July 17, 2017 37th and O

Remembering that Politics is More than the Big Cities

by Justice Bennett

I expected to leave my #HoyasInUK experience with hope:

Hope that the parliamentary government might show a way to escape the gridlock-prone two-party system that disenfranchises voters. Hope that the way Britain limits money in campaigns would eliminate special interests and absurd loyalties in governing. Hope that post-Brexit and post-Trump elections pollsters and political elites had learned how to capture the true sentiment of its constituents. Hope that the xenophobic rhetoric that fueled Brexit and made frequent recurrences following terrorist attacks in London was overplayed in the media.

Consistently—and nearly without exception—that was proved wrong.

The parliamentary government forced an unstable coalition that leaves pundits predicting yet another election in December. The limits on campaign finance did not change the interests each party had beholden to certain causes. Almost every person we talked to—pollsters, reporters, campaigners, candidates—predicted a significant Conservative majority. We spoke with a variety of people who spoke about racially-charged experiences and witnessed the segregations of neighborhoods—although more interconnected and accessible than D.C.

And it leaves me unsure of the direction we go from here. It’s clear politics is messed up and I think what this trip taught me the most is that it’s messed up to global proportions.

Here, we can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a campaign and not truly understand what voters need from our candidates and have arguably the most-qualified class of candidates in American history and end up with President Donald Trump. Abroad, we—yes, we—opt out of an institution that has safeguarded Europe from major conflict for several decades and can hardly fend off Marine La Pen in France.

And now, as I return from visiting family in rural New York, I’m reminded maybe politics is screwed up because we focus too much on the D.C.s and Londons of the world. Maybe politics is failing because we need to focus more on things like the heroin epidemic or even something as simple, yet overlooked, as internet connection in rural America, instead of upgrading our public transportation in our cities or quibbling over funding for something like Planned Parenthood. Perhaps we’re ignoring our greatest challenge—how we are uplifting the invisible, the voiceless, and the underrepresented who aren’t in our cities and haven’t been the traditional crux for campaign success.

Nationalism has spread because of its promise for those people in countries that have largely forgotten about them by focusing on the interests of those most successful to winning an election—the cities where they need larger turnout or the states that provide the most electoral votes. And #HoyasInUK demonstrated to me that the world really learned just about nothing from Brexit or the election of President Trump.

Boris Johnson, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jeremy Corbyn all wildly out-performed expectations because they tapped into a real frustration surrounding a political system that has forgotten about them; and the media, the pollsters, and the rest vastly underestimated the strength of that sentiment. As someone who aspires to enter politics, #HoyasInUK will be an eternal reminder for me to focus most on the smallest voices in the room.


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