We live in a time of perpetual outrage.
If you have any doubts, you must live in a world without television, radio or social media.
Consider these headlines from the past six months:
The longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Hundreds of thousands without paychecks. A humanitarian crisis at the border.
Dreamers living in fear and insecurity. A broken and dysfunctional immigration system.
The vilification of the free press. Murder of a dissident columnist at the hands of an autocratic regime. Hostile foreign actors emboldened by inconsistent foreign policy.
A president who brings the coarseness of public dialogue to new lows with every tweet, and Democrat leaders seemingly content to further denigrate, rather than elevate, our discourse.
If despair and despondency feel like the only appropriate response, you’re not alone.
That said, if you’re looking for a reason to be hopeful for the future of America, turn off the cable-news outrage feed and head to Bakersfield High School’s Harvey Auditorium for the 2019 Earl Warren Cup on Wednesday night. Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow won’t know the difference.
For a picture of the Earl Warren Cup, imagine a civics-only round of High School Jeopardy. It’s the State of the Union meets the Golden Globes, with the occasional dose of ComicCon nerd-dom thrown in for good measure.
The Earl Warren Cup was founded in 2007 by Bakersfield High School government and economics teacher Jeremy Adams. Adams observed that the students in his classes were more than capable of recalling vast amounts of seemingly trivial knowledge, if you could get them engaged.
Anyone with a friend, colleague or spouse in a fantasy sports league is all-too-familiar with the in-depth statistical analysis and obscure pieces of information drawn on for success.
However, when it comes to matters of American life with far more consequence than a quarterback’s pass completion rate, the results are disappointing.
Almost every one of Adams’ students can pick Kim Kardashian out of a line-up. Sadly, the same isn’t true for local Assemblyman Vince Fong, much less Supreme Court justices. They can quote lines with ease from the latest TV hit, but be cautioned before you ask for the five freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment.
What better way to get his students excited and engaged than a head-to-head, single-elimination civics tournament?
The event has grown far beyond Adams’ expectations.
Video questions have been recorded by a who’s who of political figures and celebrities, including the past three Speakers of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Anthony Kennedy, United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, "Today" show host Savannah Guthrie, "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebeck, former President George W. Bush, and, of course, House Republican leader and BHS alumnus Kevin McCarthy.
It’s not just the question-askers that have contributed to the fame and notoriety of the Earl Warren Cup. The event is also well known for its theatricality.
One year, BHS Principal David Reese flew in from the rafters to land on the stage of Harvey Auditorium with the Earl Warren Cup trophy. Justice Kennedy read the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. And, at the most recent Earl Warren Cup, R2D2, the lovable droid from Star Wars, delivered the questions.
When I asked Jeremy why people should come to the Earl Warren Cup, his response was quick and clear: “Nothing will make you feel more positive or uplifted about young people or public education, or be more entertaining than this event.”
Having attended a few Earl Warren Cups, I can attest to the truth of this statement.
And, while every participant deserves commendation, consider the paths taken by several past winners of the Earl Warren Cup. Neil Bhambi, winner of the inaugural event, is a medical doctor. Melissa Morris is employed by Amazon. Andrew Green is an attorney in Los Angeles. Darien Key is an attorney for local law firm Klein DeNatale Goldner. The students competing in and succeeding at the Earl Warren Cup are prime examples of homegrown talent.
There are so many problems facing our world, and our hyperconnected, always-on media culture can produce a civic paralysis. The issues appear so daunting. What impact can any one of us make from our homes in Bakersfield, California? It’s far easier to offer armchair punditry or, worse, drift into cynicism.
Events like the Earl Warren Cup help us transcend the cynicism of the moment, serving as an experiential reminder that no matter what today’s outrage peddlers are hawking, and regardless of the trends on social media, America’s best days lie ahead.
I hope to see you Wednesday evening for the 2019 Earl Warren Cup. It’s an event you will not forget.
Contributing columnist Justin Salters writes on politics and current events; the views expressed are his own. His column appears on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Reach him on Twitter @justinsalters or email him your thoughts: email@example.com.