Brett Barnett

In 2012, HBO premiered “Veep,” a television program outlining a vice president who continuously says or does the wrong thing. During season two, in the midst of all of the missteps and embarrassments, the president — whom we never meet — is facing the possibility of impeachment at the conclusion of his second year in office. It’s hilarious, witty and precise — and unnervingly prescient.

In November 2016, much of the nation was placed on standby during election night, receiving updates from whichever news source they trusted most. The country was enthralled by a presidential race which was unmatched in voter turnout.

For some, the timeline of that night’s events reads like a tragedy; for others, divine intervention.

From the moment Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, it felt like much of the country didn’t take him seriously. When Trump announced his plans to stage a campaign, the media outlets reported it, but not with much conviction, often citing his explosive nature, celebrity persona and the fact that he’s never held any political office.

Still, that didn’t make the newly minted presidential hopeful bashful, and he didn’t shy away from making bullish statements and bold, though unsubstantiated, claims. According to a Washington Post article in June 2015, Trump got the attention of media-types when he announced that he had a “foolproof” plan to eradicate the Islamic Terrorist group, ISIS; when pressed about his plan, his answer was a justification for why he shouldn’t answer the question: “I don’t want the enemy to know what I’m doing.”

Little did we know at the time, statements such as that one would become the hallmark of the Trump administration. Over the last four years, the administration has become increasingly emboldened and willing to engage in political chicanery, what with the multiple firings of department leaders in virtually every part of the government, radical proclamations uncorroborated by non-partisan, reliable sourcing, and a constant and incessant refutation of science -- most recently regarding the COVID-19 pandemic encircling the globe.

Those hoping to “drain the swamp,” a colloquialism which has co-opted the formal stage, and “Make America Great Again,” a rallying cry meant to revert America back to — well, nobody knows with any certainty — have looked at Trump with reverence and pride, offering commendations for a job well done.

Some suggest Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message is a veiled sentiment which expresses a national return to racist behavior; proponents of the slogan posit that it means returning the country to a place of global economic and military power, as well as being prideful of his or her citizenship — none of which ever really deserted the country.

For the latter, it’s a maxim; it’s a phrase by which to live that encapsulates all that they believe is wrong in the country, and a representation of what’s right. For the former, it’s an idiom plastered to the fronts of hats and shirts, a message meant to quickly express what one believes in, though the jury’s out on exactly what those beliefs truly are.

According to a poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in early 2019, Trump was polling unfavorably among millennials, which encompassed ages 18-37 at the time. The poll states that 62 percent of millennials disapproved of the president, while only 37 percent actively approved.

There are two things to bear in mind regarding this poll: one, the sample size was only 1,000 participants, and a small majority considered themselves Democrats; two, the study was performed in January 2019, which was before the government shutdown, the impeachment proceedings and well before the current political climate surrounding the pandemic and its handling.

Additionally, MSNBC reported that Generation Z is even more Democratic and less approving of Trump than their generational predecessor. For the purposes of applying preferences specifically to voters, only those that belonged to the generation between the ages of 18-22 were included.

Those numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve often heard that the “younger” generations have veered more progressive than those that have come before them — Gen. X, Baby Boomers. In 2020, we are slated to have the presidency, in addition to the 435 seats of the House and 35 of 100 in the Senate, up for grabs. This comes during a time when the majority of undergraduate students fall into the category of Gen. Z, which lends itself to be more liberal thinking overall.

For that reason, it shouldn’t shock anyone that college-aged students are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the democratic process, the American government, and the gears of the economy.

Why have they become this way?

It’s impossible to place a marker at the exact moment; instead, it’s more likely a culmination of factors slowly coagulating together over the years. They’ve largely grown up in a society with more questions than answers.

Perhaps life has always been this way; maybe we have always had more questions than answers — it’s just that nobody bothered to ask them. In that regard, ignorance is power. If you’re shielded from the realities, if you act like these craters in society don’t exist, then maybe they don’t. That’s the approach the Trump administration has taken regarding global relations, fiscal responsibilities, departmental oversight, a pandemic or anything else they don’t want to exist.

(After all, this is an administration Michael Lewis wrote in his book “The Fifth Risk” that stared at the television in disbelief that they’d actually won, “like a man whose bluff had just been called.” This was a publicity stunt gone wrong; a way for a celebrity to thrust himself into the spotlight and on centerstage, but it backfired so badly that it catapulted Trump to the most powerful position in the world, the presidency, in the most revered building in the country, the White House.)

More and more, it seemed like racial struggles, anti-progressive rhetoric and a sheer apathy for anything that doesn’t affect the “bottom line” permeated the nation, what with police brutality, the denouncement of reproductive rights and an economy bent on catering to the needs of a few.

It’s not hard to believe that a generation of people is becoming cynical of the entire process, of the freedoms that America purports to stand for; when their progressive agenda is scoffed at, ridiculed and the target of repeated attempts at legislation to make it, and them, obsolete, it’s hard not to grow weary and dejected.

The new generation is — too — outspoken, — too — radical, — too — idealistic and unrealistic; they are expected to placate those with power, and wait their turn — a turn that seems increasingly less likely to come, with overpriced homes, outrageous education costs and a job market unwilling to take chances on those without experience.

Then in 2016, Donald Trump was elected. He was a presidential candidate who only stood to further this separation of progressives and conservatives at a time when we needed someone to ensure a mitigation of impending damage.

What we got were two political parties diverging further and further apart; what we got was the bifurcation of a nation, an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality. The United States has been pitted against one another; we are no longer one nation, but a series of fractures.

President Donald Trump could’ve used any moment of his presidency to help the country instead of hindering it. But every day, the cycle repeats itself. A global pandemic, a national crisis, it doesn’t matter; the people of America can expect a series of tweets tirelessly, relentlessly and concernedly searching for any other scapegoat, any other villain.

Had Trump used the COVID-19 pandemic to rally all of the nation instead of compounding the division, his presidency may have been remembered differently. All of his other gaffes and mistakes, his wanton acts against allies and against the citizens of America, his hateful and spiteful rhetoric, may have been largely forgotten with time. After all, he would’ve been the president who helped the United States of America navigate a perilous health disaster.

Instead, he used it to double down on everything else, firing off a cacophony of tweets and pressers teeming with garble, each one somehow more ludicrous than the last, ridiculing the press and rallying the blind; instead, he attacks Barack Obama, fires another inspector general and casually displays disregard for medical science. He’s worried about his reputation, his legacy and his reelection — and it shows.

Brett Barnett is a senior majoring in English. He can be reached at bbarne18@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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