I’ve considered myself well-tuned into politics for years. Being a sophomore, this is the first time I will vote in an election – in fact, I already filled out my absentee ballot. It’s unquestionable and widely acknowledged that this election is the most important in recent memory – by far, more important than those in 2008 and 2012. Many commentators and poll analysts believe that this election will mark the highest turnout rate for young voters in history, beating the current record from 2004 where forty-seven percent of American youth voted. Foreign leaders and countries have paid an excessive amount of attention to the election, with particular focus on the personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
All of these key indicators of an important election aside, I have borne witness to an enormous degree of ignorance from people from all corners of the vast world of ideologies. This lack of awareness – which I believe, against all my own wishes, to be rather conscious – extends to virtually every level of politics in this country, from local to national, from ideological to practical, from individual and personal to communal. The plethora of uncited (and untrue) “facts” and general misinformation I have seen touted about by even my best friends, both here at Bucknell and back at home, astounds me. I am deeply afraid that these attitudes – which only feed some people’s egos and superiority complexes (brought about by a conscious lack of general political knowledge) – can actually create and, even more fearfully, perpetuate a climate of political ignorance at a time when, more than ever, awareness of political happenings is of utmost importance.
Too often I find myself discussing politics with those that would rather acquire their knowledge from trendy and funny Facebook pages than a variety of more legitimate news sources. While there is no such thing as unbiased news coverage, The Daily Show – regardless of which unfunny “comedian” hosts it – shouldn’t and is not recognized as a valid source of news. Instead of taking the time to read books or articles that would take thirty minutes or more to read that can potentially be a huge wellspring of information and insight – or, at the very least, could potentially force one to come out of their political comfort zone – people and, in particular, students, too lazy to dedicate the necessary time toward becoming an educated voter, elect to watch “funny” and sassy 30-second clips on Facebook and Twitter posted by their favorite celebrities that cherry-pick quotes and facts to fit their own worldview. Hasn’t it ever crossed some of these people’s minds that the facts of various issues, probably too complex for them to even understand, could probably not be condensed into a short video clip online? (And why should I even care what Lena Dunham, indisputably the best role model for women and young girls, thinks about politics? She is irrelevant.)
Even those that claim to unbiasedly report the news, while simultaneously shoveling steaming piles of propaganda down people’s throats, are prevalent among people our age. PolitiFact, which claims to “fact-check US politics,” seems to do so at their own convenience, lending credence to false claims by certain politicians and savaging others over statements that are very easily verifiable. If you get your news – particularly news revolving around the election – from places like NowThis, Occupy Democrats, and Buzzfeed Video, you likely are not very informed at all about the actual state of things. You may be convinced, by visiting these places, of the total bigotry of Trump (despite the fact that virtually no one uses the word “bigot” by its textbook definition) and the saintly stature of Clinton, of the terrible racism and sexism of people that don’t call themselves liberals, or the absolute stupidity of those that disagree with your perfect and foolproof worldview. Some people would simply rather pat themselves on the back, like Facebook comments attacking other people, and laugh at the apparent idiocy of people that disagree with them. The want to challenge oneself has almost completely vanished.
When I hear about, or help to invite, highly-educated and informed political speakers to campus, I am almost always disappointed by the low turnout of students to the event. Of course, one cannot expect perfect attendance at a place of higher learning, as everyone’s schedules are filled with class and study; but when a popular media figure comes to talk about politics on campus, or an experienced economics professor gives a fascinating lecture on income inequality, twenty people (or fewer) show up out of a student body of over three and a half thousand – despite wide promotion of the events by the involved parties. Is it that many people simply don’t care? I would very sadly have to answer in the affirmative.
When people forsake these learning opportunities for feel-good interactions online and in person with their politically homogenous friend group, they chip away, just a tiny bit, at the very idea of intellectualism, made worse by the fact that it happens at, of all places, a college campus. When everyone participates in these horrid activities of higher thinking, easily worthy of the praise of Plato, Buckley, and Hitchens, intellectualism is murdered, and mercilessly so; and if people do not realize the error in their ways, I fear we will become stuck, irreversibly, in that terrible mindset.