Ellis: Just Don't Do It
Why I won't run for political office, and the dangers of political inexperience.
Despite my interest in politics, I have no plans to run for political office anytime soon. While I firmly believe that political participation is important at any age, the rush of millennials to run for public office in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency is an ineffective and reactionary approach, and it’s not what America needs right now. College-aged students are inexperienced, unprepared and are substituting legislation for political activism and protest.
The Pew Research Center has identified that millennials are more likely to lean Democratic, 57 percent to 36 percent. Although the statistics aren’t completely clear yet, political scientists are discovering that the number of young people running for office has greatly increased. The numbers are rising particularly fast among women and people of color, an optimistic statistic for identity-based representation in government. While this optimism and enthusiasm is positive, and young people have been winning elections, the American political system needs experienced politicians above all. Enthusiasm, in other words, just won’t cut it.
Trump was elected, among other reasons, due to the growing number of Americans who are fed up with the “Washington swamp.” American’s trust in Congress’s ability to act is near historically low levels. But more inexperience is not what we need. Although Americans may distrust politicians, the reactionary answer to elect individuals who have no experience is too extreme of a response. It results in the highest offices of the land becoming mere political starting points, giving them huge responsibilities without the experience with which to carry them out. This has been seen in America throughTrump’s failures and even abroad in French President Macron’s blunders, proving that both conservatives and liberals make mistakes when they lack experience.
This should not be a partisan issue. I am not confident that either a Democratic or Republican 20-something can represent my interests in local or federal elections. Politicians used to work their way up the traditional ladder: college educations mostly at top-tier schools, then advancing to local office, then to state office and finally national office. Somewhere along the line, our distrust in individual politicians resulted in a distrust of experience. Only one sitting Supreme Court Justice has a degree in government and our current president only has an undergraduate degree in economics.
Yes, there are benefits to having people from outside the system represent the interests of the majority of Americans who did not attend elite institutions. But that does not mean America needs to sacrifice experience when there are other ways to create change. Young people have historically impacted the future of this nation through protest and political activism. When they wouldn’t run for office, they took to the streets. Increasingly, the younger generation is seeking to affect legislation through similar means, as is the case with the growing anti-gun movement. Substituting tweets for picketing signs, the younger generation seems to have tapped into social pressure as a means for securing political rights and freedoms.
Further, social movements need to accompany decisions made from within the halls of power. Marriage equality in the United States required activism in conjunction with the Supreme Court decision, and nationwide racial integration didn’t occur with “deliberate speed,” even after executive action. But the point remains: young people won’t secure political power simply by running for office.
While I commend the efforts of millions of young people around the world attempting to change the office from within, I believe their enthusiasm is better directed outside of formal government institutions. I will continue to canvas, I will continue to protest and I will “peaceably assemble” with like-minded individuals. But I will not run for office. In an age where democracy seems to crumble all around, I want a well-experienced and fair politician to rebuild it.