In 1776, Thomas Paine famously wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” With all due respect to the author of the iconic Common Sense pamphlets, which contained some of the most effective political propaganda created in America before or since, he couldn’t have anticipated 2011 America. The political and economic disarray that exists is the sort of havoc the Constitution was designed to prevent. Here’s the rub: the Founding Fathers expected that those who had the right to vote would be engaged, informed and independent citizens who would make sure that those who governed would not destroy the delicate experiment that America represented. Alas, such is not the case.
In 2011, folks barely want to vote, let alone take the time to educate themselves about the issues. Sorry, taking an hour to watch your favorite conservative or progressive commentators give their opinions doesn’t count. We’ve become a nation that is willfully and recklessly dumb about issues that affect jobs, food, water, health, education—anything and everything that matters. We allow ourselves to be manipulated by media that isn’t driven by First Amendment ideals, but by profit motives and entertainment value. In a 24-hour news cycle, the words fly, but so often have no meaning. Politicians and business leaders know there are people paid to dissect everything they say. As a result, they’ve become experts at saying nothing in a blizzard of words slathered in manufactured sincerity.
So we get numb. I don’t blame the dealers of this crack cocaine of information. In this case, I look to the addicts who should know better. I am consistently shocked (and frightened) when I discover what folks do know versus what they don’t. During the summer of 2011, a number of people could give me the minute details of the Casey Anthony trial, but couldn’t define the debt ceiling. People could tell me how many hits Derek Jeter was from 3000, but didn’t know that there was a game-changing gender discrimination Supreme Court case decided in WalMart’s favor. With the exception of the debt ceiling, everything else is a perilous circus sideshow that should wait while we get America working again. The politicization of the debt ceiling was a dangerous game of chicken that put the world economy in jeopardy, with the elderly, veterans and active duty military on the economic front lines.
But in 2011, our society doesn’t reward the inquiring mind. If you ask questions or point out inconsistencies, you’re quickly branded a troublemaker. Once you’ve wiggled out from under whatever thumb you were stuck under, it can seem lonely, but there’s common sense out there. Common sense dictates that Congress should be focused on job creation, but we aren’t. Common sense says that we’d worry about our grandchildren’s future due to climate change, not just the deficit. These are the times that try souls, no doubt. We can’t afford to be numb, dumb or under anyone’s thumb—we should face our world with common sense.