My Crackpot Theory: Americans Hate Politics

 

Beale

Some might find it deeply ironic that I advance this theory on a website dedicated to political discussion. But I submit that the Ricochetti are the exception to the rule; the rule being that the vast majority of Americans despise politics, and when forced to pay attention to them, will punish those they hold responsible. I offer for my theory these arguments and evidence:

  1.  Our political system was built that way. Our political system is, of course, a representative democracy. The founders designed it to be one. They understood that for a direct democracy to work (i.e., government by plebiscite), a polity that was both virtuous and engaged would be required. Seeing a dearth of evidence for these qualities, they established a representative system to put a buffer between the passions of the mob and the day-to-day business of governing. Keep in mind that most of the founding generations came to these shores to be left alone by the ruling power.
  2. The electorate punishes those who get them involved. Before his unfortunate fall from Grace, Bill Cosby made an insightful observation: When parents have to intervene in an argument between their children, they tend to impose hasty, irrational solutions because they’re not interested in justice — just quiet. This is exactly how most of the American electorate behaves. Let’s face it, present company excepted, most people in this country are far too wrapped up in the exploits of the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, Real Housewives, or more gainful pursuits to pay attention to politics. In their minds, they hired a set of contractors to run the government; they expect them to get the job done, submit the bill, and then go away until they need something else. When the contractors we hire act like the guy in Seinfeld — the one who kept asking trivial questions about Jerry’s kitchen remodelling preferences — we punish them at the ballot box.
  3. The party in power usually gets blamed (but not always): This pattern has been part of our political history from the beginning. When things get bad enough that political stories dominate the news and intrude into our daily lives, we usually take it out on the party we think has been running the place. Case in point: You should have seen my wife’s reaction when her favorite show was pre-empted by Obama’s national address. That’s why it’s so rare to have the same party retain the presidency after a two terms. If you force people to pay attention, you will be punished. Because Republicans were blamed (rightly or wrongly) for government shutdowns in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, they’re terrified that it will happen again. Hence the pre-emptive surrender by Boehner, McConnell, and now Ryan.
  4. Trump is a manifestation of this phenomenon: A disclaimer for any Trump supporters in Ricochet: Because you care enough about politics to subscribe to this website, by definition my theory does not apply to you. I assume that you have other reasons to support him. However, I believe that the great majority of Trumpkins are virtually apolitical and have little or no interest in civics or the Constitution. That’s why they’re willing to accept proposals that are, on the face of it, unconstitutional or at least inconsistent with American political traditions. They want to hire a competent “contractor” who will make America great again and leave them alone in the process.

Other facts that might support my argument are record-low levels of voter participation, and the domination of voters who seem to be the low-information variety.

There are certainly disengaged citizenries around the world (for a variety of reasons too numerous to discuss). But I submit that the American people are unique among Western democracies in their hatred of politics.

There are 33 comments.

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  1. Guruforhire Member

    Yes. I have been pointing this out for awhile.

    • #1
    • December 27, 2015, at 3:54 AM PDT
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  2. Larry3435 Member

    Very insightful post. It is also consistent with the theory that Americans want three word answers to all political problems. Such as “build a wall” or “ban all Muslims.”

    “Make America great again” is a little over the limit, but it has a nice ring to it so it gets a pass on the extra word.

    • #2
    • December 27, 2015, at 4:16 AM PDT
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  3. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Very good. And quite accurate.

    I have long been confounded by why people never seem to ask: how did that thing we voted for X years ago turn out? There is no continuity.

    • #3
    • December 27, 2015, at 4:25 AM PDT
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  4. Quake Voter Inactive

    “Hate” may be too strong. Are we really passionate enough about politics to “hate” it? Not to the degree we hate or defend the deflation of a football by a pound per square inch. Or the degree to which we hate or defend Whatever Jenner’s powderpuffed square jaw and tubular vagina.

    We Americans seem relatively uninterested in politics from the town council to local school board to county commission to state legislature to the great imperial capital.

    Points 1-4 are very well taken. The Cosby reference is perfect.

    I just think we react with annoyance and long-delayed impatience rather than real hatred.

    • #4
    • December 27, 2015, at 4:40 AM PDT
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  5. Mark Camp Member

    Spot on! Good observations.

    • #5
    • December 27, 2015, at 5:58 AM PDT
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  6. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon Post author

    Quake Voter: “Hate” may be too strong.

    Point taken. Perhaps more accurately, they are indifferent to politics until they are forced to confront it; then they hate it.

    • #6
    • December 27, 2015, at 6:17 AM PDT
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  7. Trinity Waters Inactive

    Extremely interesting post, and on the whole very accurate, but you made one error. Those who support Trump aren’t classifiable by the usual political definitions. They have simply had enough of BS, and are willing to support a candidate, no matter that he is typically, humanly flawed, who loves the USA and will set us back on a path to success.

    And, where in Hades did the Trumpkin label come from? The heart of the RNC, no matter what you might believe, or whatever Lexis may say. My personal conspiracy theory. Hey, just give me one small one…

    • #7
    • December 27, 2015, at 6:28 AM PDT
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  8. Casey Inactive

    I like indifferent better too but I would go further and say people are indifferent to life in general.

    • #8
    • December 27, 2015, at 6:45 AM PDT
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  9. Robert McReynolds Inactive

    I don’t think that Americans are indifferent to or hate politics. Americans like to fashion themselves as independent living in a system that allows self government. Where the breakdown comes from is how Americans define words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “independence.” To this end we seem to be schizophrenic about politics. We have polls showing that some 2/3 of Americans identify as “conservative” yet the electorate is split 50/50 pretty much between a not-so-socialist party and a full blown Marxist party. We can see exit polls for presidential elections where 15% of Obama’s support comes from people self identifying as Conservative. And I have even witnessed firsthand a Vermonter who is way to the Left tell me that being a socialist is in itself Conservative.

    So you see it’s not so much a hatred or indifference as it is a lack of understanding what it is we are trying to “conserve” and the rules by which we should all be playing the game of politics. If there is anything that infuriates Americans more than anything else, it is the sense that their role in the process is meaningless, that their vote “doesn’t count.” That’s my take on it anyway.

    • #9
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:04 AM PDT
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  10. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Good post! It’s worth noting that George Washington despised the idea of political parties and discouraged the forming of them. I think their being created was perhaps unfortunate but inevitable. And I agree that most people at least say they despise politics, especially now that we have essentially a political class (lifelong politics).

    • #10
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:11 AM PDT
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  11. Robert McReynolds Inactive

    low-information variety [of voter]

    Again, they don’t know they are low information. Some of the smartest people you can come across are low information voters. They have their ideological proclivities and will occasionally see something on their Facebook feed that reinforces that and then when something comes up that challenges that sentiment, they lash out with nothing but invective. There is no attempt to sit down and discuss the difference of opinion, just a desire to destroy while maintaining–in their minds–a sense of moral superiority.

    This is what compels me to say that this election cycle will go back to normal in terms of voter turnout. Obama was THE pop-culture candidate. He could pull of “cool” and “hip” like no other candidate has, even Bill Clinton. This jacked up the number of 20-something hipsters who voted for him as well as the number of blacks who voted for him. Hillary is not going to be able to replicate that no matter how much she rips off Obama’s get out the vote machinery. The people who watch the Kardashins are not going to go to MSNBC or what have you to learn anything about Hillary or even Sanders. They are going to go to Yahoo News or SNL where neither of those two can pull off the act that Obama could. As I have said before on Ricochet, close your eyes and envision Hillary “slow jamming” the news. Now say “Republican Landslide.”

    • #11
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:13 AM PDT
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  12. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon Post author

    Robert McReynolds: don’t think that Americans are indifferent to or hate politics. Americans like to fashion themselves as independent living in a system that allows self government.

    I disagree because self government smacks of effort and while there is certainly a minority who truly care about the country’s governance (even if they are schizophrenic on exactly how it should be), most can’t be bothered. Just look at the percentage of actual voters to eligible voters and the low participation in other political institutions.

    • #12
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:20 AM PDT
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  13. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon Post author

    Susan the Buju: It’s worth noting that George Washington despised the idea of political parties and discouraged the forming of them.

    I think this indifference transcends parties. Honestly, I believe it comes done to intellectual laziness, pure and simple.

    • #13
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:22 AM PDT
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  14. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon Post author

    Robert McReynolds: As I have said before on Ricochet, close your eyes and envision Hillary “slow jamming” the news. Now say “Republican Landslide.”

    From your keyboard to Gods’s ear, sir.

    • #14
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:24 AM PDT
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  15. GrannyDude Member

    Robert McReynolds: Some of the smartest people you can come across are low information voters. They have their ideological proclivities and will occasionally see something on their Facebook feed that reinforces that and then when something comes up that challenges that sentiment, they lash out with nothing but invective. There is no attempt to sit down and discuss the difference of opinion, just a desire to destroy while maintaining–in their minds–a sense of moral superiority.

    I think you’re right about this, Robert, especially since I (uncomfortably) recognize myself here—certified “smart” by a couple of degrees, but also—pace the OP—inclined to ignore politics until it gets too obnoxious. In my case, I realize (in retrospect) it was the way the Obama administration/the NYT/NPR/Etc. were handling the Ferguson case and its sequelae. When your desire to maintain your sense of moral superiority demands that you destroy honorable cops, this LIV wakes up.

    The OP is definitely on to something. I’m perpetually annoyed and amazed by how many bond issues I’m asked to vote on—should the State of Maine borrow ten million dollars to repair roads and bridges, with matching funds from the federal government? How should I know? I hired you people to handle this stuff; am I asking y’all to weigh in on training wardens to do death notification, or to write my sermons for me? Yeesh.

    Even people who are interested in politics (Ricochetti) are often dismayed by how the sausages are made.

    “Are you better off now than you were four years ago” was a brilliant line, because it allowed voters to see themselves as dissatisfied consumers rather than policy wonks. This is the question that should be asked—over and over again—of African Americans, for example. “Are you better off now than you were eight years ago? How about fifty years ago? And why do we keep hiring the same, sloppy incompetent contractors to repair the damage done by slavery/Jim Crow when they never seem to get beyond the cheap-plywood-and-blue-tarp phase?”

    • #15
    • December 27, 2015, at 7:40 AM PDT
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  16. Man With the Axe Inactive

    Some of the low information voters are smart enough to realize that the payoff for investing the time to cast an educated vote is not worth it, since their single vote will not affect the outcome. Some reason that their educated vote will be canceled out by another person’s supremely ignorant vote, or by the vote of a dead person.

    Two bits of anecdotal information: A good friend of mine with a Ph.D. in political science voted for Obama twice, partly because he wanted to be able to say that he voted for the first black president, and partly because, as he told me, “My life and your life won’t be any different because of who is elected president.”

    Another friend, with a Pd.D. in social work, said he voted for Obama the second time, even though he admitted that the world and the country were worse off than four years ago, because it made him feel good. When I asked him just how bad things would have to be to make him vote for Romney, he couldn’t answer. “Would 25% unemployment and $5/gallon gas do it? Another 9/11 style attack?” “Probably not,” he said. He liked Obama.

    • #16
    • December 27, 2015, at 8:07 AM PDT
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  17. Songwriter Member

    I would much prefer to ignore politics. But I would do so at my own peril.

    In a perfect world, politics would ignore me.

    • #17
    • December 27, 2015, at 8:11 AM PDT
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  18. Pilgrim Thatcher

    Blue State Curmudgeon: Let’s face it, present company excepted, most people in this country are far too wrapped up in the exploits of the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, Real Housewives, or Celebrity Apprentice. (my addition)

    The Trump phenomenon explained: The light bulb went on and a bunch of people sat up and said “Hey! I know that guy! This must be his a new reality show. I love the crazy supporting cast – them trying to be all smart and stuff – and then he beats ’em like a rented mule.”

    • #18
    • December 27, 2015, at 8:39 AM PDT
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  19. gnarlydad Inactive

    It goes way beyond laziness and indifference to a stubbornly willful ingnorance. Low Information Voters believe their votes accomplish nothing, subscribing instead to fantastic conspiracy theories where a cabal of faceless corporate demigods hold and tweak the levers of power. They control everything, They answer to no one. An outgrowth of the broader anti-establishment movements of the sixties, we now have whole segments of our body politic self identifying (and self aggrandizing) through blaming Them for everything from paternalistic micro aggressions to genocide through carbon emmissions.

    Meanwhild, the barbarian hoard waits patiently at the gate, watching as the knives come out and praying for our death through a thousand tiny cuts.

    • #19
    • December 27, 2015, at 8:43 AM PDT
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  20. Scott Wilmot Member

    Good and interesting post.

    Ben Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

    I think old Ben was on to something here – it certainly describes the day we live in – especially the corrupt and vicious part.

    The vast majority take no interest in politics outside of hoping to keep their sugar-daddy representative(s) in power to keep giving them “free” stuff.

    The presidential election cycle is so long now that I think people have just become numb and go in and blindly pull the D or R lever, based on social/cultural upbringing rather than merit. Just look at Hillary – the only merit she has is being a woman (and a Democrat) – just those two facts probably have her close to 99% of the electoral votes she needs.

    Our President has proved John Adams correct: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – and that is why he has trashed it.

    That’s a lot of rambling. I’m sick of politics too.

    • #20
    • December 27, 2015, at 8:52 AM PDT
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  21. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Blue State Curmudgeon: There are certainly disengaged citizenries around the world (for a variety of reasons too numerous to discuss). But I submit that the American people are unique among Western democracies in their hatred of politics.

    This is the weakest part of your argument, and you do little to support it. The lack of interest in politics, if not hatred of it, extends to nations like Canada and Australia. At the moment Britain is a divided nation much like we are, so politics is probably at a forefront, and probably has been since Thatcher.

    • #21
    • December 27, 2015, at 9:13 AM PDT
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  22. MarciN Member

    I agree with the post that people are not involved in politics too much. But the post puts this fact in a negative light, and I do not. I consider it healthy.

    There is very little any individual can do to shape or affect government. It is massive, and I am only one person. The AA prayer–Lord, let me worry about the things I can change, not worry about the things I can’t change, and give me the wisdom to know the difference–is the only way for any of us to live a reasonably productive life.

    There are countless honorable and respectable reasons that people are not able or willing to follow the daily machinations of government, including the sheer size and reach of government and politics. Which government: local, state, federal? Which agency out of thousands? Which politician or official out of thousands?

    People who aren’t involved in government and the politics that control it are probably running the local churches, the local schools, the local businesses. There are only so many hours in a day.

    All that said, I believe in the critical importance of civic engagement. I see Ricochet-like websites as the only answer for people who need to be in ten places at one time.

    Also, government needs to be downsized at every level. When your organization is too big to control, it needs to be broken up into smaller, more manageable parts. A well-organized government will attract civic engagement.

    • #22
    • December 27, 2015, at 9:23 AM PDT
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  23. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Susan the Buju:Good post! It’s worth noting that George Washington despised the idea of political parties and discouraged the forming of them. I think their being created was perhaps unfortunate but inevitable. And I agree that most people at least say they despise politics, especially now that we have essentially a political class (lifelong politics).

    I’ll go further than that, and it supports the original post. George Washington hated politics, at least electoral politics. His prime interest was military affairs and the business of agriculture.

    Before the Revolutionary War, his involvement in politics was minimal, and the few stands he took advanced his business interests. I wouldn’t call him a crony capitalist, except possibly in his stance to ban the importation of goods from Great Britain (this was before the Revolutionary War, where he lobbied the Virginia Assembly).

    He was called America’s Cincinnatus for a reason. He liked being an aristocratic land owner, but he didn’t want to go beyond that.

    He involved himself, presided over, the Constitutional Convention, when the former colonies looked to be breaking down under the Articles of Confederation. But he said nary a word. It’s unknown as to what extent he involved himself behind the scenes, but the circumstantial evidence indicates he didn’t.

    And he accepted the presidency, it was believed, because he thought it was vital for the success of the new constitution, and he didn’t want the new nation his legacy was built upon to fail.

    But he hated it. And he was fairly hands off, letting Hamilton run his administration, at least his first term. And during his second term – like many two term presidents he had a bad one – he was actually burned in effigy. He liked being popular, and he didn’t like being president.

    So the Father of our Country didn’t like politics either, and in the end, probably hated it. So perhaps he set the precedent.

    • #23
    • December 27, 2015, at 9:47 AM PDT
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  24. Manny Member

    Oh I hate politics. Unfortunately it has its grapple hooks into our psyche. It’s like a compulsive sin that you can’t shake. Even though you want to stop, the demons won’t let you. ;)

    • #24
    • December 27, 2015, at 10:23 AM PDT
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  25. Manny Member

    Al Sparks:

    I’ll go further than that, and it supports the original post. George Washington hated politics, at least electoral politics. His prime interest was military affairs and the business of agriculture.

    Before the Revolutionary War, his involvement in politics was minimal, and the few stands he took advanced his business interests. I wouldn’t call him a crony capitalist, except possibly in his stance to ban the importation of goods from Great Britain (this was before the Revolutionary War, where he lobbied the Virginia Assembly).

    He was called America’s Cincinnatus for a reason. He liked being an aristocratic land owner, but he didn’t want to go beyond that….

    Part of why I consider George Washington the greatest American who ever lived.

    • #25
    • December 27, 2015, at 10:26 AM PDT
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  26. Z in MT Inactive

    Agreement here.

    I am glad you excluded the Trump supporters here at Ricochet. Nobody on Ricochet (even those who self identify as such) is a LIV. We all have our reasons for supporting our favorite candidates even if they don’t make sense to others.

    • #26
    • December 27, 2015, at 12:03 PM PDT
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  27. Joseph Stanko Member

    Blue State Curmudgeon: In their minds, they hired a set of contractors to run the government; they expect them to get the job done, submit the bill, and then go away until they need something else.

    I think that’s a perfect metaphor for how a lot of moderate and swing voters think about politics: they don’t trust or identify with either party, and agree with Democrats on some issues and Republicans on others. They don’t pay much attention to a candidate’s position on specific issues because they don’t see themselves as voting for issues or a platform, but rather for the best candidate for the job. They may pick the candidate with the most experience, or the “outsider,” or the one who seems most honest, or the one they’d like to have a beer with, but regardless they are more interested in personality and life story than positions or issues.

    • #27
    • December 27, 2015, at 12:27 PM PDT
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  28. DialMforMurder Inactive

    I think once upon a time we were all low-information voters. Then one day you get a vague smell of something not being quite right. You follow the scent trail around a few corners and down some alleyways until suddenly you encounter a huge steaming pile of garbage that was there the whole time but you never knew existed.

    That first smell can be in the form of an unkept promise, an unintended consequence, a blatant display of double standards, or an arrogant misuse of your taxes. The pile of garbage contains severed limbs, kinky lingerie, shredded documents and discarded syringes.

    And then having learned the truth, you realise you have to keep it to yourself because no one else knows about it because they are all brainwashed low-information voters and they would probably rip your throat out if you questioned the party line. So you keep your thoughts to yourself and pretend to be a low-information voter. One day someone else around you might bring up the bad smell, and you decide not to show too much enthusiasm in agreeing with him because this moron has loose lips and if you become associated too closely with him they’ll get you too. So you mumble “mmm” whilst looking at the floor and then change the topic as soon as you can.

    • #28
    • December 27, 2015, at 3:00 PM PDT
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  29. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon Post author

    MarciN: There are countless honorable and respectable reasons that people are not able or willing to follow the daily machinations of government, including the sheer size and reach of government and politics. Which government: local, state, federal? Which agency out of millions? Which politician or official out of millions?

    True, but I don’t believe you need to follow the day-to-day activities of government. As part of a representative democracy I believe we have the obligation to understand the broader issues and have a coherent political philosophy that provides a context for who we choose as our elected representatives.

    I had a friend who was completely disengaged in politics because he believed that politicians were all a bunch of crooks. Frankly, he was just too lazy to care but even if I believed him I have two issues with this philosophy; first its the people’s fault for electing crooks in the first place. Second, even if they are all crooks isn’t it better to have a crook that agrees with you than one that doesn’t?

    • #29
    • December 27, 2015, at 3:36 PM PDT
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  30. EThompson Inactive

    I know how you feel.

    It’s 1976 All Over Again

    • #30
    • December 27, 2015, at 3:46 PM PDT
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