Columns

Liang ’19: Redefining civic engagement

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, November 17, 2016

Let me start by saying this to all the marginalized groups impacted by the results of this election, from people of color to women to first-generation students to religious minorities: Your feelings are valid. Your fears and emotions and mental health are valid. Your existence is valid, no matter how many people may say otherwise.

Reading all of the commentary that has come out since Nov. 8, I have come to the conclusion that the Democratic Party has failed us. And not solely through the incredible campaign of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or the work of hundreds of thousands of people who pledged their time and money for what they believe in. No, the party has failed as a social institution because it lost the most important vote of all: the vote of the moderate.

This was my first election, but even I can still see that the lines of political ideologies are getting drawn further and further apart. Both candidates used personal attacks on the other — emotional slingshots with the American people caught in the middle. And while I would like to think that my vote was based on my own logic and rationality, perhaps I too voted partially on emotion this year. As many have pointed out, people who still can’t believe Clinton’s loss should consider the disparity between the college bubble and rural, uneducated white America, and the differences between immigrant cities with voting suppression and the disenfranchised Midwest belt. Democrats lost the vote of the average white person — and for good reason. It will be easy for the party to tow the same battle cries of party ideology for the next four years by vigorously opposing President-Elect Donald Trump and continue this round of back and forth. But I have good reason to believe that the United States can do better.

I hear all the talk about taking back the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in two years and the White House in four. But those institutions are not ours to take. They belong to the American people rather than to a political ideology, and wanting government to reflect one’s own interests requires changing the minds of as many voters as one can. The United States’ demographics are shifting, yes, but not fast enough. Even worse, this administration has the potential to prevent certain groups from entering the country altogether, not to mention the potential to suppress civic empowerment. We need to reach out across the aisle if we want to change control of Washington, D.C., in the future — the us versus them mentality is going to do very little at this point. So as much as I want to un-friend my Republican Facebook friends, I, with all my privilege, am going to continue engaging with them with the hope for a better tomorrow. And to all those who are also lucky enough to not be harmed by the words they see online, I invite you to do the same.

And for all those who voted for Trump: Own up to it. He is our president-elect now just as much as he was your candidate, and you will need to understand the impact of his every action and word from here on out. But remember that there are those without the privilege of listening without harm. For all the ‘babying’ and ‘over-protective behavior’ of liberals, every person’s experience is still unique and valid. So you may be causing harm by sharing a a post or sharing a comment or a Snapchat, even if you don’t intend to. You can defend your actions and your lack of political correctness, but harms are still harms.

I’m saddened because the results of this election are probably going to impact those who already have been targeted by the language and vitriol of the last few months. I also recognize that the Democratic Party represents a status quo and an ideology that for many has done nothing for this country (or at least many people think that). I want to believe that our system can change to help all Americans — Americans who speak different languages and come to this country in different ways, believe in different ideologies and work hard for success. That is the engaging factor of the United States.

Remember that the strength of a democracy fundamentally depends on the engagement of its people — all of its people. So please, if you’re up for it, write an op-ed for this paper or take other substantive actions. Social media has its worth, but it can serve as an echo chamber where emotions run high and discourse fails. Act to change laws and change opinions; 140 characters and a meme isn’t going to do much. Take the time you need to grieve, to cry and to protest (“peaceful exchange of power” does not mean we sit idle). Hold institutions and people accountable. Write to people who disagree with you, but don’t disregard their opinions. No matter how racist, sexist or idiotic they may sound to you, they still get a vote.

We won’t be okay, but at least we’ll be better.

Mark Liang ’19 can be reached at mark_liang@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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