Friday, August 28, 2015

Presidential Election Seasons and Political Culture: Why You Should Resist Apathy

By: Dianne Heath






Key components to the emerging national political culture are developed from national political events, such as this 2008
Democratic Convention, which created collective experiences and memories. Image Courtesy of PBS NewsHour via Flickr


                                                             Don't Flip the Channel!
     The pull and tug of warring organized interests on the fragmented political processes and institutions, fray the delicate social fibers that structure the stability and functionality of national government. The invisible arena of competition, which is disproportionately accessible to the privileged interests who possess the disposable resources to economically enrich the actors within government, is the avenue to access the visible arena where organized privileged groups contend to harness the political processes to service their long term agenda. In these seemingly chaotic contests information circulates in the exclusive invisible arena. Consequently knowledge and intellectual barriers are too magnanimous for the low resourced populations (without disposable income to risk involvement in these destabilizing contests) to overcome. These realities form the basis and context from which the underrepresented and unrepresented, unorganized majority determine that national government lacks efficacy. Thus they dismiss political affairs and their participation in national government is preemptively neutralized from this presumption that participation is futile. Furthermore, for the unorganized majority, the law may appear dangerously out of sync with their needs, or carelessly infringe on daily life or even oppress elements crucial for survival and expression. But this reproach of and disengagement from national politics and government, especially during presidential and national congressional election seasons, fuels the vicious cycle of information depletion and deepens the intellectual incapacity to effectively engage. 

Why?
     Presidential election seasons are the fertile grounds from which the culture of the next national government bloom. Critical awareness funnels rich deposits of information from this reservoir of culture to those who remain tuned into political events. The elected national government establishes the new cultural regime, which is openly represented by the president elect and majority party in congress. However the president elect’s cultural regime is more concentrated and visible than the majority party in congress. Each presidential candidate present vocal stances on an assortment of salient and contested national issues that have symbolic and historical implications. This portfolio of public stances and statements form the national political culture that the elected national administration will usher in once in office. Although these macro issues appear too distant, impersonal or one dimensional to have nuanced relevance in your complex daily life, the candidates' position on these broad macro issues indirectly set the culture for how micro issues will be viewed and then handled. Remember the macro, or national has the prestige and resources to impose its cultural will on the micro or local. The national political culture also shapes economic and social possibilities. This national political culture directs which people are to be hired into the new administration, and these people are connected to others who embody the new cultural regime. These relationships and networks will penetrate this cultural regime into society by reaching into distant places and spaces. 

    This cultural regime becomes the template from which policy springs. This culture guides what is possible for powerful institutions to do without scandal or regulation. Across the population, the social norms derived from this national political culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, since it shapes perceptions on what behavior is justified or condemned. This culture confers social status to individuals who adhere to its principles. This culture even chooses which issues deserve to be bestowed status and the types of institutions to be awarded with recognition and funding. It determines what protests can be silenced or become a platform for the public policy agenda. For example, a candidate's public and macro stance on abortion implicitly, declares what would be deemed acceptable nationally which spirals down to local issues. A resounding yes or no for abortion symbolically represents a yes or no for an assemblage of related issues. The related issues depend on how the main issue is framed by the nation's current political culture, and currently abortion is increasingly being framed as a women's issue as opposed to a moral issue. This stance would also impact seemingly unrelated and intricate issues such as protecting obscure endangered species, if teacher assistants are viewed extraneous expenses and terminated en masse, whether there should be a curfew on sidewalks connected to bars or if the local library suffers defunding. 

     In Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 22, 1932, his stance to solve the Great Depression by departing from tradition and engaging in “bold, persistent experimentation” set the precedent for the expansive New Deal which impacted large segments of society and changed the course of America. The Republican Party's Platform of 1948, pledged to enact, "a vigorous enforcement of existing laws against Communists and enactment of such new legislation as may be necessary to expose the treasonable activities of Communists and defeat their objective of establishing here a godless dictatorship controlled from abroad." This helped to set the precedent for the McCarthyism Post World War II Red Scare and provided justification for the invasive investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Red Scare jumped from the political arena and infiltrated society, affecting Hollywood, thousands who lost their jobs and millions others desperate to conform and evade persecution. State of Union Address is also a key piece that highlights the new culture and provides the template of what is to be ushered in. 

   So although the presidential and national congressional elections seem distant, its effects will grip even the most peripheral localities and issues, most obviously by influencing who is elected in local and state government. It shapes perspectives on life and materializes the sentiments of the people. The macro and micro reinforce and evolve with each other.

references:
Donaldson, Gary A. (2004). The Cold War Comes Home. The Making of Modern America: The Nation from 1945 to the Present. pp. 40-44.

Smith, Jason Scott. (2014). The New Deal at the High Tide, 1934-6 & Society and Culture in the 1930s. A Concise History of the New Deal. pp. 62-123.





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