After the SOTU's Childish Antics, What Can I Do to Strengthen American Democracy?

Scott Slayton | Contributor | Friday, February 10, 2023
After the SOTU's Childish Antics, What Can I Do to Strengthen American Democracy?

After the SOTU's Childish Antics, What Can I Do to Strengthen American Democracy?

The childishness of American politicians went on full display Tuesday night. Many elected leaders took part in showboating standing ovations or full-fledged heckling of the President of the United States. Before anyone reading this starts yelling, “Yeah, but, the other side,” I am not singling out either party.

As I read summaries of the night’s antics, I initially felt despondent. We have serious issues facing our nation with the domination of large corporations, the automation of many jobs, and the increasing difficulty of providing for a family. We don’t have serious politicians who can rise to the occasion. Americans will continue to struggle while our leaders grandstand for likes, retweets, and donations.

In my despondency, another thought struck me – we elected them. Every person sitting in Congress right now was elected by the American people. This grandstanding, polarized, and ineffective Congress is what we chose.

Therefore, if we want our government to change, we have to change. American citizens, particularly those who are followers of Jesus, have an obligation to improve the condition of the American republic so that it better addresses the obstacles we face.

We could talk for hours about how we need to change, but here are three suggestions to get us started today.

1 Know Your Principles

Too many Americans allow their anger and fear to guide their political thinking. We know what policies we hate and which politicians we loathe, but rarely are we able to articulate a positive vision of what we believe. We know what we are against, but not what we are for.

The antidote is simple – we need to rediscover our principles. This means doing the work to understand the issues that guide us and where we stand on them. You will not be able to build this kind of knowledge by watching cable news. It is built to feed your anxieties and fears, not to inform your mind and heart.

Get informed on issues by reading – both news sites and periodicals. As you see other sources referenced, go read those as well. Read four or five sources. I once heard someone say that if you only read one source, you will parrot what they say. Read two and you will be confused. However, if you read at least more you will start to develop your own opinion and your own ability to articulate your convictions. (After doing some research, I heard this from Tim Keller. I can't find the original quote I referenced, but he summarizes his point in this Tweet):

2 Get Involved in Your Community

When we spend too much time in our homes watching cable news or scrolling through the internet, we allow talking and tweeting heads to tell us what the most pressing issues of the day should be. If you spend time around people, you discover what the real issues are.

You accomplish this the same way Americans did until the last quarter century. Be present in the life of your local church. Don’t just attend Sunday morning. Go to fellowship meals and service projects. Volunteer with civic organizations that meet the needs of your community. Walk around the neighborhood and get to know the people who live around you.

When you do this, you’ll be happier and mentally healthier. You also walk away with a deeper understanding of what people are really struggling with. I bet you discover that it is rarely what they are yelling about on social media today.

3 Don't Give Attention to Grandstanding Politicians

The antics emanating from the halls of Congress grow more absurd with each passing day. This dynamic only continues because it works. Even if it generates negative coverage, the person at issue grows their name recognition and social media presence. Then they use the negative coverage to raise more money to keep themselves in office.

This cycle all depends on one thing – the American public's attention. If no one pays attention, the oxygen leaves the room and the fire dies out.

This makes our mandate very simple. When a grandstanding politician appears on television, change the channel. If they Tweet something outrageous, don't respond. Don’t quote-tweet it so you can dunk on it. Refuse to share it on Facebook or comment on stories about it. Mute them on social media and unsubscribe from their emails. When they stop getting attention, they’ll stop doing it. (Yes, I realize this is the same way that we handle misbehaving children sometimes. The irony is not lost on me).

"We the People"

The day after I finish writing this article, I will be teaching 10th graders about the Constitution. We will read the Preamble and I will draw their attention to the first three words: "We the people."

The citizens of the United States determine the direction of this nation and we choose the representatives who lead us. If we want leaders who solve problems, serve their constituents, and keep our best interests at heart, it depends on us to put them there. It won’t happen overnight. Yet, if we grow in wisdom, love our neighbors, and understand the issues we face, we will start to move in the right direction.

Scott Slayton writes at "One Degree to Another."

Image credit: ©Getty Images / Rozbyshaka

Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”

After the SOTU's Childish Antics, What Can I Do to Strengthen American Democracy?