Volgy Response Paper

Perhaps; American citizens are becoming more enlightened and observant on the political dilemmas, and partisanship is declining. With this, political leaders face enormous challenges if they fail to deliver because citizens are not only politically informed, but they are also reluctant to express empathy to leadership and find no meaning in civil engagement. Based on Thomas J. Volgy’s work “Politics in the Trenches,” democracy in America is increasingly being challenged by a decline in trust in government as well as a decline in empathy for the elected officials. As Volgy’s further argues, this adverse situation is compounded by the decreasing levels of civic engagement among the American citizens. Therefore, this paper will respond to Volgy’s work by analyzing why empathy, trust, and civic engagement are declining in the United States, and ultimately, identify an effective solution.

According to Volgy, among the leading reasons of the unhappiness with the political system of the United States democratic political system is the way citizens perceive government performance. For several other reasons, citizens fail to comprehend their leaders’ circumstances. They are unreasonably attracted to obscured explanations as to why the political system is not working.

Another issue contributing to this challenge concerns the diminished role of the articulating bodies, particularly political parties. Citizens are declining in partisanship. The percentage of voters aligned to one party and opposed to the other party has declined significantly from about half the 1952 electorate to about a third of the electorate at the dawn of the 21st century. Therefore, according to Volgy, the percentage of “neutral” voters has been on the rise. Furthermore, as opposed to the past, predicting the stance of a voter is challenging today. Before the 21st century, a strong sense of affiliation within a political culture was a necessity. Therefore, understanding and empathizing with citizens did not mean much. Believing in the party leaders even with the political setbacks and policy failures was necessary. Therefore, partisans would dismiss failures from their affiliations as temporary and unfortunate incidences. However, as such political affiliations declined, American citizens and political officials face each other with the truth. Such truths even become more evident as the declining partisanship is mixed with a sense of distance from the government. Therefore, the voting behavior has changed to an unpredictable pattern.

The “false closeness” that the American media depicted also introduced a second chance in addition to declined mediation bodies. As such, the media coverage of the American political happenings was meant to sell the political process to the public. However, such scrutiny by organization such as C- SPAN has also revealed the “ugly” parts of the process, such as scandals making it worst still for the political parties to sell. Perhaps “ugly” debates on the floor of the house are being exposed. Therefore, instead of citizens gaining an insight into constructive arguments, they are being taken through waves of wasteful spending, sex scandals, ineptitude, and personal gain. Therefore, increasing media coverage has not provided an insight into the ongoing political “experiment,” but the citizens have been even driven to the extreme of lacking trust in the government.

A “complexity” problem also emerges as a major issue, which promote this situation. Leaders seem seldom to apply sufficient knowledge, adequate patience, and understanding to enhance democratic governance. Instead, leaders struggle against complexity and yet the modern era is characterized by great complexity. Complex issues, such as the welfare of the economy are rarely handled, but addressed with empty promises. True to Volgy’s perception “actual world of policy making is far to be captured by time bites”.

Following the increased decline in outgrowth within the parties, people begin to believe that they no longer own the government and the role of citizens in practical democracy become unclear. Therefore, the outcome can be highly tricky considering that voters will be subjected to choose a suitable candidate among several others due to the reducing partisanship. Voter information would also challenge the partisans because it would call for an accurate interpretation of a political expert; which is hard to come by.

If partisanship and reliance on political parties have failed, other non-political bodies important in building trust would also fail. Therefore, failure of the non-political organizations and other civic institutions would lead to a sense of exploitation, powerlessness, and unhappiness, among the citizens; important determinants of democracy. Perhaps, “nearly everyone would feel exploited, powerless, and unhappy”. As highlighted by Volgy, the decline in the mediation bodies can be exemplified by the 1970s and 1990s scenarios whereby the newspapers failed to update citizens on what was happening in the community. As Volgy further highlights, regular church attendance significantly dropped and union membership decreased by a significant percentage. Additionally, socializing with the neighbors also significantly declined because individuals found no value in social activities. Citizen could no more engage with others in performing the common activities. Therefore, the ranges of mediating institutions traditionally involved with reinforcing empathy and trust in the civic culture in America reduce in popularity.

In order to promote empathy, trust and civic engagement in the political system, accountability, mediation, and social empathy should be emphasized. According to Flanagan, accountability is a core factor to building trustworthy relationships. As such, keeping promises would add prediction and order to the political relationship. As Flanagan further highlights, lack of accountability would lead to vulnerability because symmetry and reciprocity are the quantities necessary to enhance a healthy relationship. Political accountability is theoretically related to political pillars; it is an accurate reflection of objective or external conditions. As such, political accountability is a litmus test of how trustworthy; the political system is from the perception of the citizens. Therefore, regardless of whether the expectations of the citizens are high or low, political accountability would still send a message that something might be wrong in the political system. However, political accountability will not be achieved without telling the truth. Promoting the truth within the political system would help.

Ultimately, in the absence of mediating organizations, which connect people to the government, disintegration of the whole system would occur. Mediating organizations sensitize people to the central leadership and promote mutual understanding. The need to foster social empathy is also a core to the achievement of political empathy. Social empathy implies understanding people irrespective of their different backgrounds. The value of promoting social empathy is within the capacity to perceive the world from the perception of other individuals. For instance, in American politics, the policy makers should always consider the values of the citizens. Citizens, on the other hand, should look through the eyes of their leaders. As such, a shared insight would be achieved. Social empathy also promotes civic engagement; a value necessary for a morally-just society. Perhaps social pillar is essential in every institution. Therefore, civic engagement would lead to groups necessary that would channel the concerns of the citizens and eventually catch the attention of the central politicians. Eventually, a mutual benefit between the politicians and the citizens would result.

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