Why is the Quality of our Politicians So Poor?

The United States political arena used to have a veil of professionalism that no longer exists in the Post-Trump era. Nothing better represents the aesthetics of politics changing than Fox news criticizing Obama for wearing an unpresidential tan suit and, then a year later, vocally supporting a candidate who brought up his political opponent’s small hand size in debates. Trump’s election as president then encouraged record numbers of unqualified candidates to run in this year’s midterm elections, from ex-pro athletes to TV show hosts.

The rise of underqualified political candidates has somehow coincided with the rise of nationalistic and fascistic political movements. This phenomenon has not been confined to the United States. In 2022 alone, the world has seen fascist politicians elected to leadership in Italy and fascist parties across Europe rising to relevancy. Along with the legitimization of fascism, there has been a delegitimization of politicians and a deterioration of the veil of prestige that politicians once held. 

This deterioration of respect for politicians is poignantly depicted in a viral series of TikTok called “Moments Which Made U.S Politics My Favorite Reality TV Show.” The videos show various clips of the absurd things our politicians have said, from our archaic President Joe Bidens’, “poor kids are just as talented and just as bright as white ones” to Republican Senator Kennedy’s “Christmas ornaments, drywall, and Jeffrey Epstein-name three things that don’t hang themselves.”

At first glance, some might blame the rise of nationalism and Trump for endorsing these poorly qualified candidates and erasing politics’ previous veneer of respectability. However, this would be an incomplete analysis of our deteriorating political system.

In Rutger Bregman’s book, Utopia for Realists, he explains that because jobs on Wall Street and in Corporate America offer the most money and power, the smartest minds in our countries choose to construct increasingly complex financial products for profit. Instead of dedicating their time to ventures which create tangible value in society, they spend their time at best shifting wealth around and, at worst, destroying the wealth created by Americans. Then they look down at their fat paychecks and pat themselves on the back with the assumption that their salary is a reflection of their apparent necessity. From 2007 to 2011, for every dollar Wall Street made, it destroyed eight dollars of wealth elsewhere. In contrast, for every dollar a garbage man makes, he creates five dollars of tangible value in the economy. 

In the United States and abroad, economic inequality has reached all-time highs. In the United States alone, economic inequality has reached levels worse than the Gilded Age, a time when child labor was legal, the minimum wage wasn’t a concept, and corporate bosses would work people to their deaths. As the wealthy and their corporations systematically decrease taxes and purchase the passage of legislation through campaign donations, it becomes increasingly undeniable that politicians are mostly puppets of the 1%. Yanis Varoufakis explains that because power has been withdrawn from the political sphere, the educated, bright young minds of our country decide to look elsewhere in search of influence.

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