Whenever somebody asks "Why don't people rise up and do something about [insert the latest political issue where politicians are screwing over ordinary people]?" it has become cliche to say "Oh, they're too lazy to get up off the couch and stop playing their Xbox."
But all joking aside, why are Americans today so docile, so compliant, so reluctant to protest or assertively seek to change anything that their government is doing? What has changed about the American character, and how did it happen?
America began with a zealous bang, not the frustrated whimper of a cynical people. This nation was founded by visionaries and rabble-rousers who wouldn't passively accept the authority of a distant government that was exploiting them economically and failing to represent their interests. They stood up for their rights and started a revolution.
Today, the situation is not all that different, minus the revolution -- or even anything that could hold a revolution's jock strap.
Most Americans feel that most politicians from both parties don't give a damn about the concerns of ordinary people and are primarily interested in serving the desires of the wealthy and the corporations who fund their campaigns. During a Great Recession with the highest unemployment in decades, the debate in Washington is not about how to create jobs and revitalize the American middle class, but about how much should be cut from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while actually cutting tax rates again for the wealthy. Yet even this conservative proposal that President Obama and the "Gang of Six" in the Senate have been pushing is rejected as not good enough for the rich by the only branch of government that apparently matters anymore: the Tea Party controlled U.S. House. They are literally threatening the first government default on U.S. debt obligations in history -- to protect the interests of the super-rich, and no one else's interests.
Unlike our forebears, the American people today seem inclined to passively accept the status quo of establishment politics -- a "debate" so bizarre and an inside-the-Beltway "consensus" so far from the consensus of average middle class citizens that it seems more like a parody by The Onion. The only thing we, the people, do is to utter our fleeting complaints in cyberspace in the form of virally trending tweets such as #f*ckyouwashington.
Meanwhile, in other countries, people don't just tweet their frustration with politicians; they take action in the real world. For example, today in Israel, massive protests against Netanyahu are causing the Israeli government to hear and at least consider the concerns of the people. And Israel is certainly not the only country in recent memory where the people have risen up with loud voices demanding real political change.
It seems that America has become the exception to the rule. In many places around the world these days, it's not uncommon for people to demand good government that authentically represents them. But in America, it is now normal to bitch and moan about how much the government sucks, yet accept it anyway and do nothing serious to try to change it. No primary candidates running against the president. No third parties supported by more than a handful of people. No protest marches in Washington. Nothing but riding the proverbial couch wearing clothes made in China and sold at Wal-Mart, holding a Mickey D's burger in one hand and an Xbox controller in the other.
How did the American people get this way? Has our character, as a people, been fundamentally changed since our nation first came into existence? We certainly didn't start as a country full of people who were prone to bow to established authority and content ourselves with the scraps that fell off their table -- quite the opposite. Even as recently as 50 years ago, large numbers of ordinary middle class people marched and faced dogs and firehoses in the fight for civil rights for African Americans.
Today, I don't think there's any cause that the average person in this country would lift a finger for -- or at least not more than a mouse-clicking finger.
I think we need to figure out why. Because nothing will really change in this country, none of the major problems America faces will be fixed, until the cause of the pervasive unwillingness of our populace to do what it takes to make change is identified and remedied.