We break now from our moratorium on political commentary to highlight a modest but spot-on op-ed piece in the New York Times. And, if you’ll permit, we’ll break from this ridiculously formal first-person plural thing, too.
I’ve done more than a little railing about Donald Trump and his lying, and the whole phenomenon of “fake news” and slanted news, and the difficulty of finding the truth. Timothy Egan touches on all of that in his piece in the Times, “We’re With Stupid.”
Egan’s aim, though, is not to jump on Trump or Fox News or CNN or anyone else who distorts the truth. Instead, he’s out to jump on us, on We the People — dang it, back to the plural thing — for allowing ourselves to be sidetracked by a sexy headline and a narcissist with the morals of a snake-oil salesman.
We allow this … why?
Because, simply, we’re stupid.
From Egan’s Nov. 17 bit:
We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.
Egan is right, and you know it. Especially on that last part.
To state the painfully obvious, the man we’ve elected as president is kind of a disaster. You want a list of what he’s messed up? Sorry. Don’t have the time or the stomach. Read the news. Almost any news.
You cannot — I’m using cannot again, so you know this is serious — be happy about where we are under this guy. And that means we have a duty, all of us, to fix this. As soon as possible.
That, unfortunately, is the problem. Most of us either don’t understand that we have that duty, have forgotten it or have just plain ignored it. We find excuses. We make them up. We have all kinds of lame reasons for not doing a thnig:
- It’s too much hassle.
- It’s easier just to bitch.
- Speaking up/voting/caring won’t make a difference.
- It’s politics.
- I don’t want to get into an argument with my redneck neighbors.
What part of “duty” don’t we get?
I’m guilty. I try my best to stay informed. I whine on an invisible blog. I get into conversations, even uncomfortable ones sometimes, with those who don’t think like me. But outside of that?
Heck, I sent a few bucks to moveon.org months ago, got a couple bumper stickers in the mail and still — still! — haven’t mustered up the guts to put one on my 8-year-old Honda. I mean, c’mon. I should welcome a redneck neighbor taking out a bit of conservative anger on my Accord. Proves me right AND I get a new ride. Sweet.
Egan is saying, sadly, that most people are much worse than me. He’s saying most people don’t act because most don’t know the first thing about being an American.
His proof: One out of every three Americans, Egan writes, is unable to name even a single branch of government. I mean, there are only three, but that’s just plain (to paraphrase a liar) Sad!
Even worse: A study from Xavier University found that 1 in 3 native-born Americans would flunk the civics portion of the naturalization test, something immigrants pass at a 97 percent clip. Literally, immigrants know more about being an American than native-born Americans do.
(The test includes questions like “What ocean is on the West Coast of the United State?” and “Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s?” You can take a sample 20-question test, if you dare.)
(I stumbled on the term length for a U.S. representative. I am an idiot.)
Our ignorance has put us here, where a liar can lie his ass off (get this — more than 1,600 times in his first 300 days in office, according to the Washington Post) and too many of us accept it as truth, or shrug it off, or excuse it away, or ignore it altogether as somehow … normal. Acceptable. We act powerless.
But we’re not. A crook is a crook, true. A bully is a bully. A liar is a liar. But they get away with it only if no one calls them on it.
We have to call them on it. All of us. We have to call him on it.
The dangers of ignorance and apathy, especially now, are too real to slough off. Michael Ford, the founding director of Xavier’s Center for the Study of the American Dream, the outfit that did the above study, says this: “Civic illiteracy threatens the American Dream because it threatens the freedoms we treasure. Civic illiteracy makes us more susceptible to manipulation and abuses of power.”
We’re seeing these abuses already, a year in. Firing James Comey. Hiring family and cronies. Profiting off his position. Painfully lowering the level of intelligent discourse at a time it is needed the most. Abdicating our role as a world leader. Threatening the very health and peace of the planet.
(Really. Enough. No time. No stomach.)
Lesson No. 1 in our Civics 101 refresher course, then, should be this: We the people — plural — have the power.
Lesson No. 2, the one we all should know, is that we’re duty-bound to use it. We are an integral part of the checks and balances in this system. If we don’t embrace that, use that power, we get what we deserve.
Lesson No. 3: It’s time for me to man up and slap that damn bumper sticker on my car. It’s a start.