Politics has always been a topic people hesitate to discuss at the dinner table, or on a first date, or in any other polite conversation. It has always been divisive, but recently the whole country has been feeling the toxicity. Some find it more freeing to talk about politics and drown their sorrows with friends now, but most are exhausted. It is hard enough just experiencing the current political climate, to think about and discuss it is just too much.
I am not only blaming the current administration for this, but the stream of scandals and overall vitriol does get to be too much for many. Out of this, many have unplugged themselves from world news, trying to ignore current events and politics for their own sanity. This avoidance isn’t anything new, just look at voter turnouts for elections, but a new breed of willful political ignorance has certainly arisen from the current climate.
I completely understand the hesitance to engage. Shows and talking heads bring up so many stories that they all begin to sound the same. It feels like nothing is really changing for the better. There’s just so much anger on both sides that infects everything, including our campus here in Storrs. I had to unplug from politics this summer when a bout of hopelessness over things hit me. So, I get it.
Much of this toxicity spawns not from policy and politicians themselves, but rather from pundits and talking heads. There are, in my mind, two types of politics: The process of electing politicians who then make decisions that actually affect our lives (i.e. politics as in policy) and politics as in the clash of ideologies and personalities that shape opinions (i.e. politics as in ideologies). The commentators that love to rabble-rouse fall squarely in the latter camp.
While political commentators are not necessarily bad, the brand of identity politics that many have spread has definitely brought on conflict. Intentionally or not, these pot-stirrers create controversy by completely misrepresenting the other side in the eyes of their viewers. By passing off individuals as evidence against the entirety of those they disagree with, these people fuel the rampant partisanship and prejudgments that hold our communities back.
I believe that it is more important to know the opinions of the politicians making decisions rather than the thoughts of conservative talk shows and late-night television hosts. Some guidance can be helpful, but people should be able to come to their own conclusions about policy beyond just being for or against one party or group.
Again, UConn had its own experience with this. Lucian Wintrich (not a politician) came to campus, and that ended in failure. Then Ben Shapiro (not a politician) was brought here, to which the UConn Democrats raised Nathan Robinson (again, not a politician) to give a counter-speech. None of this squabbling was over any actual politics, it was about people arguing culture and identity. That can be okay if done productively of course, but clearly neither side was acting in good faith.
Toxicity at its root does not come from the politicians and policy in charge. Instead, it is a reflection of us and our society, mirroring the resentment that grows within. When this frustration is artificially amplified by those with nothing better to do than discuss it all day, it makes things worse.
We should be using our voice and putting our efforts to instead focus on where it can actually come back to affect change: in the Oval Office, on the floor of Congress and ultimately in the unwritten policy.
Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.