Young Americans told CNN they were disappointed but not surprised that the first presidential debate turned to chaos Tuesday.
While young voters were struck by President Donald Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacy, they say his rhetoric wasn’t shocking given his track record.
“I expected nothing different,” Zyahna Bryant, 19-year-old community organizer and activist in Charlottesville, Virginia, said of Trump’s rhetoric Tuesday.
Bryant, a Black woman, was in Charlottesville during the white nationalist Unite the Right rally in 2017.
“I remember being out on August 12 in Charlottesville, and watching [Trump] speak on the TV immediately following the car attack in downtown. I remember him equating social justice activists to vile white supremacists and racists who took to the streets that day. I have no high expectations for this president. I never have,” she told CNN.
Still, she noted: “Nevertheless, we must continue to fight and organize in our communities, because we keep us safe.”
Bryant and a number of other young voters say that while the President intends to stoke fear and division, young people can’t shy away from what’s at stake in the 2020 election.
“This debate reminds me that Generation Z knows better. We know better, and therefore must expect better. We cannot be convinced that it is not important for us to show up, in all ways, to the polls, and in our communities. Our work is not done,” Bryant said.
Sanaa Abrar, a 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant and the advocacy director for United We Dream Action PAC, said that while Trump continues to “operate on an agenda of fear,” young and first time voters must stay engaged.
“We know what’s at stake. You know what your parents and families are going through in this Covid crisis. You know what’s at stake with climate change and immigrant rights. We’re fighting for those issues,” Abrar said.
Young voters on both the left and the right say they are committed to fighting for a brighter future.
According to Mike Brodo, 20 and a co-founder of gen z gop, an organization which seeks to provide a home for young Republicans who feel lost in the current political landscape, the debate set a “bad precedent for young voters looking to formulate a positive vision for the country’s future.”
“I hope Gen Z voters can cut through this noise, now and in the future,” Brodo told CNN. He added that “the lack of respect” at the debate is motivating him to remain involved.
Parker Stohlton, 23 and a member of College Republicans for Biden, says the debate encouraged him to keep fighting for Biden.
“I’m feeling motivated to keep fighting for Biden. Tonight, Trump displayed his incompetency as leader of the free world. I found it especially concerning that he didn’t condemn white supremacy, and that he continued to sow seeds of doubt in the democratic process. I’m fed up with his lies and lack of decency,” Stohlton said.
Across the board, young voters felt a lack of representation during Tuesday’s debate and would have liked to hear more about issues pertaining to young people. According to Pew Research, one in 10 eligible voters in the 2020 election is a member of Gen Z and one in three eligible voters is non white.
While many young people appreciated moderator Chris Wallace’s question about climate change and Biden’s response — during which he expressed his commitment to fighting climate change — young voters would have liked to hear more from the candidates about gun violence, affordable health care, access to affordable education and immigration.
“I was disappointed that once again, the young people were left unaddressed,” Mana Shooshtari, 20 and a field organizer with Grassroots Democrats HQ, said.