One of the more popular topics for people to write and talk about currently is how the political system in the United States has started to take the appearance of a big joke. With people like Donald Trump lasting so long as a frontrunner in the GOP race it’s easy to see why. At the beginning of the semester, Senior Opinion Columnist Logan Boese wrote a piece titled “Why I’m Voting for Kanye in 2020” and another writer, First Year Opinion Columnist Megan Bertrand, wrote “The Farce that is Politics”. While I wholeheartedly agree with these two fine writers in sentiment, the practice of pointing out what our system and candidates lack doesn’t go far enough, so I would like to move the conversation a bit further.
Both Boese and Bertrand make a clear point that politics has become, largely, a spectacle of the media. Different candidates compete for the spotlight and time in front of Americans, and the more outrageous a candidate is the more likely they are to get time. Being sensational as a candidate in any sense is good for media business as it draws in viewers and increases their ability to make profits.
Due to this monetary incentive, coverage of politics has ceased to be purely about politics, and instead focuses on what will make the biggest buck. Yet, to react to this as viewers by endorsing a satirical candidate or refraining from the political system all together isn’t helpful.
Endorsing satirical candidates, such as Deez Nuts (Yes, he’s real. He polled at 8% in Iowa and Minnesota), is less of a protest against a flawed system and more of a show of apathy towards really making a difference. I have no doubt that there are people who genuinely care about politics and get fed-up with the shenanigans that occur in national media.
As a form of protest these people choose to endorse satirical candidates. The problem with this is that it feeds back into the problem. Stare into the abyss and the abyss will stare back into you.
If you think the political process and media have devolved into a collection of jokes and sensationalism, then protesting by making satirical jokes (supporting a fictional candidate for example) only adds to the pool of jokes. Some people will realize that endorsing Deez Nuts is a form of protest. Others though will jump on the joke, spread it, and do nothing more.
They’ll see the system as flawed, stop there, and the media will profit off the joke.
The criticisms offered by Boese, Bertrand, and others are important. I in no way mean to denigrate them. It’s extremely important to realize that things are broken and need to be changed. Yet stopping there isn’t doing enough. Ditching out completely from the political process leaves decision in the hands of those who want to keep it from being fixed. This isn’t a problem that can be fixed by mere protest. There needs to be involvement in the process to change it. There needs to be a push for more sincere and “real” candidates by those that care about the future of our country.
This seems to be one of the reasons that Bernie Sanders is so popular with millennials. He is seen by many as someone who isn’t in it for the money, and who isn’t trying to cause a spectacle. He is viewed as a public figure without a corporate agenda. Supporting candidates like Bernie Sanders lets the media know they can cover serious candidates without needing a spectacle like Trump to make money. That they don’t need to dedicate disproportionate coverage to Hillary Clinton to make a buck.
But as citizens, to support Sanders just because he is different isn’t necessarily the best plan either. If you don’t agree with a candidate’s positions, supporting him/her because he/she isn’t corporate or sensational isn’t engaging with the political process in a truly beneficial way. That said, there likely isn’t one candidate who fits your views perfectly. But there are probably a few you could learn to like.
Active citizenship takes time and effort. As college students it can be difficult to find the time in our busy schedules to research candidates’ positions and ideologies. Unless you get the chance to discuss politics in your classes or are a political junky, it’s hard to know what’s going on.
Luckily there is time. Sit down every few weeks and check some of the polls, google some candidates from different parties, and try to keep a general idea of what’s going on. If someone really strikes you as worth doing more research on than research away. If you have trouble deciding that’s fine. Things will get easier as the field narrows down. Just don’t shrug off the process.
Don’t just look at the antics and shenanigans of a few candidates and give up. Don’t think this all doesn’t matter, that it’s all just a joke. Stay informed, stay active, and put in a little bit of effort to change things. If we all make a little effort, it’ll go a long way.