In 2001, Thomas Volgy took time to explore how Americans view their political leaders through his book “Politics in the Trenches.” In his book, Volgy came to the defense of American politicians as they suffer from what the author considered to be a lack of empathy from the citizens (Volgy 6). Volgy also takes time to reflect on the diminished civic engagement among American citizens. The United States has always served as an example of ‘democracy at work’ for other countries across the world.
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However, over the last few years, American citizens have exhibited high levels of mistrust towards political personalities. Furthermore, citizens have indicated an unwillingness to engage in political activities. For instance, voter recruitment drives are fully-fledged social-political undertakings, but they cannot guarantee civic engagement. On the other hand, politicians continue to be treated with suspicion by the American public.
Consequently, Volgy and other political scholars have contributed to the debate on declining empathy and civic engagement in the United States. In his book, “Bowling Alone,” author Putnam questions the declining vibrancy of civil institutions in America (Putnam 28). “This essay explains why trust, empathy, and civic engagement are on the decline in the United States.” In addition, the paper explores these issues in the context of democracy and offers viable solutions to the underlying problems.
The first major indicator of declining civic engagement is inter-generational trends. Research indicates that declining levels of trust, empathy, and civic engagement began being witnessed in the 1960s (Hero 89). The main characteristic of this change is the fact that the generations before and after World War II have different levels of civic engagements. Volgy was a public servant during the post-war period, and he outlines these developments in a vivid manner.
In addition, the dramatic changes that took place in society after the war contributed greatly to the decline in civic engagement. For example, after World War II, “the rise of television as the dominant form of entertainment and the spread of suburban sprawl” changed the levels of cohesion in the society (Putnam 104).
Nevertheless, not all was lost in the post-war period because new groups, including women and minorities, were also introduced to civic participation processes. Some scholars have argued that opening the civil process to all is the major contributor to declining civic engagement in the country. For instance, because the civil rights’ strife was a major attraction to civic participation, when America embraced equal rights for all, the interest in politics declined immediately.
Although significant strides have been made towards the achievement of diversity in the political arena, most people still feel that their interests are not adequately represented. Studies have shown that several people are of the view that politicians set diversity agendas to coincide with their own interests. Consequently, when politicians advocate for the importance of diversity, citizens feel that they are only doing this to gain political mileage.
Volgy presents an accurate analysis of what goes on surreptitiously during political-administration undertakings. These revelations indicate that the suspicions on politicians can be based on mere speculation. One school of thought argues that increased diversity is associated with high civic engagement while another group believes that the opposite is true. Nevertheless, diversity issues have a major influence on the levels of trust, empathy, and civic engagement among the electorate.
The decline in trust, empathy, and civic engagement is a major threat to America and its esteemed institutions. The founding fathers of this nation relied heavily on voluntary civic engagements to set up the foundations that have made this country prosperous.
Furthermore, most institutions in the United States rely on civic engagement for survival. For instance, the integrity of America’s electoral process has withstood the test of time due to its heavy reliance on civic engagement. Consequently, if civic engagement continues to decline, other external forces might hijack the electoral system. A weakened electoral system will signal the demise of a democratic America and its enviable moral authority.
One solution to the declining levels of civic engagement in education. It is argued that education is one of the most practical solutions to this trend. From an early age, children are taught the importance of civic engagement (Einfeld and Collins 87). However, in the tertiary levels of education, involvement in civic activities becomes optional. To reverse the trend of declining empathy and civic engagement, educators should turn their focus on tertiary-level institutions.
Tertiary institutions contain students who are already part of the democratic process. Enticing tertiary-level students to be involved in civic activities is important because it revives civic engagement when it is starting to decline. Another solution to the problem of declining interest in democracy is to ensure that politicians reduce the ‘distance’ between them and their electorate. For instance, when civic engagement was at its prime, it was common for politicians to mingle freely with the electorate (without relying on electronic media).
There is a danger in losing the elements of trust, empathy, and civic engagement among the electorate. This trend has mostly been prompted by changing lifestyles and urbanization. The solution to this problem lies in embracing civic studies in institutions of higher learning and bringing the politicians closer to the public. Eventually, the levels of trust, empathy, and civic engagement need to go up in order to maintain America’s claim to democracy.
Einfeld, Aaron, and Denise Collins. “The relationships between service-learning, social justice, multicultural competence, and civic engagement.” Journal of College Student Development 49.2 (2008): 95-109. Print.
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Hero, Rodney E. Racial diversity and social capital, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
Putnam, Robert D. Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000. Print.
Volgy, Thomas J. Politics in the trenches: citizens, politicians, and the fate of Democracy, Arizona: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Print.