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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

There’s more to politics than this

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The highest political aspiration is that of a U.S. President. They lead the free world, guide our political parties and share with us a moral compass to follow into tomorrow. Because of this, one would think the debates for such a position might reflect the political character of this country. Unfortunately, during last week’s debate, that reflection was blinding.

From the moment Trump and Biden got within six feet apart, the stage was a marathon of fighting, anger, interruptions and inconsistent offerings of a vision for the future. Anything good to be seen in our politics was outshined by each candidate’s tendency to harp on points that curried favor to their bases. And despite this effort to appeal and win over, over 88% of us watching left pessimistic and annoyed.

It’s hard to remember, but as kids first learning about the world, politics wasn’t always like this. Rather, it was a system to be awestruck by for its potential for positive change. There were three branches of government, we had citizens voicing their concerns and with the help of a singing bill on Capitol Hill, boom, our laws were being made.

For a time, this all seemed so simple, and honestly, quite beautiful. But somewhere along the way, that beautiful simplicity got replaced by an unrelenting cynicism. As we grew, our lives became dominated by TV pundits and politicians refusing to discuss and congregate, opting instead to hate the ideas of the other. We quickly learned the risks of sharing how we feel, and either tuned into channels we felt safe in, or tuned out entirely. And eventually, out of a desire to remove our frustration and retain our sanity, we chose to disengage.

But what if we didn’t? What if in a time where our politics is seemingly the most divisive, we engage more than we ever have? Intentionally or not, I tried that out for myself this summer, joining an effort to pass a bill extending driving privileges to undocumented residents here in Indiana. Getting the chance to write legislation and lobby to key members of the General Assembly — the work was beyond exciting.

However, given the bill’s left-leaning nature, my feelings were also clouded in pessimism. Indiana’s government over the past decade has become one of the most red-elected bodies in the country, with a Republican trifecta occurring for 11 of the past 15 years. What's more, the bill we were trying to pass had already been tried and failed seven times before. Despite all the excitement I should have mustered from a project that would give me first-hand political experience, my gut reaction was to not get too attached, understanding that our bill may very well die come January.

However, that reaction was wrong. In the first congressional meeting of the summer, our team came Zoom-screen to Zoom-screen with one of the most conservative legislators in the House. Their voting record: a hardline on immigration. Their TV presence: not that impressive. Given all rational indicators, our goal was simply to not get hung up on within the first five minutes. It is also why I was surprised we talked for over an hour.

Despite all my partisan worries, the representative from the beginning was taking detailed notes, asking informed questions and engaging the issue with open ears. They were showing interest in hearing our concerns and working us through possible opposition despite the fact they might never vote for the bill themselves. And by the very end, it was clear that for all the gaffes they made on TV and pressure they had to be divisive, it wasn’t really right to hold the cynicism I kept before. Because from what I saw, they had joined political life for the same reason many of us liked politics as kids: to create policies for positive change.

Part of me realizes that as I discuss this, my youth and naivety are letting a few experiences to shape my view of politics. After all, there certainly exist those who took political office with nothing but the wrong intentions, striving solely for power and self-gain. However, continuing this project into the semester has shown me that my experience here is far from an isolated one, and it goes far beyond just legislators. Also involved in this process of making our lives better are Chambers of Commerce, Insurance Agencies, Farm Bureaus, Immigration Advocacy Groups and dozens more.

Certainly, none of these groups completely agree on the way to approach issues like the bill our team is proposing. But that isn’t the point. The point is that we shouldn't judge politics as a whole based on two 70-year-olds yelling on a debate stage; politics is also a world of impassioned people who actively strive to better their communities every day. Just because these people aren't televised doesn't mean they aren't out there, impacting the world in meaningful ways. It only means that to see it for ourselves, we have to be engaged.

During the next presidential debate (if there is one), we might well again see the same divisiveness we saw in late September. And like any good political science student, I’ll encourage you to watch it, and you best believe I’ll pester you to vote. But as you do, just remember that the sample of politics you’re getting is not a representative one. Rather, to find the beauty that politics really holds, go out and volunteer for a campaign, advocate for a cause, spread awareness for a policy you believe in. Whatever it is, don’t let a U.S. President define the relationships you have with politics. The precedent for that should only be up to you.

 

Edward Brunicardi is a sophomore at Notre Dame pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor with the Hesburgh Program of Public Service. Though he may have had all the creativity sucked out of him in high school, writing serves as Edward's best chance at getting something back. He can be reached at ebrunica@nd.edu or @EdwardBrunicar1 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.