The ideological tribalism that splits America is even more pronounced at Santa Monica High School
By William Sherman
The author is a senior at Santa Monica High School and founder of its student-led Political Activism Club.
I do not like Donald Trump.
Many other Santa Monica High School students feel the same — which is to be expected in a city where Trump won less than 15% of the vote, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. The past two years of his presidency, moreover, have produced a constantly elongating list of scandals, from his egregious handling of the violence in Charlottesville to his “s***hole countries” comment, the Stormy Daniels situation and much, much more.
He’s given Americans an ultimatum: Love me or hate me; and you can only imagine how this plays out among teenagers. And so most young Americans do not like Donald Trump.
But how do we treat those among us who do?
At my school there are many students who have become determined to single out Trump supporters — or those who simply don’t dislike Trump enough — in order to make them feel unwelcome and inferior. Even conservative students who haven’t gone full-on “MAGA” have become vilified. Anyone who defends the president or does not openly dislike him is deemed insensitive, idiotic and racist.
For instance, I have a friend who is deeply conservative. Unfortunately, our friendship alone has proven to be a big no-no in the current political climate at my high school. Multiple people have assumed that I myself am conservative or believe me unworthy of attending progressive rallies simply because I would dare to speak to one.
Self-polarization is not going to solve any of our problems. It will only salt the wound. If we consider those on the right to be evil just because they do not hate the president as much as we do, it’s clear whose arms they’ll flock to in droves: his.
Alienating those on the right creates a schism in our politics that is impossible to mend. If someone voted for Trump, they are not automatically a racist, nor are they evil. The propagation of the idea that they are racist and evil will only drive more moderates to the right.
Such vindictive tribalism can only be mended when it is condemned by both sides of the aisle in Washington. The answer to the Trump problem is for his opponents to discuss our ideas and beliefs with his supporters. Discuss the president’s actions that have upset us and why those actions are unjust. Discuss the unpopular policies put in place by his administration and explain why they are unpopular. Do research and prove them wrong.
If you cannot reach any common ground, agree to disagree, shake their hand, and move on: such is the beauty of democracy. The alternative — vilifying and mistreating anyone who appears fond of Trump or some of his ideas — will only generate more support for him from the moderates. If we insist on making Trump supporters into villains, the more victimized and threatened they will believe themselves to be, and the more obscene in their beliefs they will become.
A mob mentality is not a good look for the Democrats. It has already had consequences among my school community, making students feel the need to treat Republicans as “deplorables.” If we choose to fight fire with fire, the country will sink even deeper into an ever-expanding, antagonistic polarization that can bring about horrific consequences. The rallies at Charlottesville may only be the tip of the iceberg.
I, however, have an unrelenting optimism. I firmly believe that most Americans are rational. It may seem impossible in the Trump Era, but soon enough we will be able to sit down and debate with those who we disagree with, rather than scream and shout at them.
I run a club at my school which I have deemed a “politically neutral zone”: a place where members of all sides of the aisle are embraced to come and speak, as long as they are respectful to one another. The discussions I see in that classroom truly give me hope.
But let it be known that the tribalism in our current politics is spreading to teenagers, and it’s spreading fast. I never imagined the red elephant and blue donkey would have become such divisive symbols among those who aren’t yet old enough to vote.
Even as a Never-Trumper, it’s clear that the animosity between right and left has become a dire national issue that’s infected our culture. Adults must set a more positive example and begin to model civil political discussion for my generation — but if they should fail to do so, my peers and I are eager to grow up and clean the mess.