Public toilets rarely, if ever, act as a microcosm for a society. They have important functions, but social commentary is usually not one of them. Nevertheless, on the second floor of our Davidson Library, in the second cubicle of the men’s restrooms, is written as accurate a summation of the current American political situation as you are likely to find anywhere. Written on the toilet paper dispenser in large black marker is the exclamation, “George Bush is an idiot!” As you can see, we are not dealing with Rousseau here, but our commentator’s biting remarks are quickly countered, right there on that same dispenser, with the phrase, “He’s smarter than you. Damn Liberal!”
While hardly elegant, this political debate, which we can only assume was carried out while both participants were taking a dump, is reflective of the politically charged atmosphere that has engulfed America recently. This is an age where everyone seems to be interested in politics. Everyone has an opinion and, more to the point, American society seems polarized between those who support good ol’ George and the aforementioned “damn liberals.”
In fact, you would struggle to find a point in recent history when the American people have taken such an interest in their political environment. The year 1968 springs to mind. Though it was filled with bullets, riots and tear gas, 1968 also saw the emergence of political ideologies, which would have a great bearing on modern America.
However, there are differences between 1968 and today. There is more of a tendency in modern America to indulge in what certain quacks and hacks have dubbed “armchair politics.” What that means in a nutshell is that Mrs. Jones will be prepared to liken Donald Rumsfeld to some poisonous mollusk in her local Wal-Mart, but when it comes to becoming an active member of the political process, joining a party, contributing money, helping with a grass-roots organization or even voting, she would rather be strapped to a 6-foot block of Wisconsin cheese and thrown into a nest of rats.
The simple fact is that, while voter turnout increased during the last presidential election – the highest, in fact, since 1968 – the involvement of the American people in the political process is still terribly low compared to the likes of ’68. The political elites in America, always a small group to begin with, is shrinking further. They are also becoming less responsive to the wishes and desires of the people. Financing, support and organization comes from big business and, consequently, it is the interests of big business that politics serve.
Now, I’m sure some of you – I hope that the readers of this article are indeed in the plural; if not, then one of you – will be thinking to yourselves that it is very easy for me to have a whinge about modern America in a student newspaper. You may have also noticed that I am not an American citizen. However, the problems I have been discussing require some careful consideration, especially in a year of congressional elections. Firstly, you must, must vote. This is the primary way Americans enter the democratic process. All this “live free or die” rhetoric becomes utterly meaningless unless you vote. Millions die every year for this basic right and there is no excuse not to use it.
Also, if you feel strongly about an issue, do something about it. Join a party. Write a letter. Throw five dollars toward some movement. Freedom of speech and expression is what makes this country great. Exercise these rights. Don’t save your thoughts and opinions for a bar-room argument. This is an exciting and weird time to be alive. In the ’90s all we had to worry about was elected officials getting blow jobs. Now there are snipers in the backgarden and snakes crawling all over Capitol Hill. If you’re unhappy about this, try to change it.
Fergal Madigan is a junior history major.