We enter this election with much on our minds. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed our reality, claiming more than 180,000 lives in the United States so far and pushing unemployment to historic highs that we are only beginning to recover from. The killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans have also led to increased political activism, both peaceful and violent. This election is sure to reflect the United States’ reaction to these events and others.
Many people view this election as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s performance. In some ways, it is. Some people initially delighted with the United States’ low unemployment rate in early 2020 may now be angry as the country still struggles to control the spread of COVID-19. Many believe Trump, as the face of not only the Republican Party but also the nation, carries a lot of the responsibility for our situation, whether justified or not.
But this election is a referendum on both parties and the people they have failed. In an attempt to ensure individuals’ identities are not disrespected, certain people in the public sphere seem to encourage a form of censorship against anyone they disagree with. As a Republican in Berkeley, I’ve been afraid to express my opinions for fear of being called a fascist or, worse, becoming unemployable in the future. We must remember that the First Amendment was created to protect even offensive and bigoted speech. Still, Republicans need to change, too. The party’s unwillingness to face facts about climate change harms not only its election chances, but the environment and the world as well.
We also need to look toward voter participation. In 2016, voter turnout for the presidential election was 58.1% among eligible voters. And this doesn’t even consider primary and midterm elections, in which turnouts tend to be even lower for both parties. Given this lack of voter turnout, I implore not just the UC Berkeley community but people throughout the nation to vote. In past elections, 44% of people between the ages of 18 and 30 have voted, compared to 72% of people older than the age of 60. Youth turnout has the potential to change election results. Because we are the ones who will face the long-term consequences of government policies created by today’s elected officials, it’s especially important that our views are expressed at the ballot box.
Recently, many people have grown concerned about changes in the U.S. Postal Service leading to slower mail delivery amid the upcoming election. The solution: Drive to your local ballot box and drop off your ballot personally instead of mailing it back. Voting is the easiest way to demand political change.
But you can do much more than that. There’s no excuse for claiming to lack political agency, especially as a UC Berkeley student. Political organizations abound throughout the Bay Area, as do political conventions, speaker events and more. Having personally attended events by the Santa Rosa Republican Women Federated, the California Federation of College Republicans and more, I can tell you that not only do these events allow you to make connections that make a difference, but they are also incredibly fun. And now that most events are online, students have the opportunity to connect with groups from across the nation.
Furthermore, we must listen to the other side. Neither party has all the solutions to the United States’ problems, and the vision each sees for the future of the country is different. Extreme partisanship distorts our view of the world by placing us in echo chambers that don’t necessarily reflect the facts or allow us to see better options outside of our partisan bubbles. It also leads to a lack of empathy, as well as a failure to see that both parties want what’s best for the United States. And both parties should, at their core, want what’s best for the nation.
My advice is to look at both left-wing and right-wing media. Look for the facts that they have in common and try to understand the reasoning behind their differences in perspective. Have respectful political conversations with people from all quadrants of the political field. Think in terms of common sense rather than partisan identity. And if your common sense leads you to one party or another, fine, but don’t let your partisanship control you.
Each election has the potential to fundamentally change the course of U.S. politics, even if it doesn’t seem to fundamentally change your life personally. When you vote, consider which candidate will better the United States as a whole. Which candidate will strengthen us? Which candidate embodies our national values of freedom, independence, hard work and self-sufficiency, among many more? Vote holistically, rather than just focusing on a single issue. And vote for every office, not just the presidency.
I believe in our nation’s capacity to grow, to change and to improve, all while upholding the principles laid out in our Constitution 231 years ago. I believe in the American people’s ability to vote for what they think is right. I believe that the United States is the greatest nation in the world, but we can’t let this status slip away through ignorance, complacency or selfishness. The 2020 election is just one election, but the aftermath of its results will last much longer than just one presidency. Cast your ballot.
Marisa McGettigan is a UC Berkeley student studying political science and the internal vice president of the Berkeley College Republicans.