Why you should care about politics and stay informed

Talking about politics is beyond passé these days. It’s popular to deflect thought-provoking questions with a cop-out like, “I hate politics.” Serious issues affecting our nation, even those as one-sided as the recent government shutdown, are dismissed as evidence of the futility of politics. I’m sure you’ve heard that there’s enough blame to go around, or that all politicians are the same, etc.

I’m here today to tell you that this is a load of nonsense. American democracy is plagued by apathy, cynicism, and “both-sides-ism” that amounts to neglect of the duty of citizens to make informed decisions about the future of our country. When two people disagree about something, the answer isn’t always right in the middle. Sometimes, one of them is just right, and you can’t determine which one it is unless you get informed.

Political awareness is crucially important in our society. In a dictatorship, citizens can afford to be apathetic and uninformed because they don’t have any power. But in a democracy like ours, citizens who don’t understand political issues  and the relevant facts are prone to make choices that can come back to haunt them. Even worse, there are wealthy people, corporations, and special interest groups spending billions of dollars every year to flood the media with misleading information that skews the facts in their favor, making awareness and truth that much more vital.

For example, if you’re an American citizen, there’s roughly a 53 percent chance that you are opposed to Obamacare, according to recent polls. However, upon closer inspection, an observer will discover that 62 percent of Americans admit to not understanding the law, and in my opinion a fair number of the remaining 38 percent are lying, because over 60 percent of Americans profess support for nearly every individual provision of Obamacare when they aren’t told that the provision is part of that law. The same goes for income inequality, in an even more extreme way: Americans not only prefer more equitable distributions of wealth, they also have no idea what ours actually is.

A study by Harvard and Duke professors found that 92 percent of Americans prefer Sweden’s income distribution over that of the United States. The average respondent believed that the richest 20 percent of Americans held 59 percent of the wealth and thought that a more ideal number was 32 percent. The actual statistic is 84 percent Let me repeat that: the wealthiest fifth of Americans controls 84 percent of the wealth, and on top of that, the richest ONE percent controls about 50 percent. There is a serious debate to be had about whether policies that reduce the income gap are worth the costs, but we need to be clear about the reality of the situation before we formulate our talking points.

Fundamentally, we are faced with two options. One option is to get informed and start fulfilling our duties as citizens. The other is to continue to sit on our sofas eating Twinkies, happy in our sedated non-concern for the prisoners being held at Guantanamo without trial or constitutional rights, the NSA’s mass collection of our personal data, and the families swamped in medical bills, scraping by on minimum wage while oil companies make record profits. If you choose to embark on the journey of knowledge, you will find that there are lots of ways to get informed. The Internet is a helpful tool – but make sure you get news from a variety of perspectives, such as newspapers. We even have a library at our disposal, if you can find it.