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College students need to move past “Bumper Sticker Politics”

Jack Kitchin

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It’s impossible not to be immersed in political rhetoric on an American college campus. Students are surrounded by politically-oriented student organizations, political discussion panels and lectures, news on their social media feed, and even campaign slogans on t-shirts and bumper stickers. This is especially applicable following last year’s polarizing presidential campaign, which was the first opportunity the majority of college students had to vote in a presidential election. Additionally, college students are now thinking about how the government influences their own lives as well as the kind of world in which they want to live. As a result, college students are incredibly passionate about politics. 

As a political science major, the idea that my peers are becoming increasingly interested in politics is encouraging. However, this encouragement had been tempered by the level of dialogue. Political discourse has reached a low point in the United States. Developing an understanding for how policy works and debating different ideas in order to create positive change has fallen by the wayside. Instead, most Americans’ understanding of politics comes from minute-long excerpts of speeches given by politicians and one hundred and forty character posts on their social media feed.

The political issues that face our nation today are far more complicated than most students, and even most Americans, realize. Questions concerning hot button topics such as Americans receiving the health care they need and rising tensions with North Korea are far more difficult to solve than can be condensed into a bumper sticker to place on a student’s car. While I use the term bumper sticker politics to describe this bad habit of oversimplifying political discourse, it could also easily be referred to as twitter politics or soundbite politics. The idea is that, in order to be able to participate in political discussion, Americans are learning the bare minimum on the topics they wish to discuss from social media and mass media soundbites.

Relying on these sources for political knowledge results in contentious arguments and identity politics that rarely solve problems or increase anyone’s understanding of the political landscape. One doesn’t have to look far to see the effects of bumper sticker politics. It is at the root of the Antifa riots at UC Berkley and the white supremacist protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville. Perhaps the best example of bumper sticker politics stoking the flames was the assassination attempt of several Republican congressmen by James T. Hodgekinson.  Hodgekinson’s Facebook page showed membership in groups such as “Terminate the Republican Party,” and “Donald Trump is not my President.”  He liked and shared articles that called for the removal of Republicans from office. 

While most people do not take expressing their political beliefs to that extent, they express them nonetheless, often on social media. These arguments often contain very little policy and a lot of soundbites regurgitated from social media news sources.  These are followed by replies that have almost nothing to do with what started the argument.

It’s clear that bumper sticker politics has taken hold of today’s political landscape.  But how is it to be combatted?  First and foremost, we must stop buying into it. Learn to recognize bumper sticker politics. If an article from a social media source uses a couple of buzz phrases but only consists of one or two hundred words, it’s probably not the best choice for a matter as serious as race relations in the United States. Take the time to read the longer and more thought out pieces from syndicated news providers, and even then, consider why the material may be represented the way it is. Study the history of specific policies and learn the statistics surrounding them. When having conversations with peers, ask them why they feel the way they do or why they believe a certain policy or politician is correct. Think independently and don’t be so quick to follow the crowd. 

Ronald Reagan once said “Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.”  Bumper sticker politics is the mess we find ourselves in these days. Let’s make an effort to change the status quo.   

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College students need to move past “Bumper Sticker Politics”