The Dallas Morning News
Most Americans say we’re off track
With hard work, we can overcome obstacles that culture, human nature and even democracy present
Last year an AP/NORC poll reported that 85% of Americans said our country is going in the wrong direction. Wow! We are in a bad place with the state of our democracy. We can’t agree on anything, it seems, except that we are in big trouble. It sounds like we citizens feel that the great American experiment of casting off the bonds of royalty and democratically governing ourselves is near failure.
Why? Is it the times? Is it us? Is it democracy itself ? Yes. Yes. Yes.
First let’s deal with the democracy thing. Doing democracy is damn hard. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given the inclusive nature of democracy itself. It has always been hard. Both majority and minorities must passionately believe in the rule of law and must respect a time-consuming process that is maddening. Then throw in a big spoonful of performative politicians who don’t shoot straight about complex problems, and it seems impossible to do democracy.
But the times, they are also testy. Life, economics, ethics, knowledge, human rights, ecology, yes, and even truth are vastly more complicated than ever before. The world is changing so fast. The rate of change regarding public opinion on social issues is mind-boggling, maybe even as fast as technology’s change rate. And then technology itself, through social media, exacerbates the polarization everyone feels. Our e pluribus unum population is more multifaceted every year. All of this makes pleasing a populace more difficult each day.
Now for the tough news. Take a deep breath. Let’s talk about you and me. We don’t like hard things. We are spoiled and fragile and don’t like friction. I believe we are more averse to the type of work that democracy demands of us than ever before. It’s no wonder. Life is relatively easy in many ways, and many of us get our way on most fronts. Life is customized, personalized, shrinkwrapped and delivered by Amazon to our front doors. And we are lost, depressed and don’t feel valued when it’s not.
Democracy is messy, our times are more complex than any time in our country’s history, and we are softer than we have ever been. Ergo, 85% say we are lost.
What doesn’t make sense, though, is the fact that most people around the world will do most anything to get to America and sit with us around our kitchen table and have the opportunities that we have. America is Nirvana to them. Are they seeing something we aren’t seeing? Probably.
It may be time for a new perspective. Gaining political power is nice for the winners but that should not be our ultimate goal.
Our goal should be participation in a robust form of government that should include everyone. And in doing that, in the long run, we all are better for it.
I was a recent college graduate in the summer of 1976, the summer of our bicentenial, when the country also seemed in disarray: Watergate, generational discord, high inflation and unemployment. Many polls showed Americans felt that we had lost our way back then, as well.
Out of Texas came a remarkable woman delivering a remarkable keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. She decided to address this democracy issue head-on instead of beating up on Republicans and boasting about Democrats. Her name was Barbara Jordan, and she said:
“A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good. Let each person do his or her part. If one citizen is unwilling to participate, all of us are going to suffer. Let there be no illusions about the difficulty of forming this kind of a national community. It’s tough, difficult, not easy. But a spirit of harmony will survive in America only if each of us remembers that we share a common destiny.”
Most of us want America’s democracy to succeed. Many of us, but not enough of us, are willing to do his or her part, and because of that all of us suffer. I know it’s hard. But as President John F. Kennedy reminded us, “We choose to go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it’s hard.”
We are at our best when we do hard things, individually and corporately. And the result of making our democracy succeed through that effort is so, so worth it.