Prescott Indivisible is once again pleased to welcome the viewpoint of our intern, Toby Chang. A 15-year-old student from Prescott, Toby provides us with a monthly column that includes his insights, analysis, and commentary on political events and issues that offer up his perspective as a member of today’s Gen Z youth. Toby provides a much-needed voice for his generation and offers important input on the issues confronting today’s youth and on how his generation views many of the issues and concerns facing all of us in these times.
January 2023: Calling for a New Year’s Resolution Toward Better Political Character
It is the beginning of a New Year, and fresh starts; resolutions that aim toward improvement. Much of the political arena in the United States could certainly use some soul-searching, and a fresh beginning at national, state and local levels. But where to start?
The 2022 midterms elections are now in our rearview mirror, but we are still glancing nervously both behind us, and ahead. Indeed, there remain several salient discussions surrounding those midterms politics, the elections, and their effects. Such discussions remain vital, need to happen, and offer lessons for us that should not be forgotten.
They say that each election is more important than the last, and as extremism still stretches the country to the limits of division and gridlock, this aphorism seems to hold true. Thankfully, there was no repeat of the violence that characterized such traumatic political fallout on January 6, 2021 from the results of the 2020 national elections. That said, it’s clear to me that it is still urgently necessary to firstly recognize, and then address the issue of polarization that, as the elections and their outcomes demonstrate, continues to divide Americans over politics and that tears at the very fabric of our nation.
Arguably, the discussion centering upon election denial is at the forefront of polarization. Especially leading up to the midterms, some candidates, such as Arizona’s Kari Lake (who officially lost her bid for governor of Arizona), have still refused to pledge acceptance of election results unfavorable to them. One of the ramifications of these claims is the damage it causes to the integrity of our system.
Voting is a primary medium of expression of thought, and if that is eroded, that significantly inflames the fears of Americans. Comments similar to those made by Lake rally far-right politicians’ audiences here, statewide and throughout the country to believe, as in 2020, that their vote is still being silenced, and worse, that it’s a scheme perpetrated by their political opponents.
All of this stokes the flames and fuels sectional, partisan conflict. However, integrity and belief in the will of the people are not yet lost in our country. Tim Ryan, incumbent Democrat Congressman from Ohio, demonstrated this when he recently lost reelection in his district.
To me, having watched these results unfold in real time, what was so remarkable is that despite Ryan’s loss, he not only conceded with grace, but also delivered a poignant message urging compassion, gratitude, and unity; a refreshing sense of hope during an era of political turmoil full of fear and hate. Several news organizations broadcasted this concession speech, including on Ohio’s WBNS-10TV, after Ryan’s loss:
“We need forgiveness…we need reconciliation, and we need to leave this age of stupidity behind us,” Ryan reflected. “I have the privilege to concede this race to J.D. Vance. Because the way this country operates is that when you lose an election, you concede, and you respect the will of the people” (Ryan, WBNS-10TV)
The “privilege to concede”: Those three words iterated by Ryan are the antithesis to that far-right faction of politicians who continuously erode trust in popular elections in America, just as defeated President Donald Trump did after the November 2020 election. Arguably for personal political gains, some “leaders” have used their stages and platforms to tell voters that the system is rigged against them, subsequently undermining the democratic norms of our republic.
Ryan makes it clear: “We can’t have a system where if you win, it’s a legitimate election, and if you lose, someone stole it. That is not how we can move forward in the United States.”
Once again, in a time full of election denial, to witness a losing candidate like Democrat Tim Ryan demonstrate the courage, integrity, and conviction to proclaim his loss, is a spark of hope and cause for optimism and is a waving flag, signaling that a fundamental belief in democracy is still alive. Having the humility and decency to concede after the people have spoken, instead of baselessly, spinelessly, and dangerously claiming that your opponents cheated, is a quality to be admired.
The issues that we’re forced to brave as a country today are tumultuous enough without having our elections and our trust in elections undermined. A peaceful transition of power ought to be the standard. Electing mature and principled leaders who value democracy is a necessary step on the path to quelling polarization. The honorable political character exemplified by the likes of Tim Ryan reminds us once more of the quality of leaders we should come to expect. Graceful concession is a reminder of bipartisanship, and to not lose sight of our democratic values in the fog of politics.
Toby Chang is a student at BASIS Prescott with a passion for civic government and politics. Early on in his life, he was exposed to the partisanship and division that has overrun our media, shaping his values on unity and civil discourse.
As a teenager, Chang knows how easy it is for young people to feel voiceless and powerless to take action against the issues that impact them. He believes that equipping them with the opportunities and skills to be civically engaged is the key to securing the future of our democracy.