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This Is the Only America Gen-Z Knows

The election is over. Finally. Even if the soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump insists that he was cheated and should continue to serve for another four years, he will not. Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021, and the country will move on. Somehow. Standing on the precipice, as we do now, it’s difficult to predict what may lie on the other side. For starters, two runoffs in Georgia will determine control of the Senate. Without it, most of Joe Biden’s policy proposals will almost certainly be dead on arrival given Mitch McConnel’s proclivity for not allowing anything to happen unless his party controls the presidency. But there is another question, one that I believe is even greater and pressing, of culture. What happens to American culture when Trump leaves office and Biden begins his term? What happens in Santa Barbara? How do we define who we are in a post-Trump America?

At this point, everyone in ninth through twelfth grade was born after 9/11 and was hardly old enough to remember the Iraq War or Obama’s first election. Older political pundits like to emphasize that the country is the most divided it’s been since the civil war. For us, it’s always been this divided. We’ve had to grow up in a world where climate change poses an existential threat to our species and half the country refuses to do anything about it, mass shooters commit unthinkable acts of violence against children on school campuses and half the country refuses to do anything about it, and children are put into cages at the border and half the country refuses to do anything about it. So were we really all that surprised when Trump was elected by that half of the country? Were we surprised when a pandemic was so incredibly mishandled that we continue to learn online while our mental health deteriorates when other countries have all but eradicated the virus? No, we were not. This has been the story of our lives and for all the awful things that have happened, I think time will show us to be one of the most resilient generations in history. We have had to cope with collective trauma on par with our classmates being drafted right out of high school as they were in the 60’s and we will turn that trauma into drive.

Based on my direct experiences with my classmates, I think there was a certain naivety among students at Santa Barbara High School about how the political culture of our country reflects itself in our hallways. As a proud bisexual leftist theatre kid, who travels in circles with similar people, I have certainly witnessed how easily one can be convinced that your belief is the only mainstream belief, held by everyone but fringe extremists. However, here’s what the numbers say: Donald Trump received 30.7% of the vote in Santa Barbara County. Regardless of the generational political divide, that still would result in quite a significant number of Trump supporters at Santa Barbara High School. Sure, some are loud and bombastic taking shots during AP World History debates, but many are more “closeted” about their beliefs recognizing that in general their viewpoint is quite unwelcome.

Many on the political left argue that it is unconscionable to be friends with someone who supports Trump. They are enabling white supremacy or are a white supremacist themself. And yes, this is absolutely true. But unfortunately, this kind of thinking doesn’t tend to get us anywhere. Empathy needs to guide our actions, as we make a plea to these people to let empathy guide their decisions. When people showcase their culturally appropriating halloween costumes or lack of respect for people’s pronouns, they are demonstrating that they believe their experience is the only valid human experience and they are not even willing to listen to other people’s grievances about their actions. But when rich liberals in Santa Barbara try to tell rural farmers, many of whom live in poverty, why they should continue to vote for the party of Obama and Clinton that doesn’t seem to have done much for them, they are also demonstrating a lack of empathy.

Biden made a pledge to be a President for all Americans. We have to start by being an America for all Americans. The slim margins of this political victory show that although there may have been a political victory for Democrats, there was nothing close to the moral repudiation many had hoped for. We are still divided and the 2024 presidential election looks as up in the air as any election in recent memory. There is one hopeful note: pretty much every student at Santa Barbara High School will be able to vote in 2024. We are a generation that will have to bear the brunt of the effects of the choices being made right now so we must show that we will not stand for authoritarianism, religious dogma, and hatred destroying our future. Luckily, the Republican Party is showing signs of weakness and looks on track to become obsolete. Their support for Trump’s conspiracy theories and reliance on anti-democratic tactics to maintain power are proof that they no longer represent America. It’s up to Gen-Z to stand up for our communities, have difficult conversations, and lead with empathy to put the final nail in the coffin of the GOP.

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  • Emerson Steady, a senior, is honored to be Editor-in-Chief and write for The Forge for his third year. Working with The Forge's team of talented writers and covering the artists, athletes, clubs, and academics at our school has deeply connected Emerson to the SBHS community. In addition to journalism, he is very active in theatre at Santa Barbara High School and beyond. He writes music, and his dream is to write and compose for musical theatre.

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