The Daily Illini

First we observed, now we act

By Austin Stadelman, Columnist

To many, 2017 was a rigorous first phase of the Trump presidency. It was a year that challenged our assumptions of what it means to be a political leader and what sort of values we as a nation should possess moving forward. These challenges have led to a damaged America on both the international and domestic stages.

For those people who find themselves frustrated with the nation’s direction, 2018 is the year for the midterm elections, which can serve as a referendum on the president.

Over the past year, America’s leadership on the international stage has retracted. From diplomatic acts, such as withdrawing from the Paris Climate Deal, despite a vast majority of support for staying in, and departing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to verbal threats such as undermining NATO allies and threatening a trade war with China (the recently placed tariff on solar panels and washing machines is a hint of such development), the United States appears to be willingly stepping aside as the world’s leader.

Domestically, what will be remembered from this period is the growing divisiveness of both political parties and the American people. This is in no small part because of the way President Trump has presented himself and his ideals.

A little over a month into 2018, there have been two substantial policies enacted. The first being the controversial Republican-touted tax reforms. The new tax policy sacrifices long-term fiscal stability for short term political clout in hopes that Americans receiving an extra few hundred to a thousand dollars in their yearly salary will lead them to vote Republican in a threatening midterm election year. The second was the even more controversial repeal of net neutrality.

To many, enactment of these policies further labels America as a nation that represents special interests over its people. Congressional approval has reached abysmal levels, with last year hovering around 19 percent on average.

This year presents an opportunity for those displeased with the status or direction of the country, as midterm elections affect the presidency and the government as a whole. They give people an opportunity to swap out the current holders of office for individuals who will represent the values desired, should the incumbents be failing to do so.

If American citizens want to develop favorable opinions of their government, they must participate in the democracy. This includes being pragmatic in solutions. Staying home for general elections because a preferred candidate did not win their primary is foolish to the greater purpose of these elections and is counterproductive to the cause one may support.

But it does not start and end at the poll booth. Activism is a crucial but under-popularized aspect of shaping government. This is especially true at local and state levels, where actions and opinions of the constituency have a more direct effect on the office holder’s behavior. Being part of a greater whole that serves to promote the interest of the public good is vital to competing with the special interests of the elite.

People also need to be aware of political games and be knowledgeable about candidates. The more informed a society is, the better choices it can make when it comes to establishing its leaders. There are often politically strategic reasons behind policy actions. To be aware of these is to be more understanding of why an office holder votes a certain way or speaks on certain subjects.

If 2017 is to be described as anything, it would be described as an exhausting year. But the good fight can’t end there. Last year was merely a warm up for the 12-round political heavyweight match that will be 2018, starting in a month with the March primaries. Choices are to be made, and while it can be hard to find validity in participating in a government that appears to lack empathy for its citizens, Americans should not go gentle into that good night.

Austin is a sophomore in Media. 

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