Apathy, dysfunction created Clinton, Trump

Americans deserve Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. We deserve a presidential candidate who represents pent-up feelings of nationalism, racism and xenophobia. We deserve a presidential candidate who embodies corporatism, nepotism and backhandedness in politics.

Our candidates are a reflection of America’s greatest vices: weak public knowledge and voter apathy.

Two-thirds of respondents to a 2015 Pew Research Center News IQ survey didn’t know how many women were on the Supreme Court. In 2014, only 20 percent of respondents knew what the federal government spent the most money on in its annual budget.

It’s passé to encourage your friends and neighbors to go vote. If you’re of age, please go exercise your right. But voting isn’t all it takes to have a healthy democratic system.

Our representative democracy operates on a host of concepts which date back to 18th century philosophy.

The basic premise of the era’s biggest idea, the social contract, is that the people agree to give the government power. The contract benefits everyone involved but is the sum of its parts.

When the masses are uninformed about or disinterested in politics, they fail to uphold their end of the contract.

“If we are to be a great democracy, we must all take an active role in our democracy,” said Martin Luther King III at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. “We must do democracy. That goes far beyond simply casting your vote.”

Our dysfunctional presidential race and general political climate is a product of American ignorance and apathy. Honestly, I don’t know how to make people care about politics.

Between the partisan gridlock and politicking that happens in Washington, D.C. and the lack of say voters have in government, it’s easy to see why Americans are frustrated and tune everything out.

We risk a lot by doing that.

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction,” said Ronald Reagan at his 1967 inauguration as governor of California.

In my eyes, the only way to combat voter apathy is to boost our political literacy and refresh our voting rights.

An informed citizen should know how to decipher empty rhetoric from actual ideas.

I’ll admit, it’s pretty hard. Candidates, politicians, pundits and journalists love to mask their intentions with buzzwords and sound bites.

We can learn, though, to determine when a person drives the conversation toward vague talking points or toward specific proposals, ideas and issues. We all want to someone to engage us, not talk at us.

We should also break down the barriers to entering the realm of politics.

In the Progressive Era, we gave voters more direct control over government via initiative and referendum measures, recall powers and primary elections. We’ve also expanded the list of people eligible to vote throughout our history, though not without struggle.

I think it’s time to rethink how we conduct elections again.

We should overhaul our first-past-the-post, plurality electoral system. Instead of winner-takes-all elections where voters feel forced to choose the lesser of two evils, we should experiment with instant runoff voting so no one wastes their ballot.

We should rethink how long voting booths should be open. Perhaps we should abandon in-person voting altogether for postal ballots.

We need to reform campaign finance. Money shouldn’t have political sway.

These changes would give more power to the people and loosen the constraints keeping their voices from being heard. We have a chance at reinvigorating interest in our political process.

We may deserve our current candidates, but Americans also deserve better.