Every presidential election, politicians tell us that this election is the most consequential ever. It is fair to be a bit cynical of this trope but it is an understandable and even noble exaggeration; elections matter and if hyping up an election as the most important ever increases political engagement, then God bless. However, this presidential election, this hyperbole has an added virtue: it may very well be true.
As a young person in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania, I know that this presidential election will have a huge impact on my generation’s future.
Climate change is an existential threat to our future, and bold new policies are needed to build upon the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement to provide for a rapid and just transition to a clean energy economy.
To ensure that my generation’s potential is not severely limited by college debt, we need to make debt-free college accessible to every American.
And since my generation is the most racially diverse American generation to date, we need to rewrite the racial rules of our society in every area from housing to education to policing so that we can move closer towards racial equity.
These are just a few of the massive challenges that millennials face—by themselves, they might be enough to make this election the most important ever. But this election’s preeminence is solidified by the threat posed by the candidacy of Donald Trump.
He falls short on practically every major issue facing our generation; he completely denies the threat of climate change, proposes regressive, “trickle-down” economic policy, and threatens to increase racial inequality through hyper-aggressive and continued militarized policing. He has insulted or threatened many segments of society, and he perpetuates and legitimizes rape culture.
On top of all that, he poses an existential threat to our democracy, inciting violence against protestors, threatening freedom of the press, promising to jail his opponent and encouraging voter intimidation. And now with poll numbers suggesting he is headed for a decisive defeat, he is questioning the very legitimacy of the election.
Many millennials would have preferred Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee. But thanks to the efforts of his campaign and its mobilization of young people, the Democratic Party adopted its most progressive platform ever. It pledges to heavily prioritize renewable energy development, to enact tuition-free education at in-state public colleges and universities, and to combat mass incarceration and increase police accountability.
I am confident that if young people stay engaged, Secretary Clinton will honor and fight for this platform. In addition to possessing the experience, competence, and temperament that Mr. Trump lacks, Secretary Clinton can be receptive to social movements that are dissatisfied with elements of her platform.
While Mr. Trump has demonstrated a violent and vindictive disposition towards those that oppose him, throughout her career in public service Secretary Clinton has demonstrated a willingness to listen to divergent voices and to update her policies in response to the efforts and demands of grassroots activists..
In this presidential election, the choice is stark and the stakes are the highest they have ever been. And due to geographical luck and our quirky electoral college system, Pennsylvania will have a disproportionately large role in deciding the outcome and is often identified as the “deciding state” in the election.
It is incumbent on our generation to do everything we can to engage in the election and to make sure our policy ideas are heard beyond Election Day. Racial identity might influence whether someone is comfortable participating in a Trump rally protest, for instance, and many young people juggle hectic schedules.
But whatever one’s level of engagement, it is always possible to step it up a notch—to try canvassing for the first time, to write your first op-ed or 10 Ideas piece, or to find an extra few hours before election day to volunteer for a campaign. These contributions add up, and they help ensure that our generation’s ideas are given their full weight when our democracy writes the rules that govern our lives.
This election may very well be the most consequential ever, and with a few weeks remaining before Election Day, it is time to plug-in and step it up.