THE PROBLEM: The Social Contract Has Been Broken

The first few weeks of January are the perfect time to reflect upon the year that has passed.  What were your greatest successes and your most challenging defeats?  What have you learned about yourself?  How have you grown as a person?  Personally, I have been doing plenty of reflecting….

Today (January 16th) is the 1st anniversary of Citizenship101.infoand we are a community of over 4,650 users!  

I started this blog last year partly as self-therapy and partly as a way to encourage others and lead them down a positive path in the midst of the chaos that followed President Trump’s election and inauguration.  Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, you have to agree that America is headed in a dangerous direction.  Fear, Hate, and Division rule the day, while Truth, Trust, and Compromise are nearly impossible to find among our nation’s leaders.  All day, every day, a never-ending train of political pundits, journalists, and Democratic politicians preach to us about the political APOCALYPSE we are living in, while the President, Republican politicians, and a few talking head groupies simultaneously insist that things have actually never been better.  Meanwhile, everyone in Washington is pointing fingers at each other like a bunch of toddlers.  The whiplash is debilitating.  It’s difficult to know which end is up.  I mean, the last time I checked the sky was still blue, but it feels like there’s no guaranteeing what color it will be tomorrow.

As an average American citizen, this can be a terrifying time.  However, as a Political Scientist, I can still see the outlines of order beneath the chaos.  If I squint really hard, remember everything that I have learned about American political history,  and examine long term causes and effects instead of just looking for someone to blame, I can rise above the mayhem of the moment and see our situation from a bird’s eye view.  I can understand how we got here, and with that knowledge, I can tell YOU exactly what we need to do to get our society back on the right path….

As far as blogs go, you guys may have noticed that my posting is a little infrequent.  I mean, Citizenship101.info is definitely not the place to go for annoying daily blog posts about irrelevant topics.  In a cacophony of minute-by-minute tweets, live streams, podcasts, and the rest, it is easy for truly important messages to get lost.  So I’ve decided to try something different.  What if I were to write a book… in real time… and make it interactive with the readers?  And what if that book leads to the creation of a series of online courses that every day Americans can take to learn more about our political system and how it works?  This is my vision.  I want you to think of each one of my posts like a book chapter.  My goal is to make them meaningful and memorable so that you will learn from them, not to try to become famous by bombarding you with repetitive, endless commentary.

But don’t worry, I do plan to post more frequently in 2018.  In fact, I’ll be posting content from from the American Government class that I’m teaching this semester.  That’s right!  You’ll be learning right alongside my current students at the College of Charleston!  You’ll even have a chance to see my students’ class presentations at the end of this semester when I post them on my YouTube page: www.youtube.com/professorneka.  I left the teaching profession 5 years ago to become the primary caretaker for my terminally ill mother.  I thought that I would never go back, but when I started working on Citizenship101.info last year, I realized that I had no choice.  If you’ve read my earlier posts, then you know that I truly believe civic education is the solution to our nation’s problems.  You also know how passionate I am about it.  I couldn’t just continue sitting on the sidelines.  I had to dust myself off and get back into the game.  I went back to teaching at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC in August, and I am currently teaching American Government and Introduction to African American Studies.

Last week was the first week of the Spring semester.  If you had been listening in on my American Government classes, you would have heard a lot about DEMOCRACY.  The term comes from the Greek word demos, which means people.  Thus, democracy is a form of governance OF, BY, and FOR the people.  Of course, kings and dictators are “people” too, but what makes a democracy special is that the people who are being governed are actually able to PARTICIPATE in the governing process themselves.  This is why we call the people who live in democracies citizens, while we call the people who live under monarchies and dictatorships subjects.  Subjects are helpless individuals at the mercy of their leader, but citizens have a long list of rights that can not be infringed upon.  Along with all of those rights, however, also come responsibilities.

Citizenship is a Social Contract between those who are governing and those who are being governed.  And like any other contract, it represents an agreement between the two sides.  The leaders agree to act in the best interest of their people, and the people consent to the government’s authority.  This doesn’t mean they have to love every statement or policy that their leader makes, but it does mean that they settle disagreements with him by supporting his opponent in the next election instead of by trying to kill him.  Basically, they are are agreeing to endorse the system and play by the rules.  As long as both sides hold up their end of the bargain, the society flourishes.  But what happens when the Social Contract is broken?

If you think about it, America’s Social Contract has been broken for quite some time.  Past Presidents couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain.  Ever since the Vietnam and Watergate era, the majority of Americans have shown a deep suspicion of the motivations of politicians at every level and a mistrust of government in general.  People tend to attribute politicians’ actions more to greed and arrogance than to pursuit of the common good. That may be especially true of this President, but as a whole, politicians tend to be about as popular as lawyers and tax collectors.

However, they are not the only ones who have broken the Social Contract.  American citizens haven’t held up their end of the bargain either.  Over the years, we have become so comfortable with our rights that we have been ignoring our responsibilities.  We have outsourced all of our important decision-making to a group of politicians and then decided not to participate fully in the elections to select those representatives.  Only about half of the American adult population ever votes in national elections, and those that do are often woefully uninformed about the issues being discussed.  This leaves them with no way to hold their representatives accountable once they get into office and makes them highly susceptible to manipulation by political parties.  To add insult to injury, we barely teach our youth anything about our political system and how it works.  Since the Social Contract requires them to “endorse the system and play by the rules,” not knowing the rules puts them at a significant disadvantage.

What we are left with is self-serving greed and arrogance from our leaders and a population where ignorance and political apathy run rampant.  It sounds bad, but our situation is not hopeless.  The institutions that our forefathers established have endured.  To get our society back on the right path, we need to start by increasing civic education.  It is the key to everything.  Of course, we also need more honest politicians that are committed to the common good, but the only way we will get them is by creating an informed and engaged electorate that will vote them into office and hold them accountable once they get there.  As long as uninformed voters are still choosing Presidents based on who their party says would be better to have a beer with, the honest, serious candidates will never win.  Civic education can save our society, but we have to start now.  There is no time to waste.