George Takei: An Open Letter to America’s Young Voters
The acclaimed actor and activist writes about how our youth can lead the U.S. to a brighter, more tolerant future post-Trump.
There remain only a few weeks until this election is finally over. And barring some momentous yet unforeseen news, Donald Trump will be defeated—perhaps soundly so—giving America its first-ever woman president in Hillary Clinton.
But any celebration of that historic milestone no doubt will be tempered by the psychic costs this nation has endured through this election. On the day after voting, even assuming calm prevails, many of you will be wondering outright: What now?
Over the last 16 months, we collectively watched the tone of this campaign descend, from uncivil to outrageous to outright dangerous. Mr. Trump has played cynically to our darkest instincts, and he’s done much to draw us farther apart politically—even those within his own party. The forces he has rallied, and the sentiments he has stirred, are likely to infect our public discourse well past this election. He has led us down a course from which many worry we cannot readily turn back.
Forgive me for playing the “age card,” but let me assure younger readers of this: In my eight decades as an American, I have seen worse. Many of you know that my family lost our home and spent years in an internment camp because of the very kind of rhetoric and fear that Mr. Trump deploys today. Many forget that it was a Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who issued the executive order that set the internment in motion. And few realize that it was a liberal icon, then-Republican California Attorney General Earl Warren, who stoked prejudice and panic in my home state around Japanese Americans, riding a wave of populist hysteria all the way to the governor’s office. Back then, as now, this was not a partisan issue. It was a human one.
I mention Warren because I believe that even the greatest human minds are fallible, sometimes dangerously so. But I also believe that, in a nation that values redemption, both for itself and its inhabitants, we may rightfully hold out hope that the greatest transgressors and offenders might one day come to regret their actions and atone for their mistakes. It is both ironic and reassuring that the politician Warren, who once contributed to so much racial animus and misery, should become Chief Justice Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court, the architect of desegregation in the seminal case of Brown v. Board of Education. I have to believe that it was partly the shame he bore from his earlier actions that led him to more compassionate and just decisions. Thus, out of the pain and devastation of the internment arose an impactful voice and force for racial harmony and equality.
As for my family and my community, though we were shattered by our incarceration, we rebuilt and recovered as best we could. More critically, the attitude of our fellow Americans changed markedly once the war was over. While many still harbored strong biases against us for years, in time the virulent hatred, which once drove a country to lock up 120,000 of its own without charge or trial, became a more distant pain. Today, it is hard for any young person to conceive that America once despised and feared us because we happen to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor, or that Japan was once our sworn enemy at all.
I recount this not to minimize but rather to highlight the dangers of racial, religious and ethnic profiling, which sadly continue to bear strong currency in today’s political cycle. Yet I take heart not only in past mistakes overcome, but in the bright future I know lies ahead.
You see, I am ever an optimist. A poll taken in August of voters aged 18-34 showed that the vast majority favored Clinton over Trump—64 percent to 29 percent. That split tells me the same thing that the polls for same-sex marriage told us years ago: Over time, reason and fairness will win out, while bigotry and hatred literally would die off. In 20 years, you will all be in charge, and demonstrate far less appetite or patience for Trump’s brand of nativist rhetoric and race baiting. Trump and his supporters understand they are on borrowed time, and while they may seem resurgent today, this in fact could be their last chance to take control. Our country is rapidly moving on from their discredited and archaic worldview. Perhaps that is why the death throes of their campaign are so spectacular.
You are in many ways wiser to the world than your older counterparts. You came of age in a time where there was greater cause for skepticism, and you’re accustomed to the non-stop barrage of social media. Unlike your parents, you understand that we all live in an echo chamber, and that it is up to each of us to depart from it to hear alternative points of view. You are more likely to place your trust in science and embrace diversity, to reject hate while celebrating love in all its manifestations. You are more focused on racial justice and equality of opportunity than the two generations before you. And contrary to common myth, you are not disengaged. In this election cycle, millions of young voters made their concerns heard and very nearly succeeded in realigning the entire election. Nor are you impractical; even when your favored candidate did not succeed, you stuck by your convictions and goals, and in overwhelming numbers now support the party that will best advance them.
You have also absorbed the lesson of your peers in the United Kingdom. If the Brexit vote taught anything, it is that the future can only hold great promise if we do not wholly upend the present. Younger British voters favored remaining in the European Union by a large measure. Had they not taken the Remain vote for granted, had they turned out in big enough numbers to support it, their future would have stayed their own. Instead, an older and more fearful demographic got its way, throwing the nation’s entire future into doubt. It is at these very turning points, these moments of great decision, when the young must stake out their claim and seize their own future.
I have no doubt that young Americans everywhere intend to do just that, and will indeed turn out in force to defeat the threat that Trump represents. And I have no doubt that through the years that follow, you will also take the lessons of 2016 to heart, and never again permit America to teeter on the brink. I have such confidence because I have seen and heard often from so many of you, each day on social media. You give me much cherished hope, through your heart and your passion and your commitment to the future, to this nation, to this planet. I am privileged to have been taught by you, and I look forward to the day you are in charge.