Emma Chang: Pretend Politics

Tuesday, June 19, 2018 - 10:16am

Before you read on, make sure you’re registered to vote!

The California primaries were a few weeks ago and the Michigan primaries on Aug. 7 are fast approaching. This November marks the national midterm elections that have the potential to change America’s political landscape, and this country needs some serious changing. But how exactly did we get to this point in the first place? A lot of people point to President Donald at Trump and the Republican Party, which is very true, but I’m also looking at the vast number of people who did not vote and, though they did not directly support Trump, were essential to his presidential victory.

In the past week, I have scrolled through Twitter and read tweets that highlight the parallels between America’s relationship with Mexican immigrants and Germany's history with its Jewish population. One tweet, in particular, pointed out how taking rosary beads from Mexican women is like taking wedding rings from Jewish women and questioned what this meant for our country’s future. Another tweet highlighted the differences between platforms; on the one hand, people on Twitter are outraged, while on Instagram, people have just recently started to acknowledge the state of our nation. This struck a chord. Here I was, peacefully watching “Gilmore Girls,” and at this moment, people in this country are being torn away from their families— and I feel like I haven’t done anything. The only immediate course of action I could think of was to like the tweet and feel sad about where we are as a country. But that’s not enough.

In a generation where political activism and awareness is a defining characteristic of a person, the question remains: Do we actually know or even care about what is happening? How many of us actually keep up with the minute details of our state legislature? Sure, I could tell you the midterm elections are this year and yes, I understand that they are important in combating our current administration. But could I tell you anything about the candidates? Most likely, no. As a person who likes to think of herself as “politically aware,” this revelation was incredibly disconcerting, especially as the Michigan primaries and midterms approach.

Social media has fostered a false grasp of politics within our country’s youth. It’s much too easy to retweet or post a picture of your political opinions and feel as though you are participating in the democratic process. This exact thing happened with net neutrality. It is still a huge issue, yet is no longer trending on Twitter and, therefore, no longer relevant to our generation. But the opposite is true. Other outlets such as podcasts like “Pod Save America” and Crooked Media’s other content are great for feeling informed and trying to understand the conversation, but a lot of this so-called “action” stops there. The company does a fantastic job highlighting those on the ground, trying to get things done as well as creating their own campaign against the current administration, but how many of their listeners actually follow through on the passionate requests and commands of Jon Lovett and Jon Favreau?

This false sense of awareness is dangerous. With only a surface-level understanding of both the candidates and issues at hand, a lot of the great aspects of democracy are lost on a complacent public. One of the best features of this country is our right to vote, yet much of the younger generation did not vote in the presidential election, an issue with repercussions that none of us thought possible.  

As a result of the last election, I know a lot of my friends and other young people around the country have worked diligently to help educate both ourselves and our peers. Yara Shahidi, an 18-year-old actress from the hit shows “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish,” started an important campaign called “Eighteenx18,” a program that works to educate and register younger voters. Just how much impact has the program had, however? The actress has 2.4 million followers on Instagram, but only 16,600 follow the program’s account. That’s less than 1 percent of her audience. Sixteen thousand is still a lot, but is it enough?

Some would argue it is. Others would argue that they have a much deeper understanding both of their role as a voter and who they are voting for, and they might be right. But there are still people out there that might not have the opportunity, privilege or motivation to spend hours combing through state and national politics—yet still for some reason, feel as though they are deserving of the label “politically active.” I’m going to say it right now: I am one of these people. It isn’t that I don’t care, it is just that there are so many other things going on in my life that often take precedence over the fact that I really need to figure out for whom I want to vote; however, up until the California primaries and the writing of this article, I would have proudly stated I am very heavily involved in politics when, in reality, I’m not.

While I do sometimes think about how I should be helping out a campaign, I have realized I just do not have the time—or, rather, I do not want to make it one of my priorities. There are people out there who will make it a priority and will push campaigns forward, but there are still more people out there who have a basic understanding of politics, but no real wish to participate beyond voting. Therein lies another problem: voter participation. One of the biggest parts of a successful democracy is the voters. In 2016, only about 34 percent of Michigan residents came out to vote in the primaries, and 63 percent voted in the general election. Compared nationally, Michigan does pretty well; 28.5 percent of the nation came out for the primaries and 58 percent for the general election. Still, though, participation in the country’s elections is an essential part of our democracy and even if you don’t feel like knocking on doors to help educate your peers, at least educate yourself and go vote.

I applaud those who can join the political campaigns and are actively participating in the democratic process. However, the fact is, the majority of our generation is only trying to get involved. But just “trying” isn’t enough. It’s not enough to post your opinions on Twitter or Instagram. It’s not enough to simply go to a women’s march and post a picture captioned with support for the movement. None of the marches and protests are enough without an educated voter and their subsequent decision at the polling place.