By Sydney Black
At the same time as the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and months of quarantine as a result of COVID-19, millions of people have begun to vote across the country. However, many of the students at Byram Hills cannot vote. This begs the question: Does this Election Matter to Byram Hills Students? Palvasha Khan, a senior and Co-President of the Government and Politics club, argues that, “We can’t just think that if one of these candidates wins right now, the next four years are just going to be bad and then after that we’ll be fine.” There is no doubt that this election will have long term consequences, but three of them stand out as it relates to students: climate change, COVID-19, and American Institutions.
There is a short window left in which to address climate change and reinstate key environmental policy. Columbia University found that over the last four years, the Trump Administration has rolled back over 160 pieces of environmental regulation, spanning from the protection of wetlands to limits on carbon dioxide emission to limits on power plants and transportation. Furthermore, there is a tangible impact to climate change throughout the United States: wildfires on the West Coast. The lack of action in environmental policy will only exaggerate these implications. Sebastian Vasquez, a junior and Co-President of the Government and Politics club, as well as Co-lead of Sunrise Westchester (an environmental group), believes that “Biden and Trump’s plans are super different and Biden’s is still better just because of the time aspect of it.” For others it is less important, an October poll found that climate change was a high priority for only 11% of Trump voters, ranking last. Regardless of what side of the political aisle you may be on, the importance of climate action is undeniable, and politicising science only makes matters worse
While climate change may seem like a distant issue, COVID-19 has concretely shifted the way the United States and world at large has functioned since the beginning of this year. In the United States alone, there have been 8 million reported cases and over 200,000 people have passed away. Palvasha Khan continues, noting, “The current response has been failing millions of families because people are still unable to afford rent and unemployment checks are dwindling.” The election of Biden or reelection of Trump would have two vastly different outcomes in the remainder of the pandemic response. Biden has shared intentions to take a nationalized approach. This would likely involve mask mandates, increased access to testing, more thorough reopening guidelines, and potential vaccine distribution instituted on a federal level. Trump, however, has not laid out any clear plans. But, it is likely that a second term response would involve a heavy focus on economic stimulus and reopening schools entirely. For some, this laid back approach allows for greater individual freedom and state control, while others blame the large numbers of deaths across the United States on the same lack of direction. The mask mandate debacle seems like another instance sparked by the age-old question: where is the line between governmental protection of citizens and infringement upon our rights? The next president’s stance on this issue could impact the toll the pandemic takes.
Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, what is perhaps most distinctive is the repercussions on government institutions. Both Biden and Trump have voiced concerns over the validity over mail-in ballots. Mr. Andriello, a Social Studies Teacher, finds that “The population starting to question their institutions and the foundational elements of their government is a dangerous path to go down. If we believe in a republic where elected representatives govern us, but we don’t trust the systems within which we’re using to select them, then that whole kind of structure starts falling.” This isn’t a unique concern. Audrey Goldberg, a sophomore, notes that “Elections are one of the few times that we are able to have a voice and create active change in our area, whether it’s for a local election or a presidential one. This may see results, on a federal or local level.” The institutions that make up our government have allowed it to function for a long time. This election is one of the few times where there is a risk of them falling into decay and creating a political stalemate.
Ultimately, elections are a constitutive feature of the United States. Without people’s voices being heard it is functionally impossible to have a democracy. Not being able to vote due to age restrictions does not necessarily limit your voice either. For students, there are many opportunities to become involved in political campaigns whether that be phone banking, canvassing, or other forms of lobbying.
However you choose to engage, this election will have a decisive ripple effect on future elections and the policy debates that will govern the remainder of your life.