COMMENTARY: Citizens need better political education
Over the years, our society has turned a lack of political knowledge and understanding in our country into an acceptable norm. Policies, laws, governmental processes that people in the past fought to construct throughout their lives to make this country a symbol of freedom and power go completely unnoticed by the vast majority of Americans. We have blindly given up the power that our nation’s democracy gives us. We have lost the value of educating ourselves about the governmental processes of our country. A survey done by The Washington Post in 2014 finds that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of the government, and an even smaller number of them understand the powers that each of the branches have. Citizen involvement in our government has been decreasing aggressively. In the New Jersey primary on June 8, for example, the voter turnout rate was only 8.2 percent. These statistics prove how disconnected from the political world the American public has been. However, the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26, was the most watched debate in the history of the country with 84 million viewers.
Why was the amount of viewers for the first presidential debate record breaking? Answer: the drop in the level of conversation between the candidates. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both running for president at a highly crucial point in time for the United States. It is a time when poverty levels are rising, government debt is increasing exponentially, the income gap between the rich and poor is expanding, immigration laws need to be reformed, education quality and accessibility need to be improved, unemployment levels need to be controlled, global warming levels need to be brought down through innovative techniques and policy, health care needs to be provided to everyone across the country, the Syrian refugee crisis needs to be aided and the war against terrorism needs to be successfully concluded. Despite the country being at the verge of either a very positive, or a very negative change, not one of the candidates has talked about his or her detailed plans to fix these issues. The debates have been distracted by Clinton’s released emails or Trump’s released video about sexually harassing women. For example, during the second debate, when the topic of “leadership” was brought up, it was masked by Trump’s unacceptable and highly objectionable words in the released video and his tweets. Due to each of these candidates’ own disappointing words and actions that have constantly been derailing the presidential debates, the American people are never able to hear them explain their agenda — their economic planning, environmental planning, educational system improvement planning. The level of political conversation has dropped — the debates are being watched because they make politics seem easy, fun, comedic. There is no serious discussion between the candidates.
The candidates during the 2008 Presidential election, for instance, weren’t involved in such shameful and upsetting activities. They fully understood the condition of the country at that time and were prepared to lay out the route they planned on taking to tackle issues like the Iraq War going on at that time, the threat from Iran about nuclear weapons and the financial recovery plan. Why wasn’t the amount of viewers of those presidential debates as high as this year? The answer is in the fall of the level of political discussion. The debates are made to sound like a three-part comedy show. People watch it to laugh at Trump and Clinton argue with each other about who has better stamina and to have a good time with their friends. They haven’t, however, been given knowledge about the policy planning of the candidates — that is the reason the voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.
The biggest threat to this country right now isn’t Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — it is us. We need to educate ourselves about how to government works. We need to fully be aware of the powers and workings of the president of the United States. We need to research the standpoints of each of the candidates on the issues that challenge this country. We need to remain updated, to be prepared to make smart political choices. We must use our power in the society to the extreme — this government gives its people unlimited power, we can make anything happen if we participate more actively. We have to prove that we value how efficient the political discussion for the future of the country is. We, the 84 million people that watched the debate, are the one’s that can lead this country into the right direction.
Fatima Naqvi is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in economics and political science.
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