Monday, December 4, 2023
#338 / How We Feel And What To Do About That
How do we (Americans) feel about politics?
Well, we don't feel particularly good about politics - at least, that is what the chart pictured above tells us! What I have provided at the top of this blog posting is just a single clip from a graphic, full page spread that can be found, in its entirety, on Page B22 in the October 22, 2023, edition of the San Jose Mercury News. If you click this link (paywall protections permitting), you may be able to check out a more readable, and a more complete, depiction of how Americans view "politics."
The data recorded by the Mercury News comes from a recent survey published by the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center says that Americans' view of politics is "dismal," and reports that 65% of the persons that Pew surveyed say that "they always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics."
Here's a link to another article in that same, October 22, 2023. edition of the Mercury News. The headline on that article proclaims, "Americans’ faith in institutions has been sliding for years. The chaos in Congress isn’t helping."
It is my theory that these statistics (which I take as true) can account - or can certainly help account - for the otherwise hard to understand popular appeal of our former president, Donald J. Trump. This man is so flawed, so clearly devoted only to himself, so detached from any commitment to truth or decency, that it is hard to explain what recent polls reveal: Between forty and fifty percent of Americans asked have a "favorable" impression of Donald J. Trump.
That this is true (and I am assuming that it probably is true) should be deeply concerning. How could so many support, and actually applaud, what our former president has done, and what he continues to do, and what he promises to do, if reelected?
Let's wait for actual verdicts before counting our former president "guilty as charged" in the various criminal prosecutions brought against him. So far, he has a losing record in the civil cases in which he has been a defendant. Nonetheless.....
While it is obviously proper not to assume someone is guilty of a crime until that guilt has been proven, it is unusual that so many people actually celebrate our former president (accused of multiple, very serious crimes), in ways that other persons charged with crime are not celebrated.
Here is my theory about why this is so - or at least this is an important, if only partial, explanation. If more than half of the American public thinks that our politics is "divisive," "messy," "bad," "polarized," and "corrupt" - and I do take these statistics as true - then our former president comes across as a "truth teller."
Former president Trump may well be one of the best available examples of all that is wrong with politics, but he is not trying to convince us that he's something he's not. There are very few politicians who tell the voters that the whole political process is tainted to its very core. Many Aamericans, though, and perhaps the majority, do believe that our politics is tainted to the core, and that our politics is fundamentally "corrupt." President Biden doesn't claim that the entire political process is "corrupt." Naturally not; he's in charge of it. Former president Trump does make that claim, so for those who already hold that opinion, Biden is the liar and Trump is telling it like it is.
This, I think, is the basis of Trump's credibility - and of his continuing "favorable" reputation among voters. Giving support to someone who will, at least, "tell it like it is," can be powerfully attractive in a politics that reeks of corruption everywhere else.
Diagnosing the problem (and it definitely is a problem) does not, of course, "solve" the problem. Is there a solution?
The phrase that comes to me, as I think about what we must to to save our democratic politics, and to save the system of "self-government" that depends upon those politics, is "Lean In!" That phrase happens to be the name of a book, written by Sheryl Sandberg, the former Chief Operating Officer of Facebook (now Meta).
I have never read Sandberg's book, which is actually most directly aimed at women, and is not, specifically, about "politics" at all. Nonetheless, I think her advice is very good advice for those of us who want to save a politics that is under attack by determined and hostile forces, an attack that gains strength from the fact that so many Americans believe that our politics is "corrupt."
What "Lean In" means to me is that we (I mean ordinary Americans) need to take back control of politics by getting directly and personally involved, ourselves. Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that this is not a late-breaking idea, at least on my part. Abraham Lincoln told us, right near the end of the Civil War, a war that really divided our history in two, that the Civil War was fought to make sure that a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" will never perish from the earth.
Here we are again! Almost half of ordinary Americans no longer believe that our government is "for the people." And if that's true (and that is what the statistics to which I have referred are telling us), then the only way to ensure that self-government does not fail, and "perish from the earth," is to recussitate the second and most important part of the formula that Lincoln says describes our government.
Our government must be "by" the people, if the people are ultimately to believe that the government is both "for" them, and "of them."
Going online is a lot different from going door to door. Actually meeting real people is a lot different from watching the six o'clock news, or some other "news source" that you find online. Self-government requires personal involvement by you and me. It is best practiced at the local level. Next year, in my home town, we will not only have a federal and state election, we will have a local election, too.
My advice? Allocate some time to your personal participation in politics - starting now!