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Editorial: Let’s make 2024 about our nation—not the country

Biden has not inspired us as a nation.
Image by Sarah Mai

Editor’s Note: This opinion was written and published before Rep. Dean Phillips (DFL) announced his campaign for president.

In my World Politics class last semester, we learned the distinction between “country” and “nation.” Country refers to the physical aspects of a state: its land, resources, and geography. Nation, however, refers to the community of people — united by common bonds — within a state. If you are a college student planning to vote in next November’s presidential election, the problems within our nation should be at the top of your mind.

The problems of our nation, like the collapse of community and sharp rise in mental illness, disproportionately impact young voters. In many studies of these issues (Pew Research Center, AmeriCorps, National Institute of Mental Health), young Americans between 18 and 29 years of age consistently rank the lowest of any age group and among the lowest of all groups. A 2019 YouGov poll showed that over 50% of millennials report having no friends at all or no best friends. And nearly 60% of teenage girls report feeling persistently sad or hopeless, according to the CDC

Heading into the 2024 election, young voters — especially Democrats — should consider whether President Joe Biden (D) has adequately addressed these issues. Biden’s supporters defend him against would-be challengers like our own Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips (DFL)  by citing the Inflation Reduction Act, Chips and Science Act and other policy victories. However, these policy achievements are almost uniformly focused on our country’s problems and seldom target our nation’s problems.

The urgent national issues plaguing young Americans do not demand policy leadership, they demand principled leadership.

Some supporters of Biden go as far as to compare his leadership to that of President John F. Kennedy. But that comparison shows just the kind of leadership Biden lacks, versus the kind we need. JFK lives on in the hearts and minds of Americans not because of his policy achievements, but because of his ability to tap into the national consciousness and foster collective action (“ask not what your country can do for you…”). JFK gave Americans a sense of purpose and connected them to a community larger than themselves.

In doing so, he inspired one of the greatest decades in American history: overseeing the expansion of civil rights, birth of NASA and beginning of the Peace Corps. While Biden has signed plenty of bills and executive orders, he hasn’t come close to inspiring us like JFK did.

As a college student voting in my first presidential election next year, I’ll be looking for candidates focused on solving the problems of our nation — not those of the country.

Muthu Meenakshisundaram was an intern with Phillips’ congressional office last summer, and is a second-year student at the University of Minnesota-Morris studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

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