Studs Terkel once observed that the fraction of Americans who had no knowledge of the world or history had risen well past 40%, and that this was an extremely serious problem because it had changed the nature of our politics. I think it was early 2000s.
When you’ve only got two sides, and 40% of the public is ignorant, then both parties and candidates can win elections simply by positioning themselves using sentiment and anger. It is no longer essential to court the issues voters or citizens who demand progress and solutions. They are the practical minority. There is no need to take a real position on anything, and no need to accomplish anything.
At that point, you’ve got a broken political system. The government will become less responsive and less focused. They will lose their way, as it were. And the situation can of course easily veer off into fascism if there are systemic wealth inequalities.
He was right. What he said would happen, has happened.
And the solutions are as obvious as the problem. The political dynamics, the system, must be changed. And we should try to improve people’s knowledge of the world and of history. Pretty simple stuff, really. The hard part is getting political reform to the top of the priority list in a system run by politicians.
Personally, my sole measure of the Biden administration’s success or failure will be political reforms. I won’t be judging his success or failure on what he does about the high cost of education, or the national debt, or global warming, or our relationship with China, or coronavirus.
His administration is a success if we get ranked choice voting, or voting is made mandatory, or either of our two parties fractures, or we add DC as a state, or we split CA into two states, or we increase the size of the Supreme Court, or we pass a major voting rights package to end suppression and gerrymandering, or we get a constitutional amendment giving every citizen a right to vote, or we rebuild school curriculum and standards to focus on the knowledge of the world and history. Any of these victories would be enough to win my vote again.
I really hope to see America recover a functioning political system before the 2022 mid-terms. Otherwise we’ll have to endure the fascist violence and associated economic collapse for a decade or two. Changes to our political system really are essential, and the urgency can’t be understated.