I exited the Student Union through locked wooden doors, greeting the evening fog four floors beneath the Daily Trojan office, to find a student alone — standing on Trousdale Parkway, studying a campaign poster and reading its platform points. The poster belonged to a USG Senate candidate.
It shocked me, if for a brief second. I never thought anyone really read those — not for real information, at least. Hadn’t he decided who to support? Hadn’t he read the posts, platforms and debate blurbs? Unfortunately, not everyone is so interested in who writes the rules that will govern their lives, from federal agencies down to student government. Not everyone is political.
So for those of us that are, it is a hard pill to swallow. After a particularly divisive, vitriolic and controversial national election, and similarly divisive, vitriolic and controversial USG campaign season, it is difficult for many young politicos not to feel as though they are drowning in comparisons. One blow of the dishonored democracy, another of the disillusioned student government. All the same problems.
After the 2016 election, we swore to be active, engaged and angry — we swore to get informed and pay attention. All good, all necessary. But getting informed, paying attention and remaining active do not only apply to national politics. Look locally, we said. Pay attention to Los Angeles. Pay attention to California. But what about what was most local — who ever paid attention to USG?
So here’s the truth: There will be no greater political understanding, no solutions found, no compromises met and no progress made until the young people that will very soon inherit this nation begin to understand applied politics in a general sense — the wind and water of the political landscape, its floods, droughts and all. We must understand why, in a completely different election among a much smaller electorate of much more comparable leanings and circumstances, we saw everything over again: An unquestionably qualified yet flawed insider lacking constituents’ trust; a popular outsider lacking experience who represents the mistrust of establishment. Accusations of a dishonest media. Institutional endorsements versus individual energy.
We didn’t learn from those national lessons. We didn’t look at ourselves and ask if our reading of a USG presidential ticket is based on the same misguided reasonings or universal political forces that swayed our most recent, and historically greatest, national embarrassment — or if USG was prey to the same forces. We saw a lack of civic engagement and understanding of what the “establishment” really comprised, a disconnect between government and people, a social media frenzy of half-true information and a system perhaps flawed but not necessarily in need of revolution — all should sound familiar. Civic engagement is not just about understanding the issues. It is about understanding politics. And largely, we have yet to attain that.
It seems that very few who disparage USG — its “corruption,” its “nepotism,” its closed-shop culture and its inaction — actually attempted to find information about its processes and its successes. Who stayed informed about the progress of the Edwin-Austin administration before this election? How many, as constituents, truly attempted to hold the student government accountable? Ignorance about its accomplishments should not equate to an accusation that it has accomplished nothing at all. Did white rural voters crying “economy!” next to their Trumpian racism actually know that former President Barack Obama and the Democrats cut unemployment by more than half and created a national economy of historic strength? On the other hand, we also haven’t seen too many USG officials admit the need for greater transparency.
Similarly, did those who logged into their Facebooks to casually denigrate the Daily Trojan — which has served this campus diligently and honestly for over one hundred years — actually take a minute to read the articles about the campaigns, the sanctions and their endorsements, and judge independently whether their facts were accurate? Is “biased media” the rallying cry we learned from 2016? I certainly hope it doesn’t last for long. When CNN and others reported on President Donald Trump’s p-ssy comment, Trumplings also cried “fake news.” If media is still the target, we clearly have not learned.
The USG elections, much like the presidential race, have left me with one lingering feeling — an overwhelming sense of disillusionment. We succumbed to a lack of information to grow an anti-establishment base; we gave up our responsibility as informed constituents to stop our student government from becoming something we didn’t like; we blamed our media when we should have looked at our representatives and ourselves. It is my sincere hope that whoever wins, this campus is at least satisfied with it. In the meantime, we must reflect.
Lily Vaughan is a sophomore majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs every Friday.