A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting down to watch the first debate between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, who are the two candidates running for a position in the U.S. Senate next year. I had seen clips of debates before, but I had never actually given the platform the attention that it warranted, or that I thought it warranted. I turned away from my television an hour later, and the only new information in my body was a sense of contempt, frustration, and futility.
Over the course of the debate, the candidates answered questions on immigration, police brutality, Brett Kavanaugh, gun control, and the national anthem. Both candidates, predictably, disagreed on each of these subjects to some extent. Republican Ted Cruz gave the generic right-wing answers to each of these questions, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke combatted as effectively as he could with the generic left-wing answers of his party. Both candidates also never missed an opportunity to waste their precious little time to tell a story of a citizen they had met recently. Occasionally, the pace was broken by thinly-veiled personal attacks, mostly coming from Ted Cruz. In fact, Cruz’s answer to the question of what he admires about his opponent and O’Rourke’s response warranted a jovial guffaw from me. Overall, if you are relatively familiar with the ideologies of this country’s main political parties, and if you’ve ever been at a high school lunch table, there’s nothing in the debate that would surprise you.
Once I had shed the feeling of disgust I was wearing like a bad cologne, I set my thoughts on what the problem was. How in the world is this the format in which we pick who’s going to have a hand on the wheel of our country? I had gone into this debate expecting to see why this Beto character was gaining so much traction, and while I believe he was much more mature in the proceeding and carried himself very professionally, he did not escape my disapproval with the system as a whole. How could he? How could anyone put forth an idea and its evidence in a convincing manner in the mere two minutes they are allowed to speak? How could anyone answer questions on how to fix our state and country when half the questions seem to come off TMZ? How are we as citizens of Texas supposed to have an informed opinion on any of the issues affecting our state when all we are exposed to is the biased, headline versions of the arguments that are presuming a moral high ground without any ground to stand on in the first place? Once you realize that this is the way politics is handled, it is easy to see why it feels like the sides of the political spectrum are less likely to work together. Texas has the lowest voter turnout for a lot of reasons, but when you stick your toe in the pool of politics you’d be hard-pressed to find a good reason to want to jump in.
Texas has always been a one-party state. With few exceptions, our ideals, don’t change drastically over time. The few times we seem to have switched parties spontaneously is due to the changes in the parties, not changes in us as a people. Party polarization, while exaggerated, is the end result of our representatives and our citizens wanting to dig their flag deeper into the ground instead of communicating with each other. This is a trend that I do not see an exit for anytime soon. As long as the elections are full of smearing, emotional appeals, popularity contests, and internet videos of air drumming, our candidates will never have the opportunity to sit down with each other and break these issues and discuss them. Each issue needs hours, not minutes, and the fact that our candidates refuse to do the work that needs to be done leaves us to do the job. Elections are supposed to inform us about our candidates’ stances on issues and their reasons for them, as well as their solutions to the problems Instead they want to put on a circus and argue about nothing for our entertainment. Candidates are ideally supposed to be among the best of us, so it is no surprise that we as a people have followed their example. Everyone wants to disagree and nobody wants to speak about why, and I thought that was the point of a debate.