Monday, November 21, 2016

Don’t wait to be inspired: the art of civics

For years to come, the U.S. will reflect upon the fact that a reality TV star became the commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world.  Last month I made a couple observations about what the 2016 presidential election said about our media—namely, it broke apart the wall between entertainment and news, giving us unrestrained infotainment and an unappetizing dose of sexism.

What’s just as striking is that almost half of the country didn’t vote.  NPR recently broke down the exit poll data (the only accurate polls this year), and one takeaway is this: low voter turnout, particularly among younger voters, had an enormous effect on the election results, which is why Trump’s victory surprised so many.  To put it simply, Obama won because of the Millennial vote; Clinton lost because of a lack thereof—the people that pollsters expected to vote just didn’t show up on Election Day.


There are various reasons for this political indifference.  The election was unbearably negative, turning off potential voters.  People are sick of the two-party system and establishment politics.  Many think that too much money influences elections.  There are problems with the Electoral College.

I don’t disagree with any of these reasons.  However, I do want to highlight another reason that’s often ignored in public discourse: civic apathy.
Basically, it sounds like this:

I don't need to vote.  Politics doesn't affect me anyway.
I don't want to vote unless I'm inspired.

In such statements, there’s no consideration or caring about how politics affects our lives—or the lives of others.  For instance, the outcome of this election will undoubtedly affect the climate crisis, healthcare, and how we include (or fail to include) immigrants and minority groups in our society.

To help lead us out of this apathy, I’d like to pose a personal challenge: inspire, and don’t wait to be inspired.

Some citizens don't vote because they're not ‘inspired’ to make an effort.  I don’t believe that’s a healthy way to see civics.  It’s not even a healthy way to see life.  If I sit around waiting for the rest of the world to inspire me, then nothing will become of my life.

So let’s put it this way ...

It’s not always the responsibility of politicians to inspire voters.  Quite the reverse: it’s the responsibility of voters to inspire politicians.
(Image from Amazon)

Perhaps we should think of civics as an artthe art of inspiring and caring, as opposed to not giving a hoot.
I find this attitude much healthier than just waiting for the world to inspire us or to go perfectly our way.  If we don’t inspire or care, shady interests will fill the void.  As John Dewey wrote in The Public and its Problems,

“Nature abhors a vacuum.”  When the public is as uncertain and obscure as it is to-day, and hence as remote from government, bosses with their political machines fill the void between government and the public.[1]

On his final trip abroad as president, Mr. Obama recently said something similar.  Check it out in the video below.


[1] John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1954 [1927]), 120.