No More a Nation of Joiners?
Do American conservatives need one more thing to be concerned about? How about a trend that is weakening our democratic government?
Resulting of decades-long failures in our education system to teach students civics and their duties as citizens, our country is experiencing an epic decline in the membership of civic and social groups. Led by the Gen Z generation, we no longer seem to be a nation of joiners.
Not many young people know what’s in the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers and how valuable they are to this republic. They know almost nothing about the government structure at any level or the concept of federalism. They don’t seem interested in joining organizations like the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, DeMolay, or 4-H Clubs or have much interest in delving into American history and ideals. Our education system is mostly to blame for this problem.
Ever since the founding of the United States, Americans have embraced forming organizations and associations. Their purposes covered a wide range, from religious to social to political. The “right to assemble” is even enshrined in our First Amendment. These organizations were born to solve challenges that appeared and evolved in our lives. Children were taught to be good citizens and leaders by participating in such associations, which connected people with similar interests to share opinions and debate to reach consensus decisions.
In the 1880s, the British political thinker James Bryce stated: “Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country.” Bryce saw that U.S. churches, fraternities, labor unions, corporate boards, volunteer fire companies, trade associations, and mutual insurers were operating in an atmosphere of civic participation that was the norm in the U.S., not the exception— a sort of civic religion.
American life in the past was full of such determined efforts. But we seem to have gone from a “nation of joiners” to a “nation of spectators” or a “nation of followers.” The golden age of voluntary association seems diminished. Americans have reduced social involvement, which has weakened the human skills needed for a democratic republic to remain healthy. Increasingly, we are less inclined to socialize, work or cooperate with our neighbors. Americans have become far more concerned about “rights” and not enough about “duties” as citizens. Little thought is given to placing national interests above their interests. The self-absorbed younger generations, especially in the larger cities, seem more enamored with entitlements than investing in public service or helping out their neighbors. They seem uncivil to one another or those with other viewpoints, as evidenced by the labyrinth and nastiness of social media.
And too many Americans have wandered away from punishing violence and the actions of criminals; further, they don’t understand that a divided government requires compromise to get anything done. Snarling, they cling to opposite positions, and the gaps widen. As they say, we get the government we deserve.
What and who are the culprits causing this lack of civic duty? Author Richard Haass points to “divisive social media,” accusations of “income inequality,” the “polarizing actions of politicians,” and the intent of people to “sort” out and accuse based on “race, religion, and education.” Add to that the rise of “Woke theory,” which teaches that individuals are inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive (requiring imposing hostile “cancel culture”), that America’s institutions are systemically racist and built around discrimination, and that people are either “privileged” oppressors or oppressed based on race, gender or national origin.
With all the accusers, haters, and cynics out there claiming that America is racist, systemically oppressive, or misogynistic, we shouldn’t wonder why people are not putting the interests of America over their own. Or at least equal. And too many of our leaders choose the dark path, refusing to correct their constituents on these matters. We need to see a giant wave across this country, embrace our obligations, promote civic fellowship, and encourage membership in organizations and clubs that focus on traditional pro-America efforts. America’s long-established values and customs brought us to best-nation-on-earth status and are worth saving. Period.
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