In his column for May 16, Joseph Reisert says that because the U.S. population has grown more diverse, the sense of “a common political destiny” is fading. I agree with much of his analysis, but I suggest a definite cause for these changes.
The Founders saw education and information as essential to the Republic’s survival, but our schools are in decline, and we’re used to Internet and cable reporting that’s packaged like entertainment. Between commercials, we choose not just opinions, but facts as well. Our democracy’s trademark search for compromise and common ground is losing out to feuding factions and partisan stalemate, all fueled by corporate media and cash.
Comparing today’s America with de Toqueville’s (1831), Reisert finds “extremes of wealth and poverty.” He sees the growing gulf between rich and poor, such as the wider range of our ethnic origins and religious beliefs, as part of today’s diversity. Since this diversity is “a consequence of the freedom for which our ancestors fought,” he concludes, “we should embrace it.” What he calls “modern poverty” (unlike historic poverty?) is just part of life in today’s America.
Reisert’s column mirrors the distorted face of our democracy under pressure from major corporations and enormous wealth. Industries influence what and how (and whether) we eat and earn and spend; they influence our health care and even our outlook on life. We are taught to see ourselves as consumers, even while corporate strategies reduce the working and buying classes to dependency.
Reisert closes confidently that “when we reinvigorate our civic spirit” we may yet overcome the political paralysis we now suffer. Seeing the powerful forces working to dull our sense of community, I’m not as confident as Reisert that we can recover our civic senses any time soon.