A British friend recently sent me a link to an interesting article in the London Times. I read the article and while it initially appeared to be a write-up about Kamala Harris’ entry into the Presidential race, I found it was a lengthy and insightful article about California politics, to wit the potential impact California’s current progressive orientation might have on the broader American political direction.
The piece discussed California’s recent political past. It detailed some gubernatorial history – Ronald Reagan, Gray Davis’ ouster by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown’s multiple terms – and how the state, often viewed from the outside as a bastion of extreme liberalism, is really a microcosm of the United States: both liberal and conservative, urban and rural, native-born and immigrant. As the article indicated, California society ebbs and flows, much as American society does.
What struck me most about the article is how well-known, observed and analyzed are California — and American — culture and politics around many parts of the world. A few years back, while visiting England, my husband and I were impressed with how knowledgeable Brits were about the U.S. political scene and the causes for the then current state of American affairs.
On the other hand, Americans are notorious for being ill-informed about other countries’ political and social histories and affairs. Many believe that “life” begins and ends on American soil and that understanding other countries’ histories, cultures, practices and beliefs is a waste of time that is better spent on other endeavors. This is sad and embarrassing.
Equally pathetic, however, is the fact that many Americans, regardless of their regional affiliation or socio-economic level, are likewise ignorant of their own country’s political and social contexts. With another critical election cycle looming, America’s “communal ignorance” is another accident waiting to happen. I say “another, “because the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land was, in many ways, a result of a voting population that is woefully ignorant of American political history or how this nation is run. The ongoing – and sometimes humorous – cry, “That’s unconstitutional!” is an example of how misguided and ignorant many Americans are when it pertains to our political structure. I doubt that many who shout this out whenever they hear anything they don’t like have read the Constitution or understand its meaning or purpose. Many voters are impressed with glib catch-phrases or easy solutions to complicated issues. They do not want to be bothered learning about critical political or social concerns; they’re more interested in the latest gadgets, football games, or the lives of celebrities. Consequently, when they do vote, many tend to vote for candidates that appeal to their immediate gratification, rather than those candidates who might be able to take the United States into the future as the egalitarian and optimistic nation it purports to be.
In the July 16, 2019 edition of The Washington Post, there was an article by Dana Milbank, “We Are a Deeply Stupid Country.” As he wrote, Americans got in President Trump “a President who burns alliances, insults allies, sides with Putin over the American government, ignores Russia’s abuses, and bashes the free press across Europe. “Is that what we wanted? It is what happened when ignorance took over. We will get it again, unfortunately, if we don’t take the time and energy to study our country’s political history and structure so we can make informed choices that lead to a stronger, more hopeful future.
by Jackie Finley