We live in an age of social media where most young adults are chronically online. If you were to ask a handful of young adults where they get their news from, most people are likely to answer “Twitter”. Most politicians are on Twitter as well. It is becoming a mix of both a social networking site, but also serves as a miniature news outlet.
Burnout is described by the APA Dictionary of Psychology as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.” In previous classes discussing democracy, I have learned and also experienced that the current generation of adults and teenagers tend to be more active in civil government, however, we see a change where Americans are becoming more and more disengaged in politics, and this can be attributed to them believing that American democracy is at a threat (Vox). I believe that our eroding democracy can be attributed to news and political burnout.
Most people would say the pandemic has caused us to feel this burnout, however, I think the pandemic served as the catalyst for us to realize that we have always felt burnout. The first few weeks of strict quarantine was when some of us felt some peace for the first time in a while.
In April and May alone, we have experienced: the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, multiple mass shootings, and the silent COVID third wave, all while trying to go back to our “new normal” lives. It has also become the “new normal” to be up to date with all the news because it affects us so much. It is detrimental to consider our current lives to be the new normal because we shouldn’t have to get on Twitter one morning and wake up to another mass shooting.
We are so fatigued that we are mostly desensitized by certain events going on in the news. I think a great example of being desensitized by the news is through school shootings. We have had some sort of mass shooting almost every day of May 2022, sometimes multiple ones per day.
Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, said something that I did not even realize was very true regarding the current situation in America and news/political burnout. He said that because of society becoming numb to the current political state, more people will actually become desensitized to warnings of democratic erosion. He compared the current situation with the popular fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. The way Nyhan compared it is we have so many different events happening, such as COVID, elections drama, climate change, abortions, and gun issues, and if we are even getting desensitized to these issues, where I know I personally am, then we will not even see the warning signs of erosion in our government.
Some warning signs that a state’s government is beginning to erode are when political leaders rise to power by working from the outside. An important one that pertains to America is when democracies hold too much faith in the people and the democracy itself (Week 3 Powerpoint). Along with warning signs of a dying and eroding democracy, there are also signs to look out for in Authoritarian leaders and regimes. Some of the warnings include denying legitimacy of political opponents, tolerating and encouraging violence, and restricting the civil liberties of opponents and even the media (Week 3 Powerpoint).
Most of the issues and events we are experiencing would not have happened if it weren’t for the incompetence of the US government. This is directly related to how our democracy is on the road to eroding. Well, not necessarily eroding, but rather backsliding. Democratic backsliding occurs when there is a decline in the quality of democracy. This usually happens for various reasons, and the main one in our government’s specific case regards accountability (USAID).
Recently, we have seen that people at the highest level of government are demonstrating an inability to take action against these dangers or even address them (Vox). For example, after the recent shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvadale, Texas, many politicians took it to Twitter and Instagram with similar phrases of “We are sending thoughts and prayers”. While the sentiment is nice, what will be reassuring to affected families would be actual change, such as gun policy reform. Joe Biden, the current President of the United States, recently tweeted a list of things we need to do to strengthen gun control. While this is great because it gives an idea of what legislators can do to propose new initiatives, it is disappointing because the President can generally do more regarding policy than the regular legislator. He can propose a bill or have it go into action immediately and temporarily. This further proves the point from the Vox article that our leaders aren’t doing enough to see real change in our systems. Our government is slowly eroding, and because of the fatigue Americans face daily, it is difficult to recognize the signs and take immediate action.
Scott Warren POLI 138D Week 3 PowerPoint Presentation Slides 11-12, UCSD.