Saul: One Way Trump's Presidency Could Change Us For The Better

Love him or hate him, this is hard to deny.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Whether you love or hate President Donald Trump, one thing seems to be certain: he is making America care about politics again.

Last year, I wrote about how President Trump's reality-television style of leadership was engaging Americans like few presidents ever had, for better or for worse. Now, that style — and the divisive policies that come with it — are running head-on into an election season that could produce one of the highest midterm turnouts in recent memory. 

With any luck, one lasting impact of Trump's presidency will be more Americans paying attention and voting. 

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Many Americans who support the president view him as a once-in-a-generation leader. They celebrate his raucous, politically incorrect style that shatters all the norms. These supporters often view Trump as a radical, unorthodox businessman that is taking the country back from undocumented immigrants and shooting steroids into the economy. His policies and judicial nominees are pulling the country back to a conservatism that many thought former President Barack Obama relegated to the dustbin of history. For those supporters, Trump is the last chance to preserve a conservative federal and Supreme Court, to free the economy from regulation, and to secure the borders.

In contrast, many of those who dislike the president view him as a once-in-a-generation threat. They decry his nationalism, tribalism and belligerent unpredictability as fracturing our nation. For the last year, those who see Trump as a racist, law-breaking fraud have turned out with such energy that there has been a wave of liberal victories across the country as progressives push for more accessible health care, more affordable higher education and a more empathetic immigration system. A Democrat won a special election in Alabama. People of color, women and LGBT candidates paved inroads across the country. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, far-left progressive shocked the political world with an upset of Joe Crowley, a Democratic incumbent who was viewed as unbeatable until the night of their primary race.

What all of us should find solace in, though, is that those polarizing politics have lit a fury of political engagement in Americans across the country, across political class, across age and race and religion. There is a trove of data showing that both perspectives on Trump have produced a shift of political enthusiasm in every direction. 


Austin students register to vote
Students and Austinites register to vote at a get-out-the-vote event in Austin, Texas. stock_photo_world / Shutterstock.com

Midterm primary turnout surged for Republicans and Democrats. The Pew Research Center said voter enthusiasm is at its highest level for any midterm election in more than two decades. Last week, when then- nominee Brett Kavanaugh testified about sexual assault allegations against him, more than 20 million people tuned in on television — and millions more online. The Associated Press said it was an audience size similar to a playoff football game or the Academy Awards. In the wake of the hearing, Republicans' voter enthusiasm spiked so much that the "wide Democratic enthusiasm advantage that has defined the 2018 campaign up to this point has disappeared," NPR reported. Cable television channels like Fox News are shattering records and subscription news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post have experienced tremendous growth in the last two years.

The engagement is all around us. My friends who rarely spoke about politics just two years ago are consumed by it now. Dinner conversations that were once full of gossip, sports talk, and family updates are now often about the latest, hottest political topic. An Axios poll released on Friday found that Kavanaugh's controversial Supreme Court nomination has prompted conversation at work for 56 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans74 percent of the respondents polled said the nomination has prompted conversation among their families. 

What might all of this energy do? Well, for one, it's already increasing minority, young and female representation in electoral races. The vast enthusiasm has led to more young people, more people of color and more women running for office — three groups that are historically under-represented in local, state and federal governments. But there's also the potential it could lead to more Americans voting. After a 2014 midterm election where just one in five young people voted, and a 2016 election where 61.4 percent of adult citizens cast ballots (down from 63.6 percent in 2008), there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to Americans exercising their right to vote.

For all the potential damage or good that Trump has done or may do, it seems certain that he's driving Americans to the polls, encouraging them to learn about how the government works and keeping people engaged in politics. Now it's up to Americans to decide how we want to spend this new politically woke era. 

For the good of the country, we'd be wise to embrace it. 

Cover image via Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock.com

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