In a shocking turnaround, Donald J. Trump won the presidential election. Many things have changed. Our foreign enemies and friends may flip and taxes for the rich will most certainly go down.
But in a certain way, nothing has changed at all. The sun still rises from east to west and the birds sing in the morning. What matters is how we carry ourselves and how we start this process of healing and restoration. As Clinton and Obama have said, we must honor and respect the peaceful transfer of power that is mandated in the Constitution. For better or for worse, Donald Trump will be the Commander-in-Chief, will nominate at least one new Supreme Court justice and, despite his misogyny, racism, and general unpleasantness, will represent American democracy.
But whether you are emboldened or crushed by the election’s results, remember that for all the president’s power, our senators, representatives and state politicians usually have much more influence over our day to day lives. Our education, utilities, public buildings, and roads are mostly funded at a state and local level.
In the same way, our votes are the most effective in local and state elections. Although Illinois may have voted largely Democratic for the Presidential election, remember that the Presidential ticket is only one of the many different races that you could have voted on. In addition to the senatorial and representative elections, you could have voted on local judges, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution and state legislators. Your vote has a lot of power up and down the ballot. After all, Brad Schneider beat Bob Dold by only 13,900 votes to become the next U.S. Representative for our district.
For the 2016 general election, only a small portion of our school could vote. So, it’s understandable if you ignored much of what happened in the 2016 election cycle or if you watched the catfights between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for entertainment. It’s ok if you felt helpless and powerless to do anything about the violence, racism and economic inequality in our country and across the world.
But in two or four years, every one of you will be able to vote. In the 2018 midterm elections, you’ll be able to vote for the representative of your district and decide whether Gov. Bruce Rauner will stay in office. In 2020, everyone will be able to either give Donald Trump a second term or elect a new president. It may seem far away, but it’ll come at you in a flash, which is why you need to pay attention to what Rauner and Trump do in the years to come. If you’re scared about the future Donald Trump represents, you can elect senators and representatives who will stand against him.
As you wait, remain vigilant. Stay up to date with the news, learn what bills each legislator voted for and what actions and services they brought to Illinois. Consider your sources, look at the data and make up your own mind. Check the veracity of a candidate’s statement through Politifact. Take a look at a candidate’s website and what they actually want to do when they’re in office. Do this not only for the big titles, but also for offices like the state comptroller or the officials on the city council.
Be careful; social media has completely revolutionized the way we hear about news, but when misinformation and fake news is widely spread by the greedy and ambitious, it can be very dangerous to take everything in your news feed as fact — something Facebook has been grappling with since the election.
However, that doesn’t mean you can sit at home and weep. If anything, it should empower you to fight harder. You give up the right to make a difference when you pass over the referendum or the judge that you’ve never heard of before. It may seem like a bother, but these people will decide whether you’re able to successfully sue for your broken leg or if your first amendment rights will be upheld in court. Even a quick run through of each candidate’s platforms can ensure your voice is heard.
In all this, remember that you are the future. You are our future engineers, accountants, construction workers, doctors, politicians, firefighters and teachers. Your actions and your vote are what will shape this country. Don’t take this responsibility lightly. You will decide whether we can walk forward with hands together or destroy each other with vicious infighting. Maine West, the weight of the country is in your hands.