US Government

American Politics: the Next Generation

December 1, 2020  • Institute Staff

How healthy is democracy today? The winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize Documentary, Boys State, asks that question. The film follows high school juniors and seniors at Texas American Legion Boys State, a highly selective weeklong program (found in every state except Hawaii) where teens build a representative government from the ground up. Alumni of the Legion’s Boys State and Girls State programs include Justice Samuel Alito, journalist Jane Pauley, Senator Cory Booker, Vice President Dick Cheney, Texas Governor Ann Richards, and President Bill Clinton. The Eisner/Lauder New Views Documentaries and Dialogue series, part of the Institute’s Arts Program, and Aspen Film presented a screening and discussion of Boys State, featuring filmmakers Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss and three of the film’s stars, Ben Feinstein, Steven Garza, and René Otero. These teenagers, with diverse backgrounds and views, revealed humbling and insightful reflections on the state of politics and their hopes for the future. Feinstein acknowledged that he mirrored the smear campaigns too often seen in politics today. “We’ve denigrated our politics in a lot of ways, and I embodied that,” he said. “Boys State was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on it. We have a wider democracy to defend that these values are not compatible with.” Asked whether their generation can change the current political dysfunction, Otero said he trusts in Generation Z’s strength but cautions that the effort can’t be theirs alone: “It’s the responsibility of older generations to give resources to younger folks—give us these platforms—if you also want to see America change.” Garza agreed: “Young people have an interest in politics and getting involved. For the long-term health of our nation, that’s a good thing.”