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Civics or Demagoguery, Where's the Line?
The push for political engagement often falls short of engendering knowledgeable and responsible civic virtue.
Last week, I had another article about civics published in a Utah newspaper. Specifically, I talked about the youth vote and how so many who push for increased participation for the youth are doing so with the design of wielding the vote for their interests, rather than simply promoting general civic virtue. Check out the full article at the Standard-Examiner here.
This falls into one of my larger observations about current politics. A lot of political capital is spent by groups who corral voters into coalitions for goals decided by smaller groups of people who have arbitrarily decided what policies are best for them.
I’ve told the story many times now about my observations as a young Latter-day Saint missionary in Cleveland watching the buses come rolling into the projects to get people registered followed by an “Obama paid for this bus and, hey look, it’s an early voting day” pitch to the newly registered voters.
My concern with these kinds of tactics, which happen on all sides, is that this isn’t civics. It’s demagoguery. And, these days, we no longer seem able to tell the difference.
I mean, it’s great that the people I witnessed hopping on those buses got to get registered and that many of them voted for the first time. But the whole thing felt like a political machine, one that works most efficiently the less people are previously engaged, and the less people are knowledgeable on the issues of the day.
Worse, it seems that, too often, political campaigns and get-out-the-vote organizations arbitrarily decide which constituencies are their constituencies. Their efforts are truly corralling efforts that view different groups and ethnicities based on a narrow consideration of their interests. As I spoke to and got to know those who lived in the Cleveland projects that those buses were descending on, I discovered that African Americans tend to be far more conservative than the typical Democratic politician, and yet I never saw any Republican outreach in such areas. One party claimed them as theirs while the other had written them off.
I want civic engagement, and this country desperately needs civic virtue. But, once again, we face difficulty fighting for such essential things in that too few people seem to know what they look like and end up pushing things very different to these goals while claiming to be their champions. Both Obama and Trump, for example, are often praised by their proponents for increasing voter participation and getting more people into their coalitions. But, if you look at how people have gotten engaged and their professed reasons for doing so, it’s pretty easy to see that what they increased was tribalism and demagoguery, which has fueled serious dysfunction and hostility in society.
A country that desires healthy civic virtue must watch out for those who want to increase participation but will utilize voters as unwary tools instead of adequately educating them to engage as independent-minded citizens who can assert their own interests.
Participation isn’t enough, we need to be able to tell the difference between civics and demagoguery.
Those who follow me on social media know that things have been pretty rough for my family as of late. This last week we’ve been helping all three kids, including our newborn, struggle through RSV. Luckily, we haven’t had to rush anyone to the emergency room to get suctioned yet, but we’ve been keeping a constant eye on everyone’s condition. Our oldest seemed to turn a corner yesterday and has started doing a lot better, but the other two are still coughing pretty severely. Many have already reached out with their thoughts and prayers, and we are so appreciative of the outpouring of support. I should also throw some kudos to my excellent professors at UVU, who’ve graciously extended the due dates of many of my mid-term assignments so that I can focus on helping my family. Hopefully, we’ll be out of this rough patch soon.