• Ben Henschel

Quick comments on renewing the constituency's sense of responsibility

Updated: Jan 11

As the decade draws to its end, much has been said of nostalgia and what there is to be drawn from its occurrences. I'm hoping to put in one last word on an important topic that many have begun to overlook given the bottomless heap of news that throws itself on Americans everywhere, and the resulting sense that the country's state isn't worth paying attention to.

Two words, actually. Civic education is the continuous process of one’s knowledge of their government and their role in it — and it’s simultaneously the most important and most overlooked informal democratic process in America.

The conventional American’s civic aptitude is formed by a blend of informational streams that are often out of their control, but at hand consistently — frequently read newspapers, television shows, favored politicians’ expressed opinions, and word-of-mouth endorsements among them. In tandem, these means form a conglomerate understanding of what “the best America can be” truly is to them, whether that stance deems the country as already perfect or far from it. This vision is what fuels a constituent’s most personal goals.

Civic education feeds one’s overall propensity for successful democracy, fueled mainly by those personal goals — simply put, it’s learning how one best functions in a democracy as a citizen, and how to maximize the level to which one carries out their civic responsibilities.

At the moment, there are more excellent resources than ever to properly educate oneself — but there are an equal, if not greater, number of misleading and skewed sources from which to blur an American’s picture of effective democracy.

The press could be given a symbolic nod as a fourth branch of American government, given its responsibility to hold governmental and social bodies accountable without direct governmental control. But with the 21st century’s technological innovation, the amount of information accessible to (and put upon) Americans is at an increasing maximum.

Overwhelmed citizens unwilling to cut through all the noise, then, are left without ambition in their democracy.

Why else would an age with the greatest accessible realm of civic education resources also be one that saw the most recent presidential election yield voter turnout at a 20-year low?

This vast increase in informational resources is obviously to the benefit of Americans as well, given the new means for constituents to communicate via social media, and for figures of political influence to communicate in an informal manner to their constituents on social platforms. But the real and present issue of cutting through the noise still casts a looming shadow.

Then arises the question of how one combats this — how to cut through the noise, how to pinpoint what’s merely political and what’s democratically responsible. It's a question worthy of an action committee to set out a public relations movement...and not one I have ready access to. But this much can be easily drawn:

Keeping Americans informed on how to conduct civic duties must include giving them the direct tools to do so, in an orderly fashion given the lack of time many desire to spend thinking about government — and requires a collective response from constituents to ensure its importance from person to person.

Carrying this unofficial movement to the next phase is an essential step, given especially how unclear the path to optimal constituency has become.

Without an informed electorate, democracy fails — and without a proper return to civically educated form, America’s constituency skates on thinner ice by the minute.