COLUMN: One nation, uninformed
Editor’s Note: To submit a response to this column, or submit a letter to the editor on a new topic, email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org
Contrary to what has seemingly become popular belief, politics isn’t about winning and losing.
It’s not a zero-sum game.
A tribal mentality is fun when we’re watching sports — every true-blooded Aggie loves to hate BYU — but politics actually matter. Real people with real lives are being affected by decisions that are increasingly being made based purely on political leanings.
That’s not right. We’re better than that.
Intellectual freedom is a cornerstone of American ideals. Many of the Founding Fathers were well-educated, well-thought individuals who recognized the value of letting ideas stand or fall on their own merits.
They also recognized that an informed populace is crucial for the preservation of democracy.
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,” Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying. “The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”
We, the people, have an obvious responsibility to improve our minds, but I believe the leaders of our country share a portion of that responsibility, as well.
I’ve written about the dangers of fake news in the past, and those concerns are magnified when they come from our elected officials. But there’s a different kind of deceitful communication that I’m also concerned about, which brings us to the focal point of this article: commitment to party loyalty at the expense of clear and accurate information is a threat to our democracy.
I want to know why my representative supports a certain bill, not just that the other guys hate it. And I want to know why I should support a particular candidate, not just the party next to their name.
Blind adherence to party ideals can be found in all locations on the political spectrum, but there is one specific instance that has relevance to Utahns and has bothered me since I came across it a few weeks ago.
On the elections.utah.gov website, there is a listing of the constitutional amendments and propositions that will be on the ballots for Utah voters next month. Each proposal on the website has an “impartial analysis” of the ballot item, followed by an argument in favor and an argument against, each written by a legislator or community member, and each with a rebuttal.
The fourth and final proposition is intended to address redistricting, or “gerrymandering” as it’s more commonly known. I’m not going to encourage you to vote one way or the other on the proposition, because I don’t know which way to vote.
And that’s exactly the problem.
The impartial analysis lays out some of the pros and cons, and the argument in favor makes some intriguing points.
The rebuttal to the argument in favor, as well as the argument against — both written by Senator Ralph Okerlund — fail to make any informative claims, though. The rebuttal is that this proposal “is a cleverly disguised partisan power grab” to “create an overwhelmingly Democrat congressional district” in Salt Lake City. One of the main arguments Okerlund makes in his rebuttal is that “4 out of 5 of its sponsors are liberal Democrats.”
Those aren’t informative points. The senator fails to provide a why besides claiming that the other party wins if this passes. Their very well might be reasons not to vote for this proposal, but it’s impossible to know based on the senator’s rebuttal.
Okerlund continues with his argument against and raises two potentially valid concerns, but then returns to the partisan well for his final point, again stating that passage of this proposal would likely create a congressional district for the Democrats in Utah.
Unless I’m willing to fully buy-in to the political tribe and assume my party leaders know best, there’s no way for me to make an informed decision based on the evidence Okerlund provided.
Again, that’s a problem.
How can an impartial voter be informed when arguments are built so heavily on partisan politics rather than the needs of the people? Without clear and unbiased information, the voters can’t be Jefferson’s “safe depositories” and are left hoping that elected officials will always make the right choices.
I’m not by any stretch saying that politicians should always agree. Reasonable minds can come to differing conclusions on how best to fulfill the mandates of elected offices.
What I’m frustrated with is the blanket assumptions that proposals backed by the competing party are dismissed without a fair consideration of the potential benefits for the American people — and Utahns specifically, in this case.
Our representatives need to be held to a higher standard than they’re currently held to, and the rest of us as citizens deserve the right to have access to proper information.
Like Jefferson warned, our government and our civil liberties will dissolve if “trusted to the rulers of the people.”
So, to Senator Okerlund and all other politicians who value party loyalty above an informed citizenry, please stop degenerating our country. Give the people clear and unbiased information and stop fear-mongering about what will happen when the other party “wins.”
If the American people can no longer be trusted with coherent evidence and straightforward information, then this grand experiment the Founding Fathers imagined is already dead.
For the rest of us, if you look at politics as a competition, or you dismiss the other side without considering the merits of their ideas, then you’re part of the problem.
Elections are just three weeks away. In less than 30 seconds, you can confirm your voter registration status by visiting vote.org. If you still need to register, Utah allows you to do so any time up to and including at the polls on election day.
In the meantime, make an effort to inform yourself. It’s as simple as ending your Netflix binge an episode early and visiting elections.utah.gov to see who your candidates are and read about the ballot measures.
Your voice matters, I promise! We all have a part to play in crafting the future of our state and our nation. Don’t fall into the trap of hyperpartisan tribalism.
You have until November 6. Get registered. Get informed.
And go vote!
Thomas Sorenson is a graduate student at Utah State who is registered and excited to vote, and he hopes you are, too.