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Trump, US challenges, and Americans voters' IQ


Well, here comes 2019, and given the state of politics and the state of the country, I’m not sure we have a lot to look forward to.

The next presidential election is less than two years away. Prospective candidates have already started visiting the states that are supposed to be key, early indicators of voter preferences. And soon, the official campaign announcements will begin.

(Factoid: We’re less than six months away from the fourth anniversary of the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president.)

For most of its history, this country has played a major role in the world. The federal government has played an important role in the lives of the people. But as 2018 ends, the leader of the country is a man who seems to know very little about science, economics, foreign policy, the environment, or much else, and doesn’t seem to care. Jim Mattis’s resignation as defense secretary last week is just one more indication of the risks we face with Donald Trump in the White House.

In November 2020, we’ll have a chance to get things right. And in a very few months, we’ll begin the process of choosing the people who will run against Donald Trump. You’ve gotta wonder, though, whether our decision will be any better than it was in 2016 – and in 2015, when we began assessing the people jumping into the race.

Are we smart enough to choose the right person this time? Right now, the country faces challenges involving immigration, health care, poverty, the economy, Syria, Russia, Mexico, Yemen, the Kurds, the Palestinians, North and South Korea, NATO, climate change, guns, addiction, tax policy, technology….

The mind boggles.

Does it matter whether presidents know what they’re doing? In 2016, the country had a choice, primarily, between a woman who was qualified to be president and a man who clearly was not. We ended up with the latter.

Donald Trump’s ignorance wasn’t in doubt. But enough Americans chose him anyway that he was able to win in the Electoral College. They voted out of anger. Or prejudice. Or ignorance.

Voter intelligence is important, too. And all of us, of all political stripes, are failing the voter IQ test.

In the New York Times last week, Nicholas Kristof talked about his “duds” of this year: the columns that got the lowest online readership. (Thanks to technology, journalists can get that information – in real time, if we want it.)

The topics of Kristof’s poorest performers: sexual violence in other countries, human rights in North Korea, global illiteracy, and America’s role in Yemen. All had to do with international problems. When journalists write about something going on somewhere else in the world, online readers – even of the New York Times – click away. We’re just not interested.

That lack of reader interest leads to changes in journalists’ assignments and in space allocation. And less of the news of the world is published, even if we want to read it. Same thing with many other news topics.

Is this the media’s fault? Well, a bit. But media organizations have spent decades changing our design, shortening sentences and paragraphs, hiring writing coaches, adding graphics and photos and video: all in an attempt to make news palatable to a public increasingly more interested in entertainment and self-gratification than in education and enlightenment.

That same public must now start thinking about choosing a new president. That’s not making me look forward to the new year.