Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains Why We Have Dysfunctional Politicians

Astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson reveals if he'd run for President and what he would do if elected.

In a recent interview with StarTalk Radio, astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson called for people to be smarter in how they elect their leaders.

When asked by an online viewer whether he would run for President, Tyson referred back to answering a similar question by the New York Times all the way back in 2011. It was at a time when Congress was at an impasse, and the Times asked Tyson to respond what he’d do to solve the crisis if he was President. 

Tyson said that his answer is the same now as it was back then - he doesn’t have an interest in leading people.

“If I were President, I would not be President… My interest as an educator and especially as a scientist is educating people so that they can make as an informed decision as they can when they elect who they want to represent them," Tyson shared. [1:08]

And he also sees a greater problem in American politics - people generally deserve the leaders they elect. At issue is not just who is at the head, but how informed are the people electing them. 

“You just went around swapping leaders back and forth. You haven’t solved the electorate problem,” said Tyson. [1:29] 

He expands on his thinking further, saying that any problems in the government are not just a creation of the politicians that the average citizens like to disparage.  

“If we have dysfunctional politicians, it’s because we have a dysfunctional electorate," Tyson pointed out. [1:45]

He means that it’s the people who vote to put politicians into office. If they don’t like them, they can vote them out.  

Is Tyson right about this? According to 2016 statistics compiled by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, last year 97% of House members, 93% of senators and 80% of governors were re-elected. These stunning numbers are actually higher than average in a year when most Americans professed to hate Congress, giving it an average of 17% favorability rating for 2016. 

Not to mention the turnout. Only about 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in the last election. 

In his response to the New York Times, Tyson elaborated on the particular importance of increasing one’s scientific knowledge and thinking to become more informed about issues. He said it will reveal “the truths of the world” that do not rely on beliefs: 

“When you’re scientifically literate, the world looks different to you. It’s a particular way of questioning what you see and hear. When empowered by this state of mind, objective realities matter. These are the truths of the world that exist outside of whatever your belief system tells you,” said Tyson.

As for himself, this is precisely the kind of role he sees himself in for now, an educator rather than a Presidential hopeful. 

“I would rather disseminate knowledge and wisdom and insight to all that I can,” concluded Tyson. [2:20]

While Tyson may not yet harbor any Presidential ambitions, we can certainly dream. A highly accomplished expert and communicator from the scientific community running the country? Now that a businessman is getting a try, all such thoughts seem possible.

If we are saying that it’s more important for the President to be an embodiment of our emotional and intellectual state rather than a career politician, which is what President Trump seems to be for a part of America, then so can Neil deGrasse Tyson carry the mantle for the new “forgotten people” - those who value science and facts. 

See the whole interview with StarTalk Radio here:

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