• Joey Osborne

Where is America Headed? Will Ignorance be our Undoing?

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Ignorance is not bliss and whoever said so is an idiot. Please allow me to elaborate.

“Never have so many people with so little knowledge made so many consequential decisions for the rest of us. A person need only survey the inanity of the ongoing presidential race (2016) to comprehend that the most pressing problem facing the nation isn’t Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media or even Big Money in politics. It’s you, the American voter.”

David Harsanyi

Despite a strong economy, according to a recent study by research institute PRRI, Americans are pessimistic when it comes to the direction of the country. Nearly 64% of the public believe things in the country have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track.

By virtue of the ease of sharing and consumption of biased information, proliferated by a vast hyper-partisan media, the off-course acceleration of American governance is exponentially greater than any other time in history.

Studies indicate that Americans are far more likely to believe the country has gone off course in just the last few years than to say this has been happening for a long time. 40% of Americans say the country has gotten off on the wrong track recently, while 24% say the U.S. has been on the wrong track for a long time.

That such a relatively small percentage of those surveyed believe the U.S. has been on the wrong track for a long time speaks to a common human tendency to not realize how bad things actually are in cases where those things happen gradually, over a long enough period of time. This is classic ignorance. I call this phenomenon creeping normalcy.

You may have heard the boiling frog fable describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

The problems we’re seeing now in government have been a long time coming and if some major issues are not corrected America is destined to become the proverbial boiled frog.

The same PRRI study that I cited earlier found that among partisans, views about the direction of the country have flipped back and forth with little to no regard to anything that’s real.

Shortly after the election of Donald Trump as President 70% of Republicans said they believed the country is headed in the right direction. In contrast, in the fall of 2016, just before the election, only 7% of Republicans said the U.S. was headed in the right direction.

Views among Democrats shifted at the same time. At the time 70% of Republicans thought the country was headed in the right direction only 8% of Democrats thought so. About 90% of Democrats said things had gotten off on the wrong track in the last few years.

Fast forward to the first 6 months of Joe Biden’s Presidency and the percentages have again flipped. In a recent poll 87% of Democrats said things are better and 98% of Republicans say things are worse.

We’ve become such a hyper-partisan country that we tend to think all our problems will be solved when “our” party is in power. But worse than our extreme political bias, when it comes to a basic understanding of the grand and beautiful design the founders laid out for our Republic, we’ve become a country of the-ignorant.

Americans have a historically low and limited knowledge or understanding as to how our government was designed and intended to function. As a result, our sovereign constituency has little foundation upon which to base any judgement about its future. If you don’t know how something is supposed to work there’s little chance you’re going to know that it’s broken and there’s an even slimmer chance you’re going to know how to fix it. That’s pretty scary when you think about the functionality of a democratic republic where the People must play a big part in maintaining the balance of power.

As David Harsanyi, Senior Editor at the Federalist wrote…

“Never have so many people with so little knowledge made so many consequential decisions for the rest of us. A person need only survey the inanity of the ongoing presidential race (2016) to comprehend that the most pressing problem facing the nation isn’t Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media or even Big Money in politics. It’s you, the American voter.”

A few years ago, a study was done which found that nearly 30% of Americans couldn’t name the vice president. More than 60% didn’t know the length of U.S. senators’ terms in office. And 43% didn’t know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years.

Knowledge of civics are at an all-time low and it should come as no surprise that public trust in government is at only 18% and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. It’s a human tendency to be against things we’re not knowledgeable about. We’re normally down on what we’re not up on.

Absent an understanding of the structure of government, the principles upon which it was founded, and the true intentions of the founders, creeping normalcy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy.

Educators and schools have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure that young people become educated and engaged, but as previously stated, there is precious little time for that effort alone to change the downward trajectory of the way we’re being governed. To compound the problem, there’s also little to no interest on the part of the education system as a whole to change anything.

In regard to the matters of crafting policy and writing law, though the framers of our federal government were keenly aware that the electorate would always to some degree be deficient, they could never have anticipated the intentionality by which schools and educators today not only don’t teach civics, but seek to sabotage the efficient functioning of government by presenting biased and one-sided elements of US history.

The current state of the education system in America combined with our exponential acceleration toward a non-functional government, doesn’t leave enough time to significantly change our course through educating the public. But we do have to start that process ASAP.

So will ignorance be the undoing of America?

James Madison thought it possible.

In a letter he wrote in 1822 in support of federal funding for education to increase political knowledge he stated…

A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a People who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.

So what do we do?

If we're to restore meaningful and positive influence back to the voting constituency we have to get serious about education, but it’s too ambitious to think in terms of reforming the entire education system. Just the thought of undertaking such a monumental task might even keep us from taking the first step. But, if we think in terms of incremental steps the mountain seems climbable.

A great first step might be to start the process of taking the power and control out of the hands of politicians and putting it in the hands of the “People” where the founders intended it to be.

We have to stop voting for politicians who tell us what they’re going to do and start demanding that those we elect do what we tell them to do. If we adopt that course of action, with it, will naturally come the responsibility and necessity on the part of the People to learn and become educated.

Whether you believe it’s by design or just a consequence of the human tendency of creeping normalcy, the People have dangerously conceded too much power and control to the government and we must reclaim it.

I believe the People are entirely capable of fulfilling the role that Madison had in mind. The People can be “their own governors” and given the opportunity they will “arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives”.

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