Dana Pierangeli: Why everyone should care about politics

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 3:14pm

It’s a conversation we’ve all had with a friend. When asked their opinion on something political, they get really quiet and bashfully utter the standard reply, “Oh, I don’t follow the news," sheepishly replying that it’s "boring," "depressing," "doesn’t affect me," "doesn’t matter," or something along those lines. They may push the question on someone who does have strong political views, leaving us to wonder, “If our fellow University of Michigan students don’t consider themselves politically invested, what hope does the rest of society have?” And why do so many people not think of politics as a part of their daily lives that is worth their time?

Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciate someone who has the courage to say they aren’t educated enough to speak on a topic, especially something as complicated as politics. So many people in this society give their opinions on issues they have no real knowledge on, only making them sound ignorant. However, so few people are actually educated on politics that ignorant opinions are what rise to the surface of these conversations. That leads to another big issue: ignorant voters.

Ignorant voters are a threat to society, and they're everywhere. A lot of people who don’t keep up with politics may do nothing to rectify this when elections come around because they don’t believe their vote matters, so they don’t want to waste time researching. But when a good portion of voters all feel this way, it starts to make a big difference. This can lead to a major part of the population making uniformed electoral decisions, or simply not voting at all, greatly decreasing the accountability of the government. That’s how we end up with people complaining about the person they elected to office; if they had done their research in the first place, we might not have had this problem.

According to the Pew Research Center, ten percent of Americans above 18 are “politically disengaged”: they’re not registered to vote, they don’t contribute to campaigns and they don’t follow government and public affairs. Ten percent may not seem like a lot but that’s about 32,570,000 American adults. 32,570,000 people who don’t care what goes on in their own country. It should startle us that there are 32,570,000 potential voters who, if they even decide to vote, could be uninformed, which is hazardous to democracy.

So here’s why you should care about American news and politics: You live here. Yes, keeping up on the news can be boring and/or depressing. Yes, American politics has kind of turned into a joke. And yes, the constant flow of unsavory information can be overwhelming. But it is your duty to be an informed citizen in the country you live in. Whether you like it or not, politics are everywhere. It’s not some easily disregardable school subject like calculus or chemistry (sorry engineers), or just a topic you avoid at the dinner table. Politics are constantly present. The people who are elected the laws that are passed, and the actions that are taken affects your everyday life dramatically.

Not caring about politics is a kind of privilege one that comes from being in a position granted by race, gender or class that allows you to feel like politics do not affect you. Maybe what happens to the public school systems doesn’t affect you directly. You’re not in school anymore and you don’t have kids in the school system, but it affects the people around you, and therefore society as a whole. As Elizabeth Broadbent writes in her article, what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos does to the school system doesn’t affect her kids because she homeschools them. But as an American citizen, she recognizes that it is her responsibility to care about politics, so she still spent time calling senators about schooling issues. Everyone benefits from a better school system, even if those benefits don't seem direct or apparent. Therefore, issues that don’t seem to affect you personally can still influence your life, because they could affect the people around you.

If you want to be truly invested in our country, then pretend the state of our country is like a good friend, one whose life you are a part of and you check in on them every day to see how they're doing. Listen to a podcast, read an article, talk to your friends or even take a political science class. Spend 10 minutes a day catching up on what’s new with your country. Just do something, anything, to educate yourself on the world around you. It doesn’t take that much effort. But it will make you a more informed and active citizen, ready to create the country you want to live in.

Dana Pierangeli can be reached at dmpier@umich.edu