Perspective: College students struggle with mental health issues.  The "transformational" policy does not help

Perspective: College students struggle with mental health issues. The “transformational” policy does not help

Over the past decade, the mental health of Gen Z students across the country has declined precipitously. Countless scholars and practitioners have weighed in on the potential causes of this instability, from pervasive social media to low religiosity and, of course, a pandemic.

My experience teaching students suggests another source of distress – the repeated calls by electoral candidates for socio-political transformation.

Compared to years past, when politics was more likely to be pluralistic and consensus-driven, Gen Z has come of age at a time when candidates usually call for a complete overhaul of American politics and society. Now, an election has the potential to dramatically alter the nation’s norms, practices, institutions, values, and laws — and Americans don’t even recover from one election cycle until the next begins. This political instability has created deep confusion and anxiety among young adults.

Gen Z students entered their teenage years around the ascension of former President Barack Obama and his repeated calls for a transformational agenda. Since then, as David Greenberg writes for Politico, candidates at all levels have tried to create platforms and promote messages that seek to bring citizens “on board a moral or spiritual project, reviewing in a basic sense of who they are”. Candidates do this by advocating for policies and programs that dramatically change our “underlying attitudes and commitments,” Greenberg said.

While many Gen Z youths were captured by Obama’s transformational rhetoric, they were then let down by the administration’s under-delivery. However, since Obama left office, transformational oratory has become the norm in our politics.

We saw it in the rhetoric of the 2022 midterm races. Beto O’Rourke, along with other Democratic political leaders in Texas, tried to lay the groundwork for political transformation. In New York, Republican candidate Lee Zeldin failed to unseat incumbent Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul but proposed transformational changes in how the state handles crime, inflation and immigration. In doing so, he may have helped flip a number of House seats and unseat the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

With most mid-term races now decided, there is little reason to think Gen Z anxiety will subside. Former President Donald Trump has been a major player in the past four elections and has just announced another White House bid in 2024. Moderate and compromise-minded candidates have lost in many races. Democrats are still deeply divided and have no clear plan for the White House, and the nation is entering a new round of divided government.

This year has been very little regulated politically.

It should come as no surprise, then, that so many Gen Z students are anxious and unstable; every two years, the issue changes radically, giving way to the perception that “the stakes have never been higher” and 2022 has not changed this dynamic.

The next two years will be incredibly messy, and the pattern that has emerged is one where each election increases the chances of life-changing change – rather than pragmatic coalition building and incremental change. Add to that the fact that executive orders are on the rise at all levels of government; what is legal and what is possible can change dramatically at the state and local levels based on a single election.

Gen Z students are unhappy with this political reality, and the Future of Politics survey of more than 1,500 students currently enrolled at 91 colleges and universities reveals the depth of their frustration.

The survey found that when students are asked, for example, what they see as the most pressing threat to our nation’s future, it’s not Russia or China or gun violence or racism, but polarization and government dysfunction. Additionally, when asked if they believe the US political system can still solve the nation’s problems, only 22% say the nation’s institutions can do so while 66% argue the nation is too divided. politically to solve his problems.

Three-quarters of students think the United States is on the wrong track, and only 8% think it’s on the right track. And a majority of students today (52%) say the current political world poses a serious threat to our democracy with another 28% saying there is a threat to our democracy, but that’s okay .

This pessimistic view of Gen Z students is likely a direct result of the tone of our policy. To be sure, polarization is high and ideological sorting is pronounced, but the transformational campaign rhetoric and style of governance in our age of unstable majorities makes any sense of continuity and socio-political stability hard to come by.

Middle school students have a hard enough time understanding who they are. Amidst all the other stresses in their lives, they need political norms and values ​​to keep them stable. Unfortunately, politicians and parties give them the opposite of what they need.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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