Complete with scattered claims containing little to no concrete evidence and escalating personal attacks, last Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate could easily be compared to a family feud at the dinner table. Unlike the family affair, however, the 10 adults that spent the better part of three hours bickering and belittling one another may very well include the next president of the United States.
In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, economist Paul Krugman criticized the lack of substantive evidence behind the claims made by many of the Republican presidential candidates during last week’s debate. For instance, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both bemoaned the current administration’s stance on tax rates—something that seems normal for Republicans in principle, Krugman argues, but becomes confounding when analyzing actual data about past policy choices. Clinton-era tax hikes were accompanied by a large budget surplus, while Bush-era tax cuts ended in a financial collapse and historic rates of income inequality. Further, tax increases in 2013 were accompanied by the highest rates of job growth since the 1990s.
Amid the data, Bush’s claim that his economic plan will double America’s growth rate and Rubio’s statement that carbon emission taxes would “destroy the economy” seem to go for dramatic effect rather than substantive argumentation about why lower taxes are desirable.
Krugman’s focus then shifted to the candidates’ treatment of foreign policy issues, which he argues is just as jarring as the lack of evidence behind their economic claims. Candidate after candidate bemoaned U.S. diplomatic decisions, such as the recent Iran nuclear deal and the U.S.’ relations with China. Again, the troubling aspect of this portion of the debate was more the lack of reasoning behind the claims, not the arguments themselves.
While the candidates’ rhetoric, devoid of evidence, was troublesome during conversations about economics and foreign policy, the most unsettling aspect of the debate that Krugman brings up is the number of lies told by the candidates. He highlights multiple examples, including Governor Chris Christie’s allegedly false claim that he was appointed a U.S. attorney the day before the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as Carly Fiorina’s assertion that her career is a story of “secretary to CEO,” when in reality her secretary position was a summer job while in school.
It is natural in the status quo to be at terms with the amount of lies told by politicians, as well as the amount of reason missing from their claims. However, the absurdity of the current election cycle—with polls currently led by a businessman with multiple sexist, racist, and homophobic comments on the record—runs the risk of putting the proverbial nail in the coffin when it comes to political apathy among millennials.
The Internet and software age has led to a world in which people, especially in the developed world, can access accurate and correct information in a heartbeat. We have witnessed astoundingly quick advances in business processes and efficiency, medical technology, and consumer products. Yet our representatives, as well as those vying to become our representatives at the highest level, represent a critical lack of innovation relative to other aspects of society over the last 50 years.
In the past, politicians could use charisma and charm to get away with lies and unwarranted statements without alienating civilians. Today, however, the proliferation of information and technology generally ensures that blunders by politicians are quickly exposed for audiences of millions on the Internet. This fuels the apathy already prevalent among millennials—not because they aren’t passionate about the issues or their country, but because they stop caring about politicians when they can so easily find flaws in each of them.
In a recent NPR article focusing on disparagingly low numbers of turnout for Americans aged 18 to 29, Ashley Spillane, the president of political action group Rock the Vote, explained, “Politics right now is really disheartening. I think it’s why you see in the polls that young people are not affiliating with political parties. They do care very passionately about issues that matter to them. They are getting involved at a local level. They are creating startups. They are volunteering with local organizations. They are looking to take problems on in real time and fix them.”
Now more than ever, there is a disconnect between America’s brightest young adults—some of whom have helped build the innovations that make society what it is today, others who have adopted and lived with them—and the politicians vying to represent their interests in government. The problem lies not with the proliferation of information and technology, nor with millennials that are becoming less interested in voting politicians into office. Rather, some of the burden lies on current candidates to recognize the realities of the people they seek to lead. The majority, however, falls on future candidates to be more in tune with everyday Americans and realize the opportunity in front of them to make a difference through public service.
Featured Image by Courtesy of AP Exchange