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.
I really liked reading your article and I completely agree with your thesis. I think one of the biggest reasons people become disengaged from politics is because there is simply so much “news” that its easy to become overwhelmed and simply check out. As you said because there are constantly new issues arising in the media, we become distracted and burnout overall. Between mass shootings, the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, inflation, Covid, and the war in Ukraine, it is easy for people to end up feeling overwhelmed and instead turn their focus to things that don’t matter like the Dep v. Heard trial.
Great article overall! And your discussion of “burnout” as a psychological phenomenon was an excellent way to start.
Your article is amazing! The part that impressed me most was its insight into the mental state of adults and teenagers in this time, especially the description of “Burnout”. In fact, it exactly described my state of being in this quarter, isolated at home, waking up on social media and going to sleep with anxiety and anger every day. Eventually, I started to become numb and stopped following political news.
I know, it’s not a good sign, as you pointed out. A true democracy could only be achieved if everyone is actively involved in politics, as I used to believe.
I think you have a very interesting thesis, regarding the relationship between media, political burnout and democratic erosion. In particular, it brings to mind the notion of media fragmentation and political socialization and their subsequent impacts on democratic culture thus leading to democratic erosion. I also really like your take on political burnout as I think having to face a plethora of abstract issues leads to a greater confrontation of the challenges facing democracy, which can be disheartening for some people.
Your article may very well have been my favorite article to have read thus far. I’m happy you are my 5th comment because of the way you articulated a feeling so many of us feel on a daily basis but do not talk about openly. I believe that America is a very tired nation. I’m glad you talked about the first stage of quarantine, back when everyone actually stood home, it was a giant reflection point for so many people. The pandemic did not change anything, on the contrary, it revealed everything. I think people are finally waking up to all the problematic things we have normalized. Life moves fast and we are being bombarded by information left and right. If we don’t slow down we will in fact miss those erosion warning signs Dartmouth professor describes.
You did a great job at articulating a feeling so many of us experience on a daily basis but do not talk about openly. I believe that America is a very tired nation. I’m glad you talked about the first stage of quarantine, back when everyone actually stood home, it was a giant reflection point for so many people. The pandemic did not change anything, on the contrary, it revealed everything. I think people are finally waking up to all the problematic things we have normalized. Life moves fast and we are being bombarded by information left and right. If we don’t slow down we will in fact miss those erosion warning signs Dartmouth professor describes.