If not for opportunities, I don’t know what college would be.
WashU is going all out for the October 9 presidential debate we're hosting, complete with a roller skating party, debate week food, and, of course, political speakers. While I won't get to see the debate firsthand, watching it on TV and hearing speakers discuss the election is the next best thing.
This week, I had the distinct pleasure of fangirling over a big name in the media industry. Ezra Klein, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Vox.com, spoke to a plethora of politically passionate Washington University students about the upcoming presidential election. His timing was perfect given that we’re sandwiched between the first presidential debate that happened on the previous day and the debate we’re hosting on October 9. Hearing his insights on politics and the media (also what I wrote my 4000 word IB Extended Essay on #IBdone) did more than just put into words all that I had been contemplating about the election. He certainly shed light onto the differences between the candidates and the importance of the issues, though what really sparked my interest was that he called into question the American political system itself.
Klein began with a concise restatement of my Extended Essay: though media sources try to convey the thoughts of the American people, they’re really just influencing voters’ thoughts with their ingrained biases. (For more on this, I can refer you to UnSpun and The Influencing Machine, my saviors during the first half of senior year.) It is these opinionated sources which contribute to the increasingly polarized political climate in America today, though they’re not the only factor. It was really the early 1900s desire for party polarization, for categorizing candidates by placing them into two separate parties, that started the chain of political polarization.
Following his speech, I, along with several other lucky students, were able to ask Klein questions. I asked him if he thinks that in the near or even distant future we'll be able to move towards more political moderacy or if he thinks that this fate is just a defect of the system.
To summarize his reply, party polarization provides identity and having two different parties with specific platforms on specific issues isn't necessarily a bad thing. He suggested that given the increased party polarization over the last century, the trendline appears that it will continue to occur. Instead of hoping for a day to come along where we'll be less polarized, he proposed that we should change our government to a parliamentary republic or other system structured to be better able to deal with polarization.
In essence, what Klein really brought to my attention wasn't just the fact that the political climate is polarized and ineffective; it's the fact that our political system can't remediate this dilemma. He noted that we've invaded and helped set up new governments in Germany, Afghanistan, and many other nations, and we've never gave them our system. “Why?” he asked. “Because scholars know it's unstable.”
He told us about the importance of looking at the bigger picture, at our government's structure as a whole. Instead of focusing just on the issues, “We need to think much more about what the candidates want to do for the system itself… We probably have to spend a lot more time about how decision making actually happens, whether the rules of the game are set up well.”
Despite all the criticism of America’s present state by fear-mongers and more, Klein cited that we’re in the longest period of private sector growth and America’s unemployment rate is under 5%. And we can barely handle it. We’re in a period of negative partisanship, where people are voting based on who they hate, not who they love. A time when the Republican candidate’s words and platform itself are a vortex of confusion and both candidates are entangled within webs of deceit. He wonders what will happen if the system breaks down.Given the distaste across the US for both the presidential candidates and the election itself, it’s evident that change is needed in America. But it isn’t just the change that Clinton and Trump are preaching. It’s bigger than individual issues, than simply building a wall around our problems. It’s the system that has been created in America and exists in America alone for it simply isn’t working. And while changing something as big as the American political structure is a massive undertaking, Klein said that “These things aren't impossible; they just require will. As someone who likes to vote with as well-informed an opinion as possible, I definitely will take a closer look at the candidates, the issues, and the government itself after hearing Klein's insights. Come November 8, I'll vote not just for the candidate whose stance on the issues most aligns with mine, but for the one who I think will be able to create the political change I think we need. It will be surely be interesting to see how the American will shapes not just the WashU debate next week or the election, but the coming years and the fate of our political system.