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"Democracy Isn't Something Americans Do That Much"

April 26, 2018

 A recent article in Vox got me thinking about our "democratic project," especially after reading James Fallow's piece earlier in the week. A particular quote by the author jumped out, because it resonates in the space between local engagement and national governance:

 

While some citizens are worryingly misinformed or utterly tuned out, the vast majority of the people I spoke to during the process of filming cared deeply about the state of the world. They were worried for their communities and for their country, upset about inequality, anxious about making ends meet, and angry that they felt ignored and unrepresented. In the end, I felt that many people couldn’t define democracy in complex or interesting ways because it wasn’t something they experienced day to day: not during the media and celebrity-driven circus of national elections that happen every four years, nor at their jobs where they have to keep their heads down and are treated like cogs in a machine, nor at their schools where they are encouraged to see themselves more as consumers seeking a return on investment than as citizens educating themselves to participate in the common good. For all our pomp, democracy isn’t something Americans actually do that much. No wonder we struggle to define it.

 

The presidency of Trump, in this definition, is a symptom of a deeper gap of public thought and agency that requires an "all hands on deck" approach to stock-taking, negotiation and reform. It is first a dialogue about what we want as a people -- our vision for America's role in the world and the well-being of all her people. This is a cultural movement that will begin when the dreamers -- artists, writers, singers -- take core concepts of "a better world" and help the rest of the country imagine our own contribution to the project. We've become a complacent people, largely content to consume the goods of a capitalist culture while the institutions that enabled its rise have been cannibalized.

 

This is a massive project -- one that may only thrive when translated into the right confluence of historical forces: leadership, cultural salience, and an urgent driver (threat or opportunity). 

 

"Instead of being nostalgic for the comfortable age of Obama," the author Astra Taylor writes, "we should seize this opportunity to reflect on what the word “democracy” even means. Only then is there a chance that the future might be better, dare I say greater, than the past that was never democratic to begin with."

 

What a great project for artists in this country to lead -- an all-hands-on-media-approach to creating the contours of a national proxy conversation about our democratic project.

 

This snip is from a larger article in Vice.com, "Rethinking the System: Five Experts Imagine a Better Future."

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