Founder and Editor-in-chief of news site Vox.com Ezra Klein emphasized the long-lasting implications of the current election cycle on the U.S. political environment during a discussion held in Copley Formal Lounge on Thursday.
The event, hosted by the Georgetown Lecture Fund and co-sponsored by The Hoya and The Georgetown Voice, was the seventh Annual Michael Jurist Memorial Lecture honoring the memory of former Lecture Fund Chair Michael Jurist (SFS ’07) and saw a turnout that filled the room.
Vox.com is a news site owned by the Vox Media Company. Established in 2014, it is dedicated to explaining and clarifying news and daily issues. During its first month, it received over five million unique visitors. Today it reaches over 23 million unique visitors per month.
The Georgetown Voice Editor-in-chief Daniel Varghese (SFS ’17) introduced Klein and praised him for the large amount of articles he has contributed to Vox, despite his position as the editor-in-chief. Klein then began by stating how the original intent of his speech was to discuss policymaking in Washington, but he had decided to focus on the pressing issue of the current state of U.S. politics during this election cycle.
“I think this has become a pretty dark time in American politics, and I think it requires people to think a little differently — for me to think a little different than I have in years,” Klein said.
The subject of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s success in the primaries was a theme of the lecture, though Klein made it clear he did not believe Trump would win the presidency.
Klein said Trump’s rise brings to light some of the weak points of the U.S. political system.
“What we are seeing here is that our institutions are not as strong as we think, at least not right now,” Klein said.
Citing both Bernie Sanders’ and Trump’s candidacies as examples, Klein said the current two-party system has silenced some beliefs held by the population, which has contributed to the rise in popularity of Trump and Sanders.
“I think something we see with Bernie Sanders, but more so with Donald Trump, is there are ideological equilibriums that are suppressed by our political system,” Klein said. “What Donald Trump has done in the Republican Party specifically is to develop and sharpen a tendency he already knew was there.”
Klein said Trump’s success is emblematic of a larger trend and should not be dismissed as a fluke.
“What Trump has done is to scramble these position spaces, and in doing he has found something really powerful. It would be a mistake to see him as a one-off phenomena,” Klein said.
Klein said media bias is not ideological, but rather bias towards sensationalism and ratings. He further asserted Trump is a mastermind at using existing media bias to his advantage.
“All of the coverage would have naturally started going to Ted Cruz, because what you do in the media is when someone else begins to lead in the polls, is that you begin vetting them,” Klein said. “Donald Trump wrenched all that coverage back to him.”
Klein said another issue with the current political environment is the amount of polarization present in both Democrats and Republicans. When both parties become more extreme, Klein argued, individuals are more likely to support their party’s nominee.
“Now the stakes are higher. Even if you don’t like the person your party has chosen, voting for them is still the rational choice,” Klein said.
As the speech drew to a close, Klein discussed the effects of online media and how it fuels polarization. He warned that the Internet tailors news outlets and search results to match one’s ideology, leading to the creation of an echo chamber without opposing views.
“You can find yourself only absorbing news from outlets that agree with you,” Klein said. “The result is an atmosphere of fear, of mistrust and concern that leads people to feel that the stakes are much higher than ever.”
Klein stressed the importance of not becoming complacent and for citizens to play an active role to protect the American political system.
“We have to protect our democracy, we have to protect our political system, we have to protect our freedoms, in this era as much as we have in any other era,” Klein said. “We don’t get to take it for granted. Every generation doesn’t get to decide that the last generation has truly vanquished the demons.”
Grace Smith (COL ’18), who attended the event, said she enjoyed Klein’s speech and appreciated the diverse perspectives he brought forth.
“I think he is incredibly intelligent, and I definitely really appreciate the lecture fund for taking the time to have someone who so well-versed in these issues come here,” Smith said.
Jonny Amon (MSB ’19) said he found the discussion interesting, especially when it came to Klein’s analysis of Trump and his campaign.
“I thought it was really cool to see his perspective and like how he pushes out what he thinks and hearing him talk about Donald Trump in particular and other political candidates,” Amon said.
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