“The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is Socrates’ whole method reduced to a refrigerator magnet, but its insight is profound. We cannot live well if we do not shake ourselves out of our complacency. We must question what we are doing and why. If we haven’t interrogated our beliefs, how can we know them to be true?

To be a student is to live this Socratic ideal, day in and day out. We’re quick to question every assumption, slow to commit to a position until we’ve seen where its full sweep will take us. We spend four years sinking or swimming by our ability to see reality past appearances.

So anyone would be right to wonder how students who demand so much of academic tomes bring so little to the discussion of current events. I speak now from personal experience, from three years’ time in our shared community, three years as a fly on the wall we all share: seeing how we follow news online, and hearing how we discuss it. The news-cum-op-eds we consume is fed to us as so many gaudy headlines, changing every hour and studded with “Analysis” and “Opinion.” The story hiding behind the headline is written for ease of consumption, and often seeks to confirm a reader’s preconceptions. Case in point: Slate released a poll-heavy piece pushing the narrative that Trump was losing his sway over “GOP primary voters.” After months of Democrats’ cognitive dissonance over Trump’s continued momentum, it’s hard not to read a tone of wishful thinking. And MSNBC couldn’t report Trump’s stable approval rating without offering qualifications. This is balanced reporting, but smacks of an aversion to an unpleasant reality.

We could make up for these shortcomings with a robust critical discourse, but we often fail to do so. We exchange this “news” on Facebook and elsewhere with some flaccid endorsement—“Worth the read,” or “Makes you think”—more telling of an unengaged recommender than a worthwhile story. Our conversations are often with our compatriots only, resulting in predictable consensus. We find some little thought we agree with, and accept it en bloc.

If your approach to knowledge of the world is so lackadaisical, you are fiddling while your democracy burns. Your ability to engage critically with the information thrown at you is a habit, just like any other. Running, music, art, writing essays, being a free thinker—all these activities are reducible to a pattern of thought and action that thrives on repetition and withers in disuse. We should engage with our free press with the same vigor as we tackle any text. Instead, we all too often accept fact and narrative as they are given to us—as though CNN’s “Five Things” or “The [Washington] Post Most” are the gold standards of civic consciousness. George Orwell would have a field day with our complacency. Whatever the party officer at the podium says, however many contradictions he spouts, we’d be only too glad to agree. Someone makes our opinion for us, just like a shirt or sock or spoon.

And who are the wellsprings of such wisdom? This or that pundit. Has the Pope declared Anderson Cooper infallible, and I’m only just now finding out about it? Were Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow anointed prophets? They pontificate as though they alone have the nous to know what we should think!

The risk of being so under-critical is that we are over-likely to be duped. When we allow our critical engagement with the world to atrophy, when we are not constantly seeking facts for ourselves and deconstructing the biases that underlie an argument, we become incrementally less able to see realities past appearances. Just think of the last election. We were so used to the progressive zeitgeist of the Obama years that we threw Trump all the free press we could—what a funny man, after all—only for the free press to become fools in his court.

We are categorically failing, time and time again, to engage with the free press in a way that increases our ability to see things for what they are. We’re the first to raise our hands in a seminar, and we’ll burn the midnight oil to find the one new thing to say about some dry text, and yet we can’t find the time to study the pulse of our democracy with the same verve? I’ve fallen into this myopia as much as anyone. My GPA depends more on my translations of Latin prose and not at all upon fluency in foreign affairs. I’ve often budgeted my time accordingly. But look at the times we live in. look at the threats we face. We must be One Nation Under God, because only divine providence could maintain our institutions despite our near-total indifference to them.

I am challenging you to do more and be more in this new year. I believe that the academy matters because a good citizen is nothing more than a good student. A good student questions received knowledge. We care about democracy because we believe in the ability of each of us to contribute new ideas and fresh perspectives to our common project of flourishing. Make yourself someone with something to offer.

Seek out opinions you disagree with. Explain to yourself why you disagree with them. Promote stories you support. Explain to others why you support them. Follow a story as it evolves, even if it unfolds over months. Engage with people elsewhere on the political spectrum, and find consensus where you can. Learn to find an informed position and defend it. Practice the eternal vigilance that is the price of freedom.

In sum, we must be as fluent in the realities of America as we are in the oddities of our majors. Perhaps my tone seems grave, or the stakes of your engagement overstated. But do not practice self-deception: “It could never happen here” is the swansong of every dupe in history. It could never happen in Germany in 1932, or in Russia in 1916. Donald Trump could never be elected.

So look to history and pick your side. Here are the complacent, the self-assured. They were Russians led by Lenin. They were Austrians who voted for Hitler. Then there are the nameless, faceless free thinkers, whose grit provided the grains of sand that brought the machinery of oppression grinding to a halt. Which would you rather be—the happy complacent, or the free thinker?

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.