Max Rysztak: Policy still matters

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 4:20pm

After a long, hype-filled summer prepared us for the showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, we are finally done with presidential debates for the 2016 election season. Unfortunately, these debates, if anything, hurt the morale in this country and severely damaged our political credibility.

In what are typically policy-intense, mature, educated discussions about the direction presidential candidates wish to take this nation, this year’s debates lacked substance or meaningful discussion. While in past cycles one-liners often stole the show, the debates themselves were usually extremely detail-oriented and professional. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama’s 2012 debates were intense, but policy-oriented. Their discussions always remained civil and constantly referred to certain tax percentages, specific legislation or their differences when it came to policy.

Not this year.

Unfortunately, with Trump and Clinton, we arguably endured the three most immature political debates in this nation’s history. The two candidates attacked each other personally. Petty bickering drowned out what little real policy was discussed, like when Trump referred to Clinton as “the devil.” Candidates spoke about topics ranging from each other’s marriage fidelity to Clinton’s email scandal, and it’s embarrassing. 

It seems as if both candidates’ strategies were to tear each other down, to argue against the other, instead of running on a positive message based on their own proposals. This type of rhetoric highlights their desperation to win for themselves and not for the people.

The only positive moment from all three debates was when the candidates were asked to say one thing they respected about the other. Clinton referred to Trump’s children, symbolizing his strong role as a father. Trump called Clinton someone who can “fight hard” and “doesn’t quit.” This was one of the few times in any of the debates when the candidates came across as respectful. It shows what this country and what our politics have the potential to be, but sadly, the candidates went back to the same old tactics the next day. 

Our debates demonstrate, on a larger level, the increasing irrelevance of policy in politics. When our presidential campaigns and debates largely focus on personal traits or actions, and not on policy, we don’t get to hear the candidates talk about the real issues. We deserve debates in which we learn what they actually want to do on topics that will affect each and every one of us.

When politics aren’t focused on policy, it affects all of us down to the most grassroots level. We are faced with heightened tensions in our communities, in our classrooms and all over campus because all we hear our leaders do is attack one another on anything but their ideas. I’ve seen political differences strain relationships on this campus, peers judging others for their disagreement, students calling one another names because they think differently. A lot of this is fueled by Trump and Clinton’s campaigns. They divide us more than they unite us, which many are failing to recognize.

So where do we go from here?

While it seems too late to change the tone of this campaign, changing the political discourse starts with us, with those involved at the grassroots level of politics. Having educated discussions on policies and ideas, and not on candidates, will serve those beyond our campus. We should seek out conversations in which we can learn others’ justifications for their opinions. Learning how to deal with the opinions of the opposition in a respectful and informed way can quickly spiral into a meaningful change of discourse.

For now, we just have to get through the next few weeks of this election and suffer for only a little while longer through an embarrassing political cycle until we can look forward to the next election. Hopefully, by then, we will have learned from our collective voting mistakes this year. Maybe we can even become more diverse in opinions and more educated on actual solutions. And, hopefully, we will nominate and have the opportunity to vote for candidates with real and positive proposals for this nation, because policy still matters.

Max Rysztak can be reached at mrysztak@umich.edu.