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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.