Our Founding Fathers created a democracy based on informed voters carefully selecting a representative government. The reality is that, after nearly 240 years, we have neither an informed public nor a representative government. The most recent election is a case in point.
After six years of Teapublican obstruction, the approval rating of Congress was lower than the approval of cockroaches. So what did our “informed” voters do? They re-elected the vast majority of the incumbents and gave extra seats to members of the party that was responsible for the obstruction. Our national political pundits explained this phenomenon as the result of a low voter turnout and massive spending of “dark money” to elect candidates who would repay their benefactors with fewer regulations and more tax cuts. I explained that it was the result of the failure of the Democratic Party to promote its record of pulling our economy out of perhaps the biggest hole in history, making affordable health care available to most Americans, improving our nation’s standing throughout the world, expanding consumer protections and attempting to expand civil rights to all segments of our population.
There’s a better explanation.
This past Sunday, Fareed Zakaria, on his CNN show Global Public Square, featured an Ipsos MORI international study that measured the political ignorance in 14 western nations. The study asked respondents from those nations about various issues ranging from unemployment to immigration. While Italy ranked number one as the least informed citizenry, voters in the US ranked a close second. For example, when asked about unemployment in the US, our respondents guessed that the figure was 32 percent when the real number is less than 6 percent nationwide. When asked about the number of recent immigrants in our country, Americans guessed that they make up 32 percent of our population, when the real number is about 13 percent. Asked about the number of Muslims in our country, Americans guessed that Muslims comprise 15 percent of our population, when the real figure is 1 percent.
The large number of poorly informed voters explains why voters continue to vote against their own self-interests; why poor people vote for officials who give large tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations; why they vote for officials who refuse to raise the minimum wage; why women vote for officials who refuse to demand equal pay for equal work; why the retired and near-retired vote for representatives who want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.
Of course, we also have to ask ourselves why so many Americans are so poorly informed. The answer can be summed up in two words: schools and media.
Many of our schools no longer teach civics. As a result, many of our young people have never read the Constitution. They don’t even know how our government works. In addition, many of our nation’s textbooks are edited and approved by Texas conservatives so that they more resemble Christian and military propaganda than American history or science. For instance, we are still teaching children that Christopher Columbus discovered America when historians agree that he didn’t. And many of our schools are forced to teach “creationism” as an alternative to evolution, even though evolution is a fact as established as the theory of gravity.
Further, our so-called news media have placed an emphasis on entertainment and sensationalism to drive ratings at the expense of real news and information. As a result, we all know about the latest murder trial or the marital status of celebrities. But we don’t know the beliefs and agendas of the candidates on our ballots. Neither do we know world events that will ultimately affect us. We don’t even know that the US has been fighting wars for all but 13 years of our nation’s history. And we don’t know that our own actions led to most of them. Worse yet, we don’t know that our nation is no longer a democracy. Numerous political scientists and economists have proven that, by definition, it has become an oligarchy. (Of course, our poorly educated public likely doesn’t even know what an oligarchy is.)
The point of all this is to say that, if you don’t like our government, it’s not entirely the fault of those who were elected. It’s not necessarily the fault of one political party or our political system. The fault is our own, because we voted the scoundrels into office without ever bothering to ask what they will do. We’re only interested in which tribe they belong to – red or blue.