The Duty of Citizenship

I want to elaborate a little bit on a random tweet-thought I expressed this morning.

…I think we are seeing recently that fame is actually more useful for changing the world than holding elected office

My basic point was that it seems to me that popular, famous people are able to motivate the citizenry into action a lot more than any innate sense of civic duty.

Recently (say, in the last 10-15 years, roughly the exact same time period of the rise of The Internet), I think we have seen a conflation of politics and popularity. What people remember about Obama is not his policies, but his likeableness. People presume he was a great president (especially now) because he was a cool guy with great comic timing, while completely forgetting that he authorized the bombing of hundreds of civilians with military drones.

Political consultants place a huge amount of emphasis on a candidate’s “electability,” which is, basically, how good does this man or woman look on television? How articulate are they? Is their hair thick and lustrous? Is their smile perfect and their teeth perfectly straight? It doesn’t matter nearly as much what they say, as long as they have a great smile while they’re saying it.

Trump, obviously, threw a bit of a wrench into that formula. He was like, “I’m me and you can just suck it.” It shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did. Honestly I think it was a big part of his appeal. A lot of people in everyday life express the same sentiment.

But back to my point. This is just my personal opinion, but I believe most American citizens are extremely uneducated about the government they have been entrusted with protecting. Most people probably have absolutely no idea that they are completely responsible for its safety.

I used to be one of those people. I don’t think I ever voted before 2004, to be honest (well into my 30s). I would have had a very difficult time describing the difference between a Republican and a Democrat back then. I might have been one of those people you saw an Jay Leno’s Jaywalking bit where he asked people on the street to name the vice president, and I would have been like, “Uhhhh. Wait, wait, I know this!” (Actually I don’t think I’ve ever been that bad, but you get the idea.)

My point is that people literally don’t know or care they have a duty as citizens of a representative democracy to educate themselves about politics and government. It’s one of only three ways, by my count, that we can serve our country: By voting, by serving on jury duty, and by serving in the military. Well, I guess it would be four if you count running for office, but that’s just a waste of time these days if you don’t have thick hair and perfect teeth, isn’t it?

There are probably people in Alabama who don’t even know there’s a huge special election with massive political ramifications for their state today. You and I might boggle over that, considering it’s been the subject of almost every news cycle in every publication for the past month, but I have no doubt there are people who go about their lives without reading a single word of news.

Because I used to be one of them. I would get up, go about my computer programming work from home, and go to bed without ever seeing a single thing that happened outside my house all day. Maybe that’s understandable in the 90s, before we all lived on The Internet, but even in November 2016, I personally witnessed many of my coworkers express little or no interest in the election–before, during, or after. I’m quite sure many of them didn’t vote.

So very few people are going to vote in Alabama today because they knew there would be a special election to replace their senator Jeff Sessions, saw Roy Moore and Doug Jones speak, considered their platforms carefully, and made an informed decision based on the issues.

The vast majority are going to vote because a slew of famous people in mostly entertainment industries with very public platforms on television, radio, and the Internet have pleaded with them to vote one way or the other. (News counts as an entertainment industry, by the way.)

And that’s how America is going to die.

But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.*

* Okay, I watched Dennis Miller Live every Friday on HBO in the 90s. That’s how I knew who the vice president was.