The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Civic Virtue

Voter Turnout Highest in 100 Years As Citizens Start to Care

Photo: daytondailynews.com

Last weeks’ midterm election had the highest level of eligible voters participating in 100 years.  We need to go back to 1914 to find a comparable time when almost 50 % of the eligible voters did vote.  The turnout was higher than the presidential election of 2016 by 13 %.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11-12-18

The remarkable shift is in large part due to the Trump presidency making clear that nothing short of the character of our democracy is at stake when we make choices about who our House and Senate representatives will be.

Will we go back to policies borne out of the 1930s toward nationalism, isolationism and trade wars (which led to WWII)?  Or will we move ahead, building a global community, where nations focus policies on a partnership of win – win for all, in peace.

Yet, as the ballots have been counted (though some continuing to be counted and recounted in Florida and Georgia), the political rhetoric between the newly empowered Democratic House and POTUS has started.  Hurling charges and counter charges and threats of investigations right and left.

In spite of the unacceptable behavior our politicians in Washington citizens have turned out in mass to make their concerns known with an ever more diverse House and a few new leaders in the Senate. With a diverse electorate beginning to make its voice known we can begin to build a consensus around the common good.  It is clear that we can’t move our country ahead in many areas including an economy that works for all if we don’t have people engaged.

While campaigns are often heated, with more heat than light on both sides of an issue, at least we see that people care. When people care, and get out and vote they are staking a claim in the future of our country.  That is a good thing and makes us hopeful for the future, even as torturous as it maybe to get to a better place for all in our democracy.

Toward A Solutions Focused National Dialog

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: better-angels.org

On the right we have a president who mocks a woman who was sexually assaulted at a campaign rally, on the left protesters stalk legislators at restaurants and taunt them while they eat.

What’s happened to our national dialog?  Why can’t we talk to each other in a way that sets up a supportive communication channel leading to solutions?  Abraham Lincoln saw the need for civil dialog to bring a divided nation together in his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Recently, volunteers from the left, right and political persuasions across the board were represented at a conversation day hosted by Better Angels in Washington D.C.  The host group takes its name from the Lincoln quote focusing not on changing people’s minds but instead on just helping people to understand and respect each other – on common ground.  The founder, David Blankenhorn, started the group in Ohio after he had become friends with a gay man and changed his position on same sex marriage as a result.  Blankenhorn has developed seven habits of good discourse to keep the dialog on a positive level even in fierce disagreement.  He sees deep polarization due to multiple factors: “The intellectual habits of polarization include binary (Manichaean) thinking, absolutizing one’s preferred values, viewing uncertainty as a weakness, privileging deductive thinking, assuming that one’s opponents are motivated by bad faith, and hesitating to agree on basic facts and the meaning of evidence.”

We underline the last point, agreement on basic facts is missing from much of our dialog today.  As most Americans get their news from non-journalist sources: Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  These social media outlets sprung onto the news stage from opinion based businesses, run by entrepreneurs who are more programmers whose interest is in creating opinion platforms not fact based platforms.  Facebook, Google and Twitter are now scrambling to find journalists and news professionals to rein in the runaway opinions and falsehoods that proliferate on their sites.

As a society we are left with only a few major national newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post for thoughtful in depth analysis, Major television news organizations are more focused on sound bites than drilling into issues in any depth.  The PBS News Hours does bring in experts from multiple points of view on an issues to create context and deeper understanding of the topic.  Yet, the audience of social media is in the tens of millions while PBS News Hour is seen by a far smaller audience.

Where do we go today? Better Angels, Spaceship Media and Institute for Civil Discourse all host conversations across the political divide.  Yet, it is a huge cultural issue tearing apart the fabric of our democracy.  To repair our democracy and return our federal government to the people requires seeking the common good over all our basic positions – or we can never reach enough consensus to move ahead as a unified society.

Civic Service Sustains the Common Good

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: wikipedia.org

Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman as he walked out from a hundred days writing the Constitution, “Doctor, do we have a Monarchy, or a Republic?”  He warned, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”  Franklin’s point was to ensure the new American government would endure, citizens had to get involved, participate in civic pursuits and be concerned about their government.

From Aristotle’s time when civic virtue was proclaimed as an attribute of the good citizen to today’s activists all civic participation is rooted in service.   How do we foster ‘otherness’ in our citizenry?  Starting from birth, a child receives support and love from its mother and father.  Closer to the mother at first, experiencing the nurturing and selflessness of the mother in the home.  Families provide a way for children to learn to support their siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  They learn to do chores that support the family, certainly this was a requirement in farm based families.

Today, most families are in urban centers with the mother and father likely to be both working, and chores are less clear with household machines and the Internet.  Kids spend more time on electronic devices than talking with family members. So, how do children learn to be selfless?  Volunteering at school, participating in local charities, with their mother and father taking the lead in initiating family service are all good ways to learn service.

Yet, what about our urban core areas or poor areas where families are just trying to survive day to day, do they have time for service?  Or where there is only one head of house to provide or raise the children? They need support, plus as a society we are so segregated by income and residence there is rarely a mixing of classes, ethnicities or cultures.

Domestic service, sponsored by the federal government for all young people 18 – 24 years of age for two years in programs patterned after Americorp is a good start.  Americans from all walks of life have an opportunity to serve their communities, states or travel to other areas of the country to provide necessary support services in areas they would otherwise never live.

We have fewer life experiences where we work with mixed classes working toward a share goal, resulting in a highly divisive and abusive civil discourse.  If we start working together to support our communities, our states, and our country maybe we can discover that we have more in common and build on those common interests in our civic affairs.

 

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