by Mike Smith When we think of Washington, DC, we often conjure up images of a city filled with political and social elites focused on self-preservation and personal enhancement. Where responsibility for others is supplanted by self-aggrandizement and concern for one’s own comfort. A city disconnected from the struggles and interests of those outside its boundaries.
Columnist Peggy Noonan depicted these elites this way: “They’re barricaded behind the things the influential have, from good neighborhoods to security alarms, doormen and gates. They’re not dark in their imagining of the future because history has never been dark for them; it’s been sunshine, which they expect to continue. They sail on, oblivious to the legitimate anxieties of their countrymen who live near the edge.”
And, according to Noonan, elites often have the audacity to lecture the rest of us. “The influential grind away with their disdain for their fellow Americans, whom they seem less to want to help than to dominate: Give up your gun, bake my cake, free speech isn’t free if what you’re saying triggers,” Noonan writes.
For some, Washington is no different from the fictional capital depicted in “The Hunger Games,” a popular trilogy of books and movies where elites live in disregard of the needs of the citizens in outlying districts — citizens who are forcibly conscripted to meet the needs of the elites.
Of course, we are far from this dystopian view of America. And rigorous debate and disagreement is the hallmark of a thriving democracy. But there are warning signs that Americans are losing faith in their government and the underpinnings of a democracy — like freedom of the press and speech — as well as in the fairness of their governmental institutions. This is dangerous stuff.
It’s certainly easier to divide people rather than to unite them, because it’s far simpler to place the blame on others if your life is disappointing. Often this blame is placed on the less protected in our society.
Unfortunately, our political and social elites have become accustomed to dividing Americans into political, cultural and economic groups, pitting each against one another.
Politicians — of all political stripes — foster and perpetuate divisions because to divide helps them get elected and stay empowered. But politicians are not alone in their desire to divide.
We often think that our form of democracy is indestructible, even perpetual, but is it? Governments throughout history have collapsed because of growing and unresolved conflicts between the wants of the powerful and the needs of the people.
If Americans become so divided, then it will become impossible to bring them back together again. No government can be successful in a constant state of turmoil and where compromises and solutions are not allowed. The government will eventually collapse, and the results of such a collapse will be scary.
Ultimately, isn’t it the responsibility of our leaders — our national political and social elites — to unite us rather than trying to divide us, to look out for us rather than down on us?
We once turned to Washington looking for moral guidance and fairness. This vision of Washington is dimming. And the darkness that is encompassing the city should be troubling to all of us.
Mike Smith is a regular columnist for Vermont Business Magazine, vermontbiz.com and VTDigger. He hosts the radio program “Open Mike with Mike Smith” on WDEV 550 AM and 96.1, 96.5, 98.3 and 101.9 FM and is a political analyst for WCAX-TV and WVMT radio. He was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Gov. Jim Douglas.