By Ralph Nader
The unraveling of a society’s institutions, stability and reasonable order does not sound alarms to forewarn the citizenry, apart from economic yardsticks measuring poverty, jobs, wages, health, savings, profits and other matters economic.
However, we do have some signs that we should not allow ourselves to ignore. Maliciousness, profiteering and willful ignorance on the part of our political and corporate rulers undoubtedly contribute to worsening injustice. Let’s consider some ways that we as citizens, far too often, collectively allow this to happen.
- Democracy is threatened when citizens refuse to participate in power, whether by not voting, not thinking critically about important issues, not showing up for civic activities or allowing emotional false appeals and flattery by candidates and parties to sway them on important issues. Without an informed and motivated citizenry, the society starts to splinter.
- If people do not do their homework before Election Day and know what to expect of candidates and of themselves, the political TV ads and the plutocrats’ campaign cash will take control of what is on the table and what is off the table. This leads to the most important changes a majority of Americans want ending up on the floor.
- Too often, you have a grievance as a consumer, worker, taxpayer or citizen and you hit the wall trying to reach someone who should be helping you. Robots, either nonhuman or human, on the telephone are of little help. Repeated failure to productively voice one’s grievances leads to alienation, anxiety and withdrawal, rather than resurgence to demand remedy.
- When a majority of people think their government doesn’t work for them, but instead serves the rich and powerful, people begin to forget the good that government and honest civil servants at all levels do, or can do (see Jacob Hacker’s 2016 book, American Amnesia), thereby disregarding their crucial watchdog role as citizens. In the process, they passively surrender control of government to the plutocrats and oligarchs – leading to a corporate state defined by crony capitalism. The military industrial complex and the corporate welfarists know how to extract dollars for boondoggles from our government, which is all-too-willing to turn its back on taxpayers.
- When people make up their minds about an ideology or politician without the facts and relinquish any willingness to hear alternative views, societies become polarized. People are stereotyped, the marketplace of ideas goes bankrupt and instances of incivility and dehumanization increase.
- When people constantly consume media fueled by violence, political insults, crime and celebrity misbehavior, rather than giving voice to the good that people do every day in civil society or to important points of agreement between liberals and conservatives, the way we relate to news and each other becomes needlessly skewed. This problem has increased exponentially in recent years.
- If people of all backgrounds feel powerless, they will be powerless. This self-perception stifles democracy and often results in people turning their blame against one another and ignoring the power structures at the root of the problem.
- Readers think; thinkers read. That includes learning from the mistakes of societies throughout history that wrongly believed that they were impervious to crumbling from within. In our culture of virtual reality and Twitter-length propaganda, we all too often forget the valuable lessons of past mistakes. History is a great teacher, as anyone who has studied how the bloody World War I was triggered by a teenager assassinating an archduke in Sarajevo or how a few rulers of autocratic nations, without institutional civic and political resistance, caused the deaths of 60 million people in World War II, can attest.
- At this point, some readers may be wondering about the powerful people who comprise the Wall Street and Washington supremacists. Aren’t they heavily responsible for the disintegration of our society’s economic and political health? Of course. But we citizens, day after day, let them get away with actions that embolden them further through what they see as our habitual passivity.
- Supporting good candidates who so often lose to silver-tongued bad candidates would be a start. Given what people think of Washington politicians, tens of millions of voters are choosing bad candidates. They may want to ask themselves whether the candidates and their rhetoric they bond with are hiding cruel records and votes against the voters’ own interests. The Washington Republicans’ current effort to take away or make less affordable health insurance, even of Trump voters, is a case in point.
For a top-down analysis, read Peter Wehner’s searing column, Declaration of Disruption in the July 4, 2017 issue of the New York Times, regarding how the rulers at the top are now leading our country “toward chaos, disarray and entropy.”
Half of democracy is showing up at community gatherings, marches, meetings and elections with your fellow citizens. No one can stop you from saying yes to your neighbors, near and far, when they send you their kind invitations to meet new people, hear new ideas, and be urged to pull together for a better community, state, nation and world.
Democracy and its blessings work, but only if we don’t drop out and recommit ourselves to securing these blessings for our posterity. It’s easier than we think!