Disillusionment of American Citizens

October 10, 2014

In the realm of American citizenship, a few things have tweaked my “blog spot” this week. The jury duty issue remains unresolved, and won’t be cleared up until at least next Tuesday. But as I have been thinking about my role as a citizen, and a Christian one at that, I have uncovered some reasons for disillusionment with our constitutional democracy. Don’t get all excited reading that statement: I am not critical of our system of government in theory, but disillusionment overshadows my optimism in practice. Some specific indicators:

  1. Many citizens show amazing enthusiasm for the privileges of American life, its constitutional protections, and its success over 238 years, but far too many of those same people complain bitterly about the responsibilities: taxes, jury duty, voting, and advocating for the common good.

  2. Party politics has become so polarized that constructive partnership to solve common problems seems rare. Unfortunately, the two dominant parties have lost common ground over the last few decades, according to the Pew Research Center. A vote cast for one party or the other (creating a majority in Congress, for example) has come to mean that middle-of-the-road issues are not going to be addressed. So few seem willing to move toward the middle of the political spectrum to get those things done.

  3. This year the deceptive ad campaigns for various propositions on the California ballot have already started. I say ‘deceptive’ because a columnist in our local paper goes through the broadcast ads with a fine-tooth comb to check facts. Honestly, the outdated, misconstrued, and accusatory content of these ads is just appalling. But people believe them, and vote accordingly.

  4. Money drives everything, and, in particular, money talks a lot louder than constructive ideas for solving problems. I find this sad and frustrating. Lots and lots of money is required to keep those stupid ads on the radio, TV, and in my mailbox. But when you look at a flyer, for instance, there is not one shred of actual content you can evaluate in order to make an informed decision. What these ads are really doing is saying, “Some of us with some money are mad as heck about [this or that] and for this reason we want you to vote our way.” Great.

  5. Freedom, one of the most highly valued American dreams, does not naturally support national unity. If you’ve got 316 million people in this country all jockeying to get their way, on their terms, you’ve got 316 million people who want to be the center of the universe. Think about it: if I have an absolute right to privacy (one form of “freedom”), for instance, I can create my own little island of self-fulfilling hedonism and close the door to responsibility for fellow citizens. In another context, if you— my CEO, my pastor, my representative, my professor—do not adopt and celebrate my ideas, I can make sure you lose your job and are shamed into obscurity. In one fell swoop, supposedly in the name of freedom many peoples’ freedoms (free speech, free expression of religion, freedom of assembly, etc.) are being intimidated into silence and inaction, dividing the nation and making unity impossible.

  6. Tolerance, demonstrated brilliantly by our forebears in American history, has been reduced to a particular definition of what constitutes tolerance. And great intolerance is shown to those who believe and act differently that that definition allows. Two hundred years ago, tolerance was demonstrated by respect for an opposing point of view even as one argued against it. A vigorous debate was seen as good for problem solving and tension relief, but in the end compromises were made for the common good so that unity could be achieved. In general, I would say that Americans have become very intolerant, unable to conduct civil debate, and blind to common causes. It is only “what’s in it for me.”

You’ve heard a recurring theme in this piece, I hope, of common ground and the common good. I’m going to have to dig up the quotation, but one of the recent popes has said that no political/economic system has any potential unless God is recognized as the ultimate authority under which our laws and practices are ordered. So my conclusion is that the American problem is fundamentally a spiritual problem. As long as human beings must rule their own universe, they are going to be greedy, demanding, and unreasonable people. But when people submit to God, they get practiced at looking outward beyond the realm of self-satisfaction and into the public square where they can be champions of the common good. The unity I believe we used to possess, but have lost, is made possible not by everybody adopting the same specific doctrine but by everybody acknowledging a real dependence upon God, who is good and just and strong and able to help them steward the nation.

 

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One Response to “Disillusionment of American Citizens”

  1. Jeff Farley Says:

    I like a great deal. I would just note that comprise among the political elites has always been tenuous. The ugliness of the Adams/Jackson presidential campaign was ugly, and the House had a gag rule against politicians speaking against slavery. Comprimise has often been elusive.

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