Bob Garfield co-host of WNYC’s “On the Media,” is also co-organizer of the Purple Project for Democracy. Back when we were celebrating the 4th of July this summer, his “Rekindle Our Faith in Democratic Ideals” appeared in USA Today, and is excerpted here.

I hope you enjoyed the picnics and the fireworks. It has been quite a 243 years, and American democracy has had a pretty nice run. The Four Freedoms. Rule of Law. Free Elections. No archipelago of political prisons. At least seven brands of energy bars.

After the burgers are flipped, however, do understand: All of that is in peril… The data points are altogether unimaginable:

  • From the 2010-14 World Values Survey: 23% of Americans up to age 29 say democracy is a “fairly bad” or “very bad” way to run a country. 
  • From a 2018 Democracy Project survey: Asked about the importance of democracy to American society, only 39% of adults ages 29 and under said it was “absolutely important.” 
  • From the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer: In one year’s time, U.S. citizens’ aggregate trust in government, business, nongovernmental organizations and a free press plummeted 37%. 
  • From a 2017 survey of 5,000 voters by the Democracy Fund: 24% of the public said rule by “a strong leader who does not have to bother with … elections” is a “good” way to run a country; 18% said the same thing about “army rule.”

… This existential crisis isn’t about scandal or political conflict. It’s about hearts and minds. We’ve lost the trust, confidence, affection, pride, devotion, and gratitude from our own. And there’s a reason.

We’ve stopped hearing about it.

Amid our obsession with science, technology, engineering, and math, and endless standardized testing, social studies has been marginalized in public schools. Civics education is on a milk carton. Many students don’t know about the Bill of Rights, the branches of government, where laws come from, the role of the bureaucracy, presumption of innocence, and the function of a free press. These were once drummed in by teachers and scout leaders and clergy and freakin’ Superman…

Let’s create a brand for civic understanding and engagement, embracing all of the countless institutions with a dog in the democracy fight… To create a social incentive for civic participation. To rekindle understanding and appreciation of our democratic institutions and core values. In short, without whitewashing our sins, to restore faith in the American way…

With thanks… ~ Carol