November 16, 2017

Much to Do About Nothing

Sensational political coverage is entertaining, but rarely informative.

Our country has become obsessed with politics and, too often, with issues of only trivial significance. Pundits promise us that President Donald Trump’s most recent tweet or The Washington Post’s breaking huge and exclusive release of leaks from the administration will completely alter the course of our world. In reality, these hot takes on Trumpian events are not going to hurt or improve your life in any tangible way. The media, in a revival of revenue and popularity unforeseen due to its long-term decline, and Donald Trump, lover of any attention whatsoever, pervade our phones and lives with ever-increasing frequency.

When I was about 10 or so, the Great Recession hit my Rust Belt, suburban Detroit hometown pretty hard. The plants were closing, the United Automobile Workers were picketing, and houses were being foreclosed everywhere, because not only was General Motors being bailed out by the Fed, but the housing bubble had officially burst. So, of course, my father and every other adult had an opinion on the mess, since almost everyone in my town had some connection to the auto industry. The Metro Detroit public wholeheartedly believed that the main culprits for the GM, Ford, and Chrysler crisis were foreign carmakers, especially Toyota.

One day I was at a friend’s house during the peak of the Great Recession and his dad had a shiny new Toyota car in the driveway. My father had come to pick me up and we were all chatting in the driveway, until our attention was drawn to the Toyota. Naturally, the adults were talking about its specifications, miles per gallon, and that new car smell. I blurted out, “My dad said that people shouldn’t buy foreign cars because they take American jobs.” The forced smile my father gave, more of an “I’m sorry” to the others there than anything genuine, was accompanied by a very awkward reply by my friend’s dad, who managed to mumble that the car was made in South Carolina. My father, grateful for an end to the awkwardness, supported the claim wholeheartedly. Did he believe it? Probably not. Did he realize that this was not an opinion he was willing to turn a good friendship into an awkward situation over? I would imagine.

See how my father did not take a life-or-death stance behind an opinion? This is the issue with people and politics today: If it were not just a source of mindless entertainment, if you really, truly did care about figuring out what is best for the country, then you would realize that you—yes, you, genius that you are—could be wrong. Because according to many subsequent studies, my father was wrong. Robots were taking the jobs, not Toyota. Take this logic and apply it elsewhere. Your party could be—gasp—wrong. The most brilliant economists in the world did not predict the Great Recession, Nate Silver and other pundits predicted that Hillary Clinton would beat Trump handily, and Sarah Palin’s accusations that the Obama administration would hold “death panels” to decide who would get treatment were utterly false. So, why do we place so much importance on the thought leaders and newsmakers of today? Now, I am not saying to just separate yourself from any awareness of the world we live in because we do need public outrage when news of actual consequence occurs. I do not mean to discourage healthy debate on all sides regarding policies or other matters of substance. Rather, I am discouraging the pointless investment of time, energy, and passion by the general public into often inconsequential news events and often inflammatory and incorrect takes from pundits. Of course, this is just my opinion, and by my own logic, I could be wrong, but I feel that the country’s time and attention is worth more than CNN or Trump’s latest clickbait.

Aaron Katsimpalis is a first-year in the College.