According to almost every national poll, confidence in government has hit an all-time low. People are not only disillusioned; they’re embarrassed. Our political leaders seem unable, even unwilling, to help their country in its time of need. And when pundits speak about the “silent majority”, suggesting the existence of a broad-based consensus on salient political issues, they are relying on faulty data or wishful thinking.
The vast preponderance of data confirms the fact that this country is indeed a polarized one; Such a majority is an illusion, and a comforting one at that.
But if there truly is a silent majority, it is made up of citizens who passionately distrust their government. The one thing most commonly heard from the average citizen when asked about politics is a sort of resigned fatalism, a nostalgic dismay over the country they once believed could perform for its citizens.
Now, most Americans see that government as a shell of its former glory. There you have your real, though considerably less edifying, “silent majority”. Now there are a few reasons why Americans turn to distrust when faced with obstacles. One is that it is an integral element of our history. Raised with the ideals of personal liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights, Americans find commonalities in their distrust of centralized power (until, of course, that power sends them their Social Security check in the mail.) Until then, however, they will harbor a virulent degree of distrust for the government that supposedly represents them.
It is just that assumption—that government represents them—that most Americans can not come to accept. Witness Occupy Wall Street. Right now, the movement’s protesters are establishing their own communities based on that same ideal—everyone participates, everyone gets heard, no matter what. That is, as you can probably imagine, pretty inefficient. And it’s hard to imagine our government being less efficient than it is.
But that’s not a huge concern of the protesters. On NPR’s program, Planet Money, reporter Zoe Chase asked a protester what he thought about the U.S. Government becoming even less efficient: “Whatever”, he said. It’s not an issue.
The distrust, however, is a huge issue, one that it is keeping a rising generation from engaging in American politics. This mindset pushes government even further over the cliff and into the hands of ravenous lobbyists. So if this movement succeeds in drumming up support and political engagement among a rising class of citizens, all the power to it. I hope it succeeds.