2014-10-20: Responsibilities of Citizenship

EDITORIAL COMMENT

 20 October 2014 – Copyright © Mark H. Goodrich

As this is written, another American election is about to be decided by a small percentage of the electorate – probably 35% or so of eligible voters. Indeed, those most likely to vote in election cycles where the presidency is not decided are the most polarized segment of the electorate – often single-issue voters energized through advertisements funded by the most rich and powerful, including not only individual and corporate citizens of American, but foreign corporations, as well. Incredibly, such polarized voters are often persuaded to unwittingly vote against their own interests through the use of false facts, misdirection and emotionally-charged rhetoric.

It is not fashionable among the American electorate to take seriously any duties of citizenship. But a democratic republic can function well only when the electorate accepts and meets individual and collective responsibilities as the “last check and balance” against the rich and powerful interests that always try to rig the game to their favor.

That means citizens must be responsible to involve themselves in the issues of current national import – both great and small. When the vast majority of voters are so self-involved that that they do not tune out reality and sports programming long enough to research, study, understand, and vote their opinions based on having given the issues serious thought, then the ultimate failure of the government as a democratic republic is assured, with its governance increasingly under the control of an ever smaller group of wealthy people and “fictitious citizens” in the form of corporations.

The responsibilities of citizenship are not merely voting. The “get more people out to vote” movements are focused improperly. Getting out an ignorant vote just means that the votes cast will continue to reflect superficial opinions formed upon the basis of “bumper sticker wisdom”, and 15-second sound bites. Difficult issues are not that easy to understand. Citizens must be willing to invest time and attention to meet their responsibilities of citizenship. The marketplace of ideas that the founding fathers correctly believed to be so critical to the success of the republic has been hijacked by those corporations and wealthy people with the economic power to advertise their very self-interested opinions broadly. Those who would run counter-advertising and seek to correct misrepresented facts towards a full illumination of the issues are almost always without the financial power to do so. Worse, ownership and control of the American media is now concentrated around a handful of corporations that use the publicly-owned airwaves as their personal property, and no longer recognize any corporate responsibility to provide a voice to the otherwise voiceless. Like most large corporations, they are entities without allegiance to any country, including that or those in which incorporated. They recognize only self-interest, and despite show-case statements about their responsibility to shareholders, often operate instead to the principal advantage of a small group of executive managers. The reality is that those with the financial ability to pay for advertising are those with the loudest voice, and their interests are seldom aligned with those of the national government, the society at large, or the majority of individual citizens.

This means that individual citizens must invest the time to do more than merely watch the features programming now characterized as “news” on network and cable television, if the playing field is to be leveled in any sense whatsoever.

The true facts are out there to be found, read and understood, but it is our individual responsibility, as American Citizens, to be willing to work at our duties of citizenship. Abdicating that responsibility leaves a gap that will be filled by those who want to re-make government and society in ways that serve only their selfish interests.