but rather opinions that people view as defining. Society has split into two distinct groups as citizens either fervently support Trump or actively advocate against him. His term lit a fire under American citizens, and his bold, sometimes seemingly outrageous actions have called a younger audience to the problems within society. According to a Washington Post analysis, voter turnout for the 2020 election was the highest in a century.
Politics used to be mainly discussed only by adults while the kids ran around and played. Politics meant the news flashing across a TV screen after dinner. Politics meant going out once every four years to vote– or probably just staying home. But after Trump took office in 2016, headline after headline appeared, each begging for attention. “Trump pulls out of Paris Accord,” “Trump Withdraws from Iran Nuclear Deal,” “Trump forces Government Shutdown.” Soon enough, the news began to spread throughout social media. Teenagers who once posted pictures of themselves or their favorite singer’s album now posted information about gun violence and climate change. Of course these social media sites are littered with biased sources and misinformation, but the rising political interest itself is crucial.
Throughout the election process, Trump repeatedly denounced mail-in ballots, labelling them as fraudulent. When the Biden victory was confirmed, Trump denied the results, claiming he won the election.
In a striking departure from America’s system of democracy, Trump supporters stormed the capitol last Wednesday, January 6th, protesting the election results. Wednesday morning the event was called a protest. As the day wore on, the labels shifted to “mob,” “siege,” “riot,” and even “insurrection.”
Prior to the riot, President Trump spoke at a rally near the White House, declaring that the election results were false, and that he won this election “much bigger than the first”. After speaking on his own achievements, he ended his speech proclaiming, “We fight. We fight like hell. … We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. … And we’re going to the Capitol, and we’re going to try and give”.
The protest soon escalated into a mob storming the Capitol, spiraling out of control. After much urging, Trump finally released a video statement saying “I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace, we have to have law and order.” On social media, this statement has overwhelmingly been compared to Trump’s polar opposite response to the Black Lives Matter protests: “when the looting starts the shooting starts”.
Both democrats and republicans have spoken out in response to the riot, with most democrats speaking out against the event, and many republicans distancing themselves from the riot. Some republican politicians have even spoken out against Trump, such as Senator Mitt Romney, who described the storming of the Capitol as an “insurrection incited by the president of the United States”.
Last Friday, Mr. Onion, Peddie’s Chaplain, dedicated Chapel to spreading awareness of the event throughout the Peddie community. Onion invited three guest speakers to respond to the riot: Head of School Peter Quinn, Associate Head of School Catherine Rodrigue, and Interim Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Diku Rogers. Throughout the week, teachers have been taking time out of class to openly discuss the riot, providing an open forum for all students to express their opinions.
Peddie students actively involve themselves in current events not only in school but in the world. Shaurya Baruah ‘24 says, “The Trump riots were a historical moment in US history. It was intense how people were trying to overthrow the government; protesting can only go so far.”
Another Peddie freshman, who requested to remain anonymous, commented, “I definitely was not expecting the Capitol Hill riot, but I wasn’t all that surprised either, which kind of says something about our country and our current president. In my opinion, the riots were a good chance for people to learn that their actions had consequences. I think that’s something a lot of people, including the police and the government, forgot, so it’s nice to see them finally take action against people who aren’t fighting for just causes. I was pleasantly surprised to see the backlash the rioters and their supporters received, especially considering the way BLM protestors were treated in comparison to the people protesting COVID-19 restrictions back in the summer.”
A large portion of Peddie’s students are international, and even those living halfway across the world in remote learning are encouraged to participate in discussions about America’s current events. Enru Chi ‘24, an international student at Peddie, says, “The insurrection at Capitol Hill was an act that reminded us that our democracy is a precious and fragile gift that cannot be taken for granted. The event also serves as a call to action for us, as citizens and as members of the Peddie community, to continue to promote critical thinking and uphold the values of respect, compassion, and inclusion that are the core for a democratic country.”
Whether a democrat or republican, all of Peddie’s students certainly agree that Wednesday’s events were historic. The world has yet to witness the long-term impacts of Trump’s presidency. What changes will be brought by this new era?