Youth and the 2016 Election. . .

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It is undeniable that this presidential election is different from any other recent elections. The biggest difference is the possibility of electing the very first female president. It almost seems that in recent 21st century politics each election needs to set a new cultural benchmark. Last Presidential term was the introduction of the first U.S. African American President. What will be the next nominees credentials? Maybe a Transgender candidate. All these choices are entertaining to the general public but what message is it sending to our people and more importantly our youth?

As a displaced American (working in Canada on Prince Edward Island) I am bombarded with individuals who would love to tell me their U.S. election views, as well as, wanting to know mine. One of my main concerns is that American Politics has become a side-show circus exhibition. We have two individuals who were nominated to be the person of highest position in the US; and, argumentatively, in the world. I recently went back to some very old dictionaries and encyclopedias (does anybody still remember those heavy books of useless information?), and they even defined the Presidential position as one of a role model, whose values and ethics are the highest in the land. WOW! Haven’t we come far away from that definition? In fact, while having a discussion with my wife we agreed that it’s not even President-Elect Trump’s or Secretary Clinton’s fault that they no longer boast of their principles of rightness and wrongness. It’s the fault of the people 40 years ago who carved the Bible, prayer and religion entirely out of the public school system. So now fast-forward 40 years and we have a generation of leaders who have no moral compass, whatsoever. This has a huge impact on our youth today both inside and outside the church.

Perhaps this is why so many had such a difficult time voting this time around. There are record breaking numbers of people who still consider themselves as undecided voters and a large majority of these are young people known as the millennial generation.

The Washington Post recently interviewed more than 70 young voters in nine states from diverse backgrounds, lifestyles, and careers. Their findings were clear that the millennials' attitude towards politics is unquestionably different from past elections. Many share a disgust for the process and are becoming disillusioned into apathetic thinking. Along with these thoughts is an underlying general feeling of threatening and menacing turmoil. In addition, many feel that they no longer have a role model to look up to as the President of our country; because, like many older Americans, young people feel embarrassed and ashamed that the two candidates are the best the country has to offer.

So, what about the generation following the millennials? How is our current election process effecting our middle school and high school youth? I’m just guessing, but I think if we polled the youth in our churches and Christian schools we might similarly find that many don’t appear to be interested in the 2016 presidential election. The most obvious reason for the apathy is they are not old enough to vote so they believe that their opinion is just that; an opinion. However, the youth of the country should care because whoever is elected, will directly affect their future.

High school youth are a very unique group of people. They like to discuss controversial topics such as climate change, gun control, and homelessness in our country. I find hope in hearing this interest among youth of today. That unlike the entertaining and cruel debates of this campaign, youth are probably more mature than the candidates that ran in this election. I find some young people to be very passionate about certain issues and most are curious to discover if their personal beliefs are in line with what their faith teaches. What are today’s teens passionate about? Newsweek reported that in 2016 more than half of teens support gun control (55 percent), the death penalty (52 percent), abortion rights (50 percent) and gay marriage (62 percent), with the most compelling findings showing that race and discrimination are crucial issues for teens today (82%). As evangelical Reformed Christians, we may not like some of these statistics, but they are real statistics that we need to dialogue about with those around us. Because these statistics show how the influence of our culture is actually effecting our youth, today.

If you’re really want to know what young people are thinking, why not hear it straight from them? Educators across the nation have come together to launch “Letters to the Next President 2.0” (L2P 2.0), an online publishing site that encourages young people (13–18) to research, write, and give voice to their opinions on issues that matter to them in this past election. (Sounds like a great activity for your next youth rally, eh?) The letters are powerful and inspiring like the words of this 10th grade female, “I worry that people will not value religion and abandon their faith due in part to the oppressive and disrespectful nature of public schools. I ask, dear president, that you remember the young people who are still making their way in the world, and ensure that we all have the opportunity to worship freely in public schools.” Again, it almost sounds like the youth are more responsible and mature than the candidates.

As parents and ministers to young people, it is our responsibility to share the importance of caring for the future of our country and also explaining why their voice matters. We must not get discouraged from the antics of this past election. We must not isolate ourselves or our youth and trick ourselves into thinking that we can insulate ourselves from the world and its shenanigans. Apathy is never the answer. Christians strongly promote active citizenship because it is through our opportunities as citizens, we can help shape a world more committed to protecting human life and dignity and promoting justice and peace. This would be very much in line with Abraham Kuypers’ whisperings that, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.

For this past election, some damage has already been done. As youth workers, we must ask ourselves now that the election is over, how have these candidates and in particular President-Elect Donald Trump affected the youth of our nation. Without criticizing Mr. Trump, he is a very bold man and has many of the qualities of only one other President I am aware of, and that was President “Teddy” Roosevelt. And although Mr. Trump has much to learn on diplomacy, he has been chosen by millions of Americans to be the next President of the United States. His proclamations, like Theodore Roosevelt’s, have drawn attention to his brash personality. We have seen several instances of his heated rhetoric being amplified into very real violence. He has dragged other candidates into the muck as they tried to match his uncontrolled verbosity. And while it is right to wonder how this campaign is damaging our reputation around the world, it is perhaps more important to consider how it is shaping emerging generations here at home.

For a variety of good reasons, youth workers are sometimes hesitant to engage in political issues or stories with their youth. But the gospel of Jesus is thoroughly political, and whether we admit it or not, what we believe influences our political philosophies and decisions. So I hope that you are talking about this presidential campaign with your youth.

It’s easy to rationalize this behaviour as playful, fun, and harmless. It’s easy to say that “it’s kids being kids” and adults joining in. But left unchecked, these subtle shifts in morality and values can grow into something like the persona Donald Trump has cultivated in the business, entertainment, and now political arenas. It was easier to ignore when he was playing the part of a business tycoon and reality TV personality. But the danger of his political campaign is that in the eyes of a large group of people it is gaining legitimacy.

Please discuss the results of the this past election. Have some actual topics that I mentioned here and their statistics as fuel for the furnace of discussions. Discussing these areas openly in a church setting is one of the safest environments that youth can voice their concerns. Just making an opportunity available for this to happen might go a long way in dispelling any issues that some of your youth may have.

Resources:

Newsweek, 5/12/16,

Times, 8/13/16

The Lance, 9/27/15

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