Is America pathetic? No. Is America apathetic? Definitely. People today just do not seem to give a damn about anything important anymore. Sure, it has become trendy to know the inside scoop on that one Indie film. You know, the one about a kid with psychological problems who finds guidance through the sounds of the waves crashing on his rich, post-menopausal stepmom’s private beach. Yet, when it comes to anything of legitimate importance, such as politics, Americans simply do not care. Which is terrible, because we are living in such politically important times. The challenges our nation faces, whether it is the adverse effects that pollution and global warming have on our environment, or the Bush administration’s attack on our civil liberties, are overwhelming. They should also be impossible to ignore, and yet people are doing just that.
Take the complete failure that is the war in Iraq as an example. The US military death toll is nearing 3,000 while nearly 50,000 Iraqis have died. And things have not been getting any better in recent months. According to statistics taken from the Associated Press, there has been a consistent increase in the death rate since January of 2006.
As if the public were not getting a good enough idea of Bush’s floundering, a group of 16 American intelligence agencies released a report titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” that spelled it out for the world to see. The document concluded that Bush’s attack on Iraq, which the president has called the “central front in the war on terrorism,” not only failed to stem terrorist activities, it created a new wave of Islamic radicalism. Now, one would think that Bush’s approval rating would drop drastically because of this, right? Wrong. So what if he tricked America into going to war with Iraq, got thousands of people killed, and fueled global terrorism? He didn’t have an affair, so it cannot be that big of a deal. According to the AP, two weeks from the time the report was issued, Bush’s approval rating dropped a meager two points.
For insight into why Americans have become so apathetic, I turned to Christopher Newfield, an English professor at UCSB who has studied cultural trends in America extensively. He brought up two very compelling points. For one thing, there is no longer a draft, as there was in the immensely political ’60s, and so, as he put it, “Americans are no longer afraid of getting shot if they do not change their government.” We live in a nation of “gated communities and home entertainment centers,” Newfield says, where people can feel safe and distant from the troubles that the government they elected faces.
Since so few Americans actually go to pubs, take public transportation or do anything else that gives one the opportunity to be social and discuss politics with others, it makes sense that apathy is on the rise. A book I read from once, Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of the American Community by Robert Putnam, explains this troubling social shift in America. Putnam says that, while bowling has become a much more popular sport in the last few decades, the number of group leagues started has fallen drastically, proving that Americans prefer being reclusive, as opposed to Europeans who flock to “discoth