Ten years ago this September, I published my first op-ed for Windy City Times: The art of citizenship 2012, or night sweats of a classical humanist. I wrote this op-ed because of the serious damage being done to our political system by the influx of unregulated monies caused by the Supreme Court's 2010 affirmation of the principle in the Citizens United case that money is a form of speech and cannot be regulated by the Federal Election Commission.
Under the false flag of free speech, billions of unregulated monies had distorted the parameters of political discourse to silence independent, non-partisan voices.
In 2012, I wrote: "In a society that requires obscene amounts of money to run for public office, and in a society in which attack ads destroy candidates regardless of their worth or the worth of their ideas, it is small wonder that 40 percent of our voting age population fails to vote in presidential elections. Many thoughtful, good citizens make the decision to not vote because they understand the forces that render active citizenship almost impossible."
Today: As one of my friends keeps pointing out to me, "You've spilt a lot of ink on the importance of literacy and tolerance and finding common ground but things have only gotten worsemuch worse." He's right.
Conspiracy theories, cancel culture and the rise of Christian nationalism into a powerful political movement claiming to know and do God's will have driven out the good currency of rational dialogue and artful compromise in our body politic. The Trump presidency tore away any functional center of our republic and gave permission to ugly destructive forces to demonize the "different." The self-righteous don't want to understand or talk to the "Other." They only want to condemn and eliminate those who disagree with them.
Sadly, the advent of social media did not provide us with decentralized independent sources of accurate information and informed perspectives. Just the opposite occurred: the explosion of false data, unsupported conspiracy theories, and vicious attacks on public servants.
Putin INC taught us how social media can be used to destroy our political system by destroying people's trust in the process and in the basic institutions of our society.
The Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection did not happen spontaneously. It was a conflagration systematically ignited and fed by poisonous fuels of disinformation and hate.
Too often, the poor and those who feel threatened ally themselves with destructive forces as a means of venting their frustrations and legitimate complaints. When lies are rewarded, when truth is persecuted, when hard work is not properly compensated, when fear overwhelms common sense, the cracks in the society become fissures, the fissures become chasms, the chasms become unbridgeable abysses.
The disenchantment with liberalism which failed economically to include vast swaths of the world's hard working poor and which failed to develop a healthy sense of community has led to the formation of reactionary populist movements.
Ideologues from left and right have joined hands to shut down freedom of speech. Academia, once the bastion of free speech, struggles to keep its public spaces open for public discourse, open for freedom of inquiry, open for freedom of research and publication, and open for responsible debate in and outside of the classroom without prior censorship or shutting down speech that makes some people feel vulnerable.
Just take a look at the list of books banned from our public education systems: pen.org/banned-in-the-usa/ .
According to recent YouGov and Economist polling, more than two out of five Americans believe there will be a civil war in the United States in the next 10 years; more than 50% of self-identified Republicans want Trump to run for president again; and more than 69% of Republicans think that the Democrats are destroying democracy and our republic. The same percentage of Democrats believe that the Republicans are destroying democracy and our republic.
Gallup 2022 political polls demonstrate the extreme erosion of trust in our basic institutions such as the Department of Justice, the Supreme Court of the United States, the Media. Trust in the U.S. Supreme Court has waned by 25%; trust in the presidency, 23%; trust in newspapers, 16%; trust in the criminal justice system, 14%; trust in big business, 14%; trust in television news, 11%; and trust in Congress, 7%.
Without trust, our institutions cannot function. Our democracy cannot function.
Our religious, political and civil leaders should be working together to create common ground on which we can converse with one another with respect and dignity, learning to listen again as well as speak wisely and act prudently for the good of all.
As a writer, I have faith in you, the reader, that you will give what I have to say a fair hearing. As a reader, you trust that I do the work necessary to present to you important information for your reflection. The reader and the writer need each other to understand our mutual responsibilities as citizens in a free society.
Without trust, we cannot discover the best future for our republic.
Thank you for your 10 years of readership.
September 2022 © email@example.com Windy City Times
Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago, president of Chicago Network JP, an officer at the San Miguel PEN Centre and a member of the TOSOS Theatre Ensemble, NYC.