It is quite obvious that America is in the midst of a ‘culture war’; what is not so obvious is how deeply this is affecting our democratic process. We have become a culture of intolerance in a pluralistic society. We have devolved into a morass of name-calling, scapegoating, and slander. There is even a whole political industry in America whose sole purpose is to divide and confuse. In other words, we have a culture which seems bent on destroying itself from within.
Democracy is more than merely voting in elections. Culture is more than the arts and media. The Democratic attitude is the spirit of dialogue and compromise, the ability and willingness to work with the other side, not work against them. Culture determines everything we do, and how we do it. It is culture that shapes our attitudes.
Some cultures are not conducive to democracy. Before we satisfy ourselves with our own way of life, we ought to conduct a critical reflection on our own culture. For though we live in a democracy, as our political culture is becoming more divisive and less able to compromise, our culture as a whole may be in the process of becoming less democratic. Democracy is more than merely voting in elections, it is a way of life, a way of governing ourselves on a daily basis.
A culture at war with itself cannot long maintain its way of life, and this does not bode well for the future of democracy in America. As a divided culture hardens its differences, there is less and less chance of reconciliation–short of a national crisis. Yet, even in times of crisis, each side holds the other responsible and they won’t come together to solve the problems. They will use the crisis for political advantage, rather than work with the other side to address the issue.
Bob Schaefer of CBS News recently said that, “if the Capitol Building was on fire, each side would blame the other and no one would call the fire department”.
Bigotry, hatred and greed are not conducive to a healthy democracy but neither are apathy and pessimism. When there is so much fanaticism and bitterness, many of us can’t help but get discouraged. We then become a culture of cynics who have lost faith in our ability to solve the problems that we have created for ourselves.