The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

It’s no secret that I’ve railed against Americans’ petty foolishnesses of late.

I know that the real “real America” isn’t the one being portrayed in the media, with the misspelled banners and the weight problems and the blind allegiance to charismatic figures claiming a return to God via a wide array of merchandising.

I know that the real “real America”—the America I love—is a living, breathing amalgam of hardworking men and women, from all sides of the political aisle, who put in an honest day’s work every single day to keep this country functioning 24/7.

Admittedly, it’s easy to demonize a group that believes differently than we do.

Throughout America’s history, the “other” has always been painted derogatorily. When the Republicans are in power, the Democrats are bleeding heart hippie commies who want abortions. When the Democrats are in power, the Republicans are uneducated religious fanatics who are slaves to big business. Hell, even in our recent past as a nation, from McCarthyism to segregation, steps were taken to institutionalize our mistrust of the unfamiliar. We seem to be naturally built to think less of those whose perspectives, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, hair color, etc. are different from ours.

But alas, the ideals of democracy demand that all groups be included.

And the ideals of democracy endow us with rights and responsibilities.

And I think forgetting that or marginalizing what that really means is what frequently gets us in trouble in our public discourse.

Joe Klein has an interesting op-ed in Time magazine about how democracy can be operationalized. He talks about the concept of a kleroterion, an ancient process that basically puts the decision-making power for governmental processes in the hands of ordinary, randomly-selected citizens. It’s kind of like jury duty on steroids, only for deciding how to spend FY 2011 funds instead of whether a criminal should be executed.

He then conjectures, based on some modern-day iterations of the kleroterion, what it would be like if America were run more like a democracy.

What would that be like indeed?

I have to admit that I’ve often looked at the “other” with disdain and mistrust. I’ve perpetuated the soft (or not so soft, as the case may be) bigotry of low expectations.

If I were to truly embrace the ideals of democracy—and stood for everything that entails—it may mean that I let my blood simmer rather than boil every time I hear Beck or Palin share their views about how the country should be run.

It may also mean that I need to take responsibility for being the solution to the problem rather than supplying the fuel.

I understand that we can get caught up in the daily minutiae of putting food on our table. And I understand that it’ll take time and tremendous effort to cut through the weeds and bullcrap from all nooks and crannies of the political machine. But every once in a while (and perhaps close to mid-term elections), I think it would do us well as a country to stop and think about what being part of a democratic society—indeed, the world’s greatest democracy—really means.

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