As the first blog of the new year (and for my post-holiday partying), I’ve chose to angrily write about what bothers me (while shaking my old-man fist vigorously in the air). In light of all this festive holiday fun, it’s time for a dose of REALITY, PEOPLE.
Seriously though, there are a lot of things that bother me when people discuss politics with me … like, a lot. And it’s forever frustrating, because I constantly find myself asking people to explain themselves only to find out that their “independent” label is really nothing more than masked party ideologies — which are highly contradictory.
While I don’t want to write a book about it, I do want people to get a better understanding of more more-productive ways to talk about politics (and the easiest way is to start listening to NPR, and pay attention to how those commentators talk about politics).
And, trust me, this advice will make you look more put together if you’re interested in discussing political development or policy in any serious way.
So, dig it, fools:
The NUMBER ONE ….
I refuse to build suspense and leave my number one reason for last.
I’ll just tell you what bothers me:
- Many Americans have no idea how government works.
Oh I know, it’s a simple thing to be angry it. It’s also a depressing thing to be angry at (because we ALL had government classes). However, it’s ridiculously common for all those potential voters out there to be super-angry over nothing … because they have no idea who is to blame for stuff, what policies exist. In addition, a lot of people don’t know what each specific political position, branch, or bureau is suppose to do. Not to mention that document laying out the rules (the Constitution) is really foreign to a healthy majority of Americans. But, I assure you, the Constitution does, in fact, lay out the rules for the American political game.
I see people hooting and hollering about candidates, news articles, and debates. About every four years, around election season, everyone wants to be a political expert (but nobody really cares about other elections — perhaps a governor election, at most). Also, I get the feeling that there’s a sense, among the general electorate, that American politics isn’t a profession, which is not the case.
If you want to be involved in politics, you’ll most likely be facing a career of door knocking, leaflet making and phone calling before you move into increasingly complex discussions about how decisions can affect a whole bunch of stuff. Only after this experience (and winning elections) can people actually make decisions. And, even after that, seeing the consequences of those decisions takes time. Not to mention that isolating those consequences may be difficult, because, as we all know, correlation is NOT causation. So yes, politics is something of a professional apprenticeship here in the US.
Very much like lawyers, politicians work within frameworks of constructed rules. These rules are set forth by the Constitution, statutes, rules, and procedures (at federal, state, district, and local levels as well. Thus it depends what level of representation you’re involved in). So, politics is pretty complex because it’s intertwined with law and tedious rule structures.
Hence, I ask that people: Go ahead and have your political variants, but, man, at least understand how the game is played! Know how (and why) politics is professional, know what the rules of the game are, know who has what powers, and, above all, NEVER rely on media, friends, or family as a wellspring of political knowledge. As for media, there are good reporters and sources out there, but, at the end of the day, you still must know how to isolate facts from propaganda or opines.
Sadly, Politics 101 is one of the most unpopular classes for college freshman (I know because I helped teach it before), and, let’s face it, nobody pays attention in high school. The consequence of this is that there are people who have no idea how stuff gets done in the US.
In a simple intro class, you can learn some of the following highly useful pieces of information:
— There is an executive, legislative, and judicial branch of the government, and each one has a specific function.
— The president doesn’t control everything, and actually has a pretty specific set of rules and powers (hence he isn’t responsible for every problem in the country).
— Each state also has a constitution.
— Each bureau in the bureaucracy serves a very specific function.
— Presidential powers have increased over the years, and there are reasons why.
— Each state has a certain number of House representatives, and each state gets 2 Senators.
— The judicial branch doesn’t know everything, they only write opinions, which set precedents, which alters workflows of lower courts.
— State and Federal judicial systems are distinctly separate systems.
This is simple stuff that lots of people don’t know. Instead, people talk to me as if some decision the president made will alter history and change their city ordinance … come on.
I understand that news outlets sensationalize news and things seem chaotic, but, really, there is a lot more order in government than most people give government credit for. But, it is complex, and if you don’t understand how the machine works, then it will obviously seem chaotic to somebody looking in.
Moral of the story: Understand how the government works. If you can understand those central dynamics, then you can begin to understand how philanthropy, indirect democracy, business, the public, media, and outside organizations can all affect development, justice, and society.
Ahhhh … I feel better already. Here’s another thing I hate:
2. A lot of people use political conversation as an excuse to “win” an argument, or to appear smart or sophisticated.
Hey everyone: The objective of political discourse is not to “win” debates and inflate your ego (contrary to what Donald Trump thinks). Every political contender understands that nobody has all the answers; but, because voters demand immediate and extreme change, they must appear to have all the answers — to get the votes.
The objective of politics (which can be debatable) is to 1) mediate human interests, and 2) craft the best society possible (and what is “good” in society can be defined differently according to variations in political values).
In politics, societies can be defined by a number of measures, but, overall, public policy (special and business interests aside), ideally, should seek outcomes that wish to help EVERYONE in the society, and not hurt or help any one specific group.
A lot of times, people don’t even think about what their political beliefs really mean. Instead, the parties already packaged their views together, and created a political view already.
… It’s tempting to be a hardcore party adherent, and believe that one party has all the answers, and everything is hunky dory. But that’s simply not true. Instead, each view should be used as an instrument to fix problems.
So please, when you discuss politics, don’t make it about you winning some argument at the local pub. Instead, political discussion should foster questions that move society into a better place. And, if you look for it, a majority of the time, people are simply looking to appear sophisticated and impress others.
3. A lot of political discussion contains extreme over-generalization and/or piecing together arguments with no genuine thoughtfulness.
This is a pretty big problem. People say stuff like: “The government wants my guns. They’ll take them away with order XXX” … and that’s vague, and probably based on that non-credible article you just read from Alex Jones.
Tell me which branch, or bureau is doing this. Do you know what the text that would authorize that looks like? What specific circumstances would allow seizure? I would like to know why they want YOUR specific gun (and you better not say it’s because of the United Nations — I’ll tear that view apart). I would challenge that person to read the legal text of the law, and explain to me the consequence of the action, because I guarantee that specific law means something different than what Alex Jones thinks it means (hence, what you think it means, because you listen to Alex Jones and create your political views based on extreme right propaganda).
Overgeneralizing is a problem where people never go into detail about what they’re talking about. Instead, arguers assume a lot of stuff, and assume that because it makes sense in their head, that it makes sense when they say it — and that’s wrong. In fact, a lot of times, when people say their thoughts aloud, they’re very rough, and their ideas lack a lot of clarity.
The worst over-generalists in the political world are conspiracy theorists. Their “theories” are nothing more than finger pointing and constructing arguments not based on anything credible. The worst part of it is that conspiracy theorists simply throw out accusations without warrant and construct straw man arguments. As a consequence, people will fall into a pit of logical fallacies.
Please look into a list of fallacies here.
So, when you say things about presidents (which is most often the case), think about how what you’re saying.
Answer the following questions, before you take the view:
- How is this person connected to the problem?
- Am I sure it isn’t another part of the government who’s responsible?
- Realistically speaking, is this problem within this person’s job description (of course, I need to know what the responsibilities of the job are)?
- Why is this being done?
I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of people who would be more sophisticated if they think through questions similar to this rather than being spoon fed opines from pundits on either side of the aisle.
Trust me, it’s far better to create strong arguments yourself than to hijack other ideas and claim them as your own — because a lot of people can see through that strategy.
… I was going to do five, but I think I’ll leave it at three.
Let’s put it this way: There are a lot of aspects of discussing American politics that really bother me, and most of them are because people refuse to accept responsibility for their ideas.
I hear bad political comments all the time, and then when I call them out, the commentators back off and simply concede that they “didn’t mean it like that” — probably because they never thought about the consequence of those ideas (or they are just repeating an argument they read at some obscure “news” source).
Everyone talks about what they want from politics and politicians. People demand change all the time, and they demand services, low taxes, jobs (which, frankly, is only minimally up to government), and people demand wealth.
But nobody talks about what the responsibility of citizens is. I never hear discussions placing the burden on citizens and voters. I never hear what a good citizen should do, or what that looks like.I would say, at minimum, a citizen really needs to understand how decisions are made in their society, and that the burden of change be placed on them. After all, voters are the only thing that takes bad politicians out of office.
Instead, all I ever hear is about how bad the politicians in charge are. Well, I’ve heard that all my life. So, if the politicians in charge have always been bad, then when will they be good? And perhaps they will NEVER be good. And if that’s the case, what’s the point of politics? Rather than discuss the shortcomings of politicians, we should be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of their proposed (or current) policies and laws.
… But nobody does that, because people like to get riled up and yell at people. Most Americans treat politics as a sport between candidates and highly overgeneralized ideas rather than looking at statecraft in any serious capacity.
… The silver lining to all this is that I think a whole slew of Americans who genuinely want to make things better, but have never actually thought about how. Instead, people are concerned with everyday pressures of life, and never think about policy, systemic problems, structural problems, or even problems overcoming human nature — let’s face it, people, in general, can be pretty brutal.
So, before you come at me with all that hardcore party BS, think about what you’re actually saying. And, you better at least understand the rules of politics before you discuss with me, because I’ll school you on the spot — and it might be embarrassing, for you.