To acquire wisdom, one must observe

False assumptions in the political circus

Much like the Olympics, the presidential election season can be seen as a quadrennial contest of noble vigor in which representatives of different pockets of humanity are afforded a rare opportunity to aggressively show everyone how unambiguously better they are than everyone else. Unlike the Olympics, however, the election season lasts for well over a year.

This is by no means a bad thing. Given the incredible degree to which the American election season penetrates everyday media each time it rolls around, it is at least a conversation starter for even the most politically apathetic of us: a subgroup which happens to include me. I don’t actually have much stake in the coming election myself; I don’t identify as democrat, republican, libertarian, communist, socialist, monarchist, anarchist, fascist, terrorist, zoologist, anthropologist, gymnast or otherwise.

However, it does seem as though there is a pretty eclectic distribution of attitudes taken by people at this particular school. I’m not talking about which candidates they support; nine out of 10 people here will reflexively say “Feel the Bern” if you so decided to lightly fan them with a small piece of paper. Occasionally, though, I’ve noticed that some of the things on television or that I’ve heard from my compatriots have proven to be somewhat befuddling and misleading.

For example, something I really like about each American presidential election season is that candidates seemingly always run their campaigns based on the assumption that they will ultimately be installed as Despot of the United States instead of its President. Bernie Sanders says he will somehow prevent corporations from basing their headquarters in other countries, Hillary Clinton says she will somehow take out all the lead in America’s water supply in a hundred days and Donald Trump says he is going to channel Chester A. Arthur and sign another Exclusion Act, this time for Muslims.

Huge numbers of people laugh at how vaguely braggadocious and uninspired Donald Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan is. Yet eight years ago many of us stood before stylized pictures of Obama overlaid with the word “Change” on them and felt our hearts buoyed by what was essentially the same promise every candidate is now offering this election. Perhaps it was due, in part, to the fact that most of us were around 12 years old at the time and had yet to discover that the American government consists of more than just a single guy, but I’m pretty sure it was mostly because presidential campaigns are designed to portray certain rich, middle-aged-to-elderly politicians wearing makeup as demi-messiahs. I guess this is just what happens when a bunch of really powerful people with connections spend hundreds of millions of dollars on nothing but hype for a few months.

Others who claim they are now “disillusioned” by this aforementioned lack of “change” under Obama’s eight-year tenure have told me that people in general should be dissatisfied with discussion of the different issues and promises our representatives stand for not just during election season, but pretty much all the time so that “change” and “making America great again” might come from a more modest, “grassroots” approach. In other words, it would be better to educate people about issues and have them actually understand what a lot of electoral hopefuls have to significantly water down in order to appeal to a mass audience.

Personally, I think this is a good idea, if really slow even under ideal circumstances. The biggest rub to this approach in my opinion, however, is that people who enjoy the dual virtues of both feeling really passionate about a particular issue and understanding it are pretty rare. It seems too often that civil, intelligent people who feel very strongly about a topic—but don’t fully understand the circumstances surrounding said topic—will end up proselytizing their views and accidentally forming mobs that share in the sentiment but enjoy an even smaller modicum of their original insight. This problem is rather manifest in electoral politics too; whether you’re the type to say “Feel the Bern” on an impulse or think Hillary Clinton will actually remove all the lead from our water, you ought to try keeping your head clear even if someone just randomly goes “I love Trump. He’s so honest and patriotic.”

I guess in summary it seems as though I’ve met a lot of people who will support candidates, not because they’ve been following their activities or have a nuanced understanding of their and their opponents’ respective positions on potential future American policy and government, but rather because there are people in their everyday lives who support these candidates. It’s just weird when I see some of the most highly educated people in the world fall victim to mob mentality and end up fixating themselves upon one particular candidate or ideal while unconsciously tuning out claims made by opposing camps.

In any case, politically illiterate as I am, the best thing to do in this situation is to either read up on the seemingly least biased information available to them, listen to what people who disagree with their preferences have to say or just take the shortcut and opt to not have an opinion. It does one well to remember that the competition is between the politicians, not us. Being able to open up a forum of discussion with someone who does not—either consciously or unconsciously—enter the conversation with the assumption that you are wrong is always nice.

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