Rhetoric and reality: Ideal America has always depended on us

by Bob Schwartz

It may come as news to the less historically minded, but democracy, the kind we embrace in America, is a relatively new and novel way of government. We are still in the process of learning how it works, how it lives and how it dies.

Rhetoric has always been the way of government, long before modern democracy. Leaders say stuff, citizens repeat that stuff or say different stuff, citizens believe some stuff and don’t believe other stuff, and leaders respond to what citizens say and do.

In its relatively brief democratic life, America has typically embraced rhetoric. Much of it, in simplest terms, concerns just how exceptional and durable—eternal—American democracy really is.

As usual with compelling rhetoric in any sector—government, business, religion, whatever—rhetoric can make us lazy and careless. We come to believe that rhetoric is reality, almost a form of magical thinking. What we say and believe becomes the way things are.

And so, looking at just one aspect, Americans don’t vote in nearly great enough numbers, and those who do vote don’t always study and think hard about the issues and personalities, both of which are complicated. Things will just naturally be alright, we think, because this is a democracy and this is America. Both will last uninterruptedly forever.

But in reality, talk is not just cheap, it can be useless and tragic. All of this, all this glorious American democracy, has always and solely depended on us.

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