The Importance of Informed Citizens


Jack Malcolm, Freelance Writer

This article is the first in a multi-part series on the role of truth in U.S politics.

Lin Manuel Miranda, the writer and lead of Hamilton, described Aaron Burr as being “a tremendous fan of the arena.” The “arena” that Miranda refers to is the world of United States politics. In recent months my own fandom of this coliseum, which holds such a robust grip over American lives, has grown exponentially.

For as long as I can remember, I have routinely watched ESPN, intent on learning about likely results of the weekend football games and how a defensive scheme might handle their opponent’s offensive weapons. I now spend a large portion of my free-time watching pundits debate topical issues that affect the nation’s international and domestic policy. I haven’t lost any passion for football, rather it has translated to my interest in politics.

The dawning of my fascination in political science was met with a key obstruction. I couldn’t use the same tactics to become versed in politics as I could with football. My football predictions are easy to make. I often look at the statistics regarding the offenses and defenses as well as the individual match-ups to determine which team has the upper-hand. I quickly realized that facts containing the whole truth of a subject are much more difficult to come by in the realm of U.S. politics than those concerning football.

Facts, evidence, and statistics allow the U.S. to function. The U.S. is a democratic nation that puts power in the hands of its citizens. Both elected officials and candidates for office must be held accountable by citizens to ensure that the government has the people’s best interests in mind. To do this, citizens need to know what actions political figures are trying to take and have already taken. Citizens within a democratic form of government have a duty to stay informed and this is only possible if citizens know the facts surrounding the issues with which the government is faced.

This brings me back to my earlier point. National and international policies are heavily nuanced in order to compromise for the parties affected. Most citizens do not have a degree in political science or law, so comprehension of these policies can be very difficult to achieve. To understand the facts, everyday people need to rely on political figures that do have knowledge on the subjects.

Unfortunately most political figures have an agenda. They need the support of the majority of the population in order to gain power within government and pass legislation that they feel will be beneficial to average people and those that have supported them. Gaining this support is done, in large part, by providing evidence that shows how the people will be benefactors to new legislation and the new officials that come with it. Sadly, the truth is often stretched, omitted, or ignored completely in attempts to persuade voters.

Without the ability to make sense of governmental policy and trust those preaching it, citizens are often left stranded in search of an unbiased source. This situation has given rise to fact-checking organizations that champion the movement of building an informed public.

The next installment of the series will explore the emergence of fact-checking organizations and why they are so critical to the everyday American.

Jack Malcolm is an ODA sophomore. As an opinion writer, his views are his own and do not necessarily represent an official position of the Out-of-Door Academy.