Democracy blindness: On being misinformed about democracy or ignoring its principles when the outcome does not go your way
November 15, 2020
The recent election demonstrated that many Americans either don’t understand how elections work, or don’t really care.
Shortly after the polls closed, many Americans either unhappy with the projected outcome of the electoral race protested, and contrary to their state’s laws suggested that the vote counting be stopped or continued.
Some, despite the evidence of state chief election officers and certifications of elections to the contrary, but echoing conspiracy theories advocated by President Donald Trump’s and supportive news media pundits, claimed that the vote was rigged.
This is a scary situation. Why did this occur? Although there are multiple reasons, one that sticks out is that many Americans are poorly informed about how American democracy operates. I would even go further and argue that some really don’t care.
Clearly, I’m not the first person to identify this problem. As recent as 2019, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania found that about three in five Americans don’t know the three branches of government and an equal number don’t know a single branch.
Why does this occur and what can be done to remedy this situation?
Sure we can blame the influence of a focus on STEM education, and the mass media like the internet, including increased distractions presented by the rise of social media, especially Facebook, TikTok, etc., but I believe that the basic cause of this democracy blindness, is the erosion and elimination of both classes that teach students how to think critically, and civics classes in the typical middle and high school curriculum of the United States.
What are the solutions? Again, there are many, however I believe that there needs to be mandatory teaching of critical thinking skills and civics in middle and high school. The exact curriculum can be decided upon by a committee of nationally recognized experts. Regardless, this education should be funded by the federal government. Moreover if student’s don’t pass this test, administered in a SAT like fashion, and I don’t mean squeak by with 51 percent or a C, they don’t graduate.
This is the way to go. We don’t want to slide into authoritarianism and enable kleptocracies, like the situation we are now in. We want an informed public, properly schooled in the basics of democracy, who knows and respects our history, laws and our constitution, not one that make their decisions simply based on superficial aspects of the candidates or what their family, friends, or religious leaders told them how to vote.
photo: “Million MAGA March” by Victoria Pickering