Why is the system so broken?
Different iterations of this question seemed to underly so much of our recent politics in America. It seemed without question that something had gone wrong in our system of government. The system that could not be defeated by a Civil War, World Wars, depressions, recessions, pandemics, corruption or idiocy was now universally considered defunct. Simple items of business could not find agreement. The same country that had galvanized in the face of fascism now seemed frozen on the issue of paying for obligations we had already incurred.
The symptoms of dysfunction were clear, and I certainly agree that something has gone horribly wrong. But I stopped asking the above question. I stopped asking not because I learned the answer, but because I realized I was asking the wrong question.
Why are we so broken?
Citizen Zero is my project to answer the right question. Our system has ever relied on we, the people making good decisions and coming to consensus about what we will build together. At some point in the recent past, it became more important to “win” than to solve problems. We sorted into teams. We derided each other as “rubes” or “not real Americans” rather than trying to find commonalities in our philosophy. We stopped believing that we all even share the common goal of making a better America.
To me, citizenship is the key to repairing this damage. We have become complacent about our obligations to each other and ourselves. We have abandoned the principle of “we, the people,” and broken the virtuous cycle of democracy: information, action, accountability.
Citizenship is not a legal obligation; it is a process, a part of our identities as Americans. We must live it out in local meeting halls, in thunderous rallies, in constituent letters, in our media consumption, in what we create and discuss with each other. Citizenship does not live or die with the election cycle; it is not a temporary condition every two (or four) years.
This blog will cover the different ways people can keep citizenship alive in their day to day lives, including: how to resist blind partisanship; how to stay informed; when to criticize media; why politicians never seem to listen; why state and local elections are even more important than the Presidency, and how to talk to your fellow citizens without devolving into a screaming match.
There will be some teaching, some learning, laughter and sobriety, and lots and lots of metaphors. But I hope that I can leave others with the sense that “we, the people” means more than ink on centuries old paper.