I have found great consolation in Markings, the journal of U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. It baffles me that this work is not yet widely taught. He wrote, in 1953, “Maturity: among other things—not to hide one’s strength out of fear and, consequently, live below one’s best.” We, as a nation, must live this maturity more fully. Once we were a grassroots nation of farmers and shopkeepers, jealous of self-government. Now my job is to live, my duly-elected official’s job is to govern, and never should living and governing meet.

We must face the reality that the culmination of our willful ignorance has been the theft of our government. There is a paucity of recent data of this sad trend; I submit one citizen’s theory of how we have fallen so far. We imagined, at one time or another, that politics wasn’t for us, or that there were other people meant to handle it. We didn’t care, or only cared on the Internet, but the fact is that we cared too little. We cared so little that a bigoted would-be businessman crept into the highest office in the land. I am not saying that this alone has led us to our current situation; I am only saying that our lack of interest eased his arrival. The result has been the general atrophy of American institutions.

Consider what the legislature has fallen to. Consider the Republican tax plan. This bill was passed on in the dead of night, along party lines, with alterations added last-minute by hand. Many of the senators voting were ignorant of what they were voting for. This is the sort of dirty and low bully legislating that belongs in a Stalinist politburo, not the American Congress. And why, one might ask, does this abuse of proper procedure occur? I submit that this Congress’ class of Republicans know they can do whatever they please under the aegis of Trump’s certain signature.

Consider the recent doings of America’s Off-the-Books State Department. (We will leave aside the laughable and downright dangerous implications of the President trusting his son-in-law with creating peace in the Middle East.) First daughter Ivanka led the State Department’s delegation to India, ostensibly to “promote female entrepreneurship and economic power.” We will leave aside the hypocrisy of someone who gives with one hand and takes with another; we will ignore the hypocrisy of the heiress who promotes women’s rights—for women who don’t work in her sweatshops. We will instead note the gross impropriety of unelected, un-appointed, unconfirmed persons undertaking business on behalf of the United States.

These aren’t the fraught days of the Cold War, when high-placed civilians talked through a “back channel” to prevent nuclear attack. This is the President of the United States giving politically-charged networking opportunities to his children, in violation of almost two hundred and fifty years of precedent and procedure. But perhaps Trump has been learning from such old-guard Communists as the Kims of North Korea: he’s truly “keeping it in the family.”

I’ve been saying nothing that you do not know already: I have been saying that the outsider Donald Trump has tracked into American politics all the filth kept outside for good reason. I must now say again that this is due, in part, to our not caring enough about politics. The masthead of The Washington Post reads, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” So, I suggest we shine a little light.  

Consider the legislative branch. The President needs Congress more than Congress needs the President, and Congress needs constituents more than constituents need Congress. When your senators or representatives betray your trust, make an unholy noise. Talk to who you know. Call your senators and representatives. Write to them. Tell people that you do. Elected officials are meant to be no more than delegates, charged with our will and holding our trust. If they violate your trust, oust them.

Consider the executive branch. Perhaps Donald Trump is so brazen in his many transgressions because he hedges on our not turning on the news. If our ignorance and our apathy made it easier for him to enter the oval office, why shouldn’t it allow him to remain? We need to take an interest, and we need to prove him wrong. We need to be involved in information, and in politics at the local level. Politicians, like crooks and children, won’t do wrong if they think they’re being watched. Watch them.

Our maturity as a nation must be to use our heritage in defense of what is right. We have lost sight of the plain and simple fact that, in a representative nation, the burden of government falls upon those represented. Ours alone is the work of being informed, of tracking many issues at once, of advocating for our positions beyond the echo chambers of friend groups and online newsfeeds. I close with Hammarskjöld: “In any human situation it is cheating not to be, at every moment, one’s best.” Are we dissatisfied with the outcome? Then, whatever we were doing, it was not enough. In just under a year, there will be elections again. Next time, we must do better.

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity junior. His column, "the academy matters," runs on alternate Thursdays.