What if We the People (the powers that—through our elected representatives—be in this country) were to abolish Thanksgiving and establish a program...?The sad fact is that We the People can hardly do anything anymore. We are so far from being "the powers that be" that even our ballots make little difference. That's one reason why fewer and fewer citizens vote. I acknowledge this reluctantly, and with sadness, for as recently as last year I condemned non-voters for shirking their civic responsibility.
Well, as often happens, given the excellent op-ed columnists I read in The New York Times, one of them has identified some reasons why we no longer have much power. In "Advice from Grandma" (November 22), Thomas L. Friedman named "six things [that] have come together to fracture our public space and paralyze our ability to forge optimal solutions":
1) Money in politics has become so pervasive that lawmakers have to spend most of their time raising it, selling their souls to those who have it or defending themselves from the smallest interest groups with deep pockets that can trump the national interest.When we think about it, we tend to think that this reason alone is sufficient to render us voters powerless. The other five things hardly seem worth mentioning:
2) The gerrymandering of political districts means politicians of each party can now choose their own voters and never have to appeal to the center.Yet these five are "worth mentioning," if only to deliver the coup de grâce: If we thought we'd become irrelevant because our representatives have been bought, we now know (or have just been told) that there are all these other reasons why we'll likely never be able to buy them back. "These six factors," writes Friedman,
3) The cable TV culture encourages shouting and segregating people into their own political echo chambers.
4) A permanent presidential campaign leaves little time for governing.
5) The Internet, which, at its best, provides a check on elites and establishments and opens the way for new voices and, which, at its worst provides a home for every extreme view and spawns digital lynch mobs from across the political spectrum that attack anyone who departs from their specific orthodoxy.
6) A U.S. business community that has become so globalized that it only comes to Washington to lobby for its own narrow interests; it rarely speaks out anymore in defense of national issues like health care, education and open markets.
are pushing our system, which was designed to have divided powers and to force compromises, into the realm of paralysis. To get anything big done now, we have to generate so many compromises—couched in 1,000-plus-page bills—with so many different interest groups that the solutions are totally suboptimal. We just get the sum of all interest groups.But Friedman has an answer!
...The real answer is that we need better citizens. We need citizens who will convey to their leaders that they are ready to sacrifice, even pay, yes, higher taxes, and will not punish politicians who ask them to do the hard things.Somehow I find Friedman's "answer," though the "better citizens" part is no doubt in some way true, rather beside the point, in the sense that it will never happen. I fear we're going to suffer Friedman's "otherwise":
Otherwise, folks, we’re in trouble. A great power that can only produce suboptimal responses to its biggest challenges will, in time, fade from being a great power—no matter how much imagination it generates1._______________
- Friedman had argued earlier in the piece that America is still the most imaginative nation on Earth.