By James Han, Managing Editor
As any political scientist would tell you, an active and informed electorate is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. That means not only keeping up with current events, but the policies of candidates at a local, state, and federal level. Already, less and less voting members are showing up to the polls, with turnout in the 2016 presidential election sitting at an abysmal 55.7%. Needless to say, at a state and local level voter turnout gets considerably worse.
However, the problem doesn’t just end with the activity of the electorate, but also how informed voters are when they make decisions. When voters don’t understand policies or the ramifications of said policies, they are more susceptible to rhetoric the blatantly distorts the situation. For example, President Donald Trump has consistently tied the policies of his administration to the stock market. However, any economist would tell you that the president’s economic policies are unpredictable at best and often don’t directly tie with the strength of the market. At the time of writing, with the Dow Jones dropping thousands of points, that decision might come back to hurt President Trump, but the politics still goes back to an oversimplification of a complex problem.
When looking at foreign affairs, the problem somehow gets exponentially worse. During the 2012 presidential election only 5% of voters said they’d vote based on foreign policy. For sure, foreign policy is definitely not the only thing voters should be considering, and domestic policies may have a more immediate effect on a voters life, but foreign policy should be a far larger part of voters’ decisions and media diets.
First of all, international politics affects domestic voters as well. The common perception is that the involvement of the United States in international politics only affects the lives of the soldiers we send, and that whatever the US does overseas is a not a problem for the domestic voter. However that simply is not the case. When there are regional disputes within OPEC, all Americans are impacted by the fluctuations in oil prices. The instability in Venezuela could cause an influx of refugees, and US interactions with organizations like the WTO (World Trade Organization)can cause changes in the way domestic industries buy and sell commodities. To pretend that international politics fails to profoundly impact our domestic sphere is to fail at understanding the fundamental trends that guide the world we live in.
International affairs do not just affect domestic voters, but we can gain a greater understanding of our politics by looking to other parts of the world. For sure, the US political system is unique on the world stage, yet there is much to learn by staying informed about what happens in elections outside our borders. The rise of Marine le Pen, Sebastian Kurz, and Geert Wilders showed us how other countries came to see their own populist movements. When we see protests in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, and Chile, we learn how civil disobedience manifests itself beyond our borders and how everyday citizens enact meaningful change. The lessons learned here can teach a new generation of activists how to better pursue the reforms and revolutions they fight for at home. There is no reason to confine oneself to the echo chamber of our borders, when the wealth of the world is there to be understood.
Finally, when we understand international politics we can hold our own politicians accountable for vague, ineffective foreign policy and failures to act. The 2012 and 2016 presidential elections stand out as having abysmal discussions about foreign policy, simply because voters were not willing to ask our politicians. Now, in a world that is more connected than ever, with the US involved in every facet of the globe, why would we the electorate hold our leaders to such a low bar? The choices our politicians make on the world stage will have a profound effect, and as an electorate it is our sacred responsibility to have our say. Situations like those in Myanmar, in which government security forces have carried out ethnic cleansing would NEVER be accepted by US citizens, yet our ignorance leads to the most powerful force in the world sitting on the sideline as thousands of Rohingya die. Our ignorance leads to a president who regularly bungles issues concerning Taiwan and China, a president who undermines his own Secretary of State, and politicians who feel comfortable playing off our fears of an unknown outside world.
We deserve better from our politicians. Nobody disagrees about that, and the fight for better domestic policy is already incredibly difficult. However, the international world should not and can not be ignored, and the responsibility falls on to us to become informed about the fantastic, complex, and chaotic world we all share.