We are devolving rapidly into America, the Ignorant. How does Democracy thrive in a nation of 344 million Americans when 2 in 10 of us take in any kind of newspaper, electronic news, or television news. Another 2 in 10 listen to Right Wing Talk as their primary news source. The remainder who vote form their political opinions from the propaganda between their entertainment shows.
Fifty years of consumer conditioning and thirty-five years of political conditioning by the John Bircher stripe of Libertarians run by Grover Norquist for the Dead Billionaires Club and their junior league, the Club for Growth are coming to fruition.
It's much easier to throw a monkey wrench like the Tea Party's Teahadis in Congress into the wheels of government for these people when the governed can be easily swayed.
In the last election, 38% of Wisconsin union members, many affiliated with the National Rifle Association as well, voted against their own self interest for Scott Walker in the recall election. A large number told exit pollsters that NRA propaganda told them that a Democratic governor would take their guns away.
A California ballot initiative to raise the tobacco tax favored by 73% in March, 2012 went down to narrow defeat after Big Tobacco spent more than $43M to kill it with hours of TV propaganda.
Even with a 99% literacy rate in America, the kind of "literacy" we have is staggeringly poor. The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a comprehensive survey of Adult literacy. It found that:
- 21-23% percent demonstrated the lowest level of skills, performing simple, routine tasks involving brief and uncomplicated texts and documents. They could total an entry on a
deposit slip, locate the time or place of a meeting on a form, and identify a piece of specific information in a brief news article. Others were unable to perform these types of tasks, and some had such limited skills that they were unable to respond to much of the survey.
- 25-28% demonstrated skills in the next higher level of proficiency
(Level 2) although their ability to grasp complex information was still quite limited. They were generally able to locate information in text, to make low-level inferences using printed materials, and to integrate easily identifiable pieces of information.
- Individuals in Levels 1 and 2 were much less likely to respond correctly to the more challenging literacy tasks in the assessment -- those requiring higher level reading and problem-solving skills. In particular, they were apt to experience considerable difficulty in performing tasks that required them to integrate or synthesize information from complex or lengthy texts or to
perform quantitative tasks that involved two or more sequential operations and in which the individual had to set up the problem.
- The approximately 90 million adults who performed in Levels 1 and 2 did not necessarily perceive themselves as being "at risk."
- Nearly one-third of the survey participants, or about 61 million adults
nationwide, demonstrated performance in Level 3 on each of the literacy
- 18 to 21% of the respondents, or 34 to 40 million adults,
performed in the two highest levels of prose, document, and quantitative
literacy (Levels 4 and 5). These adults demonstrated proficiencies associated
with the most challenging tasks in this assessment
So only 2 in 10 Americans are truly literate enough to read and understand the nuances of political journalism. 51% of Americans can't really synthesize information and digest it.
The Founding Fathers had no concept of a mass media that can hold powerful sway over voters who are so low functioning.
What is more troubling, though, is that those who are well educated are becoming increasingly more ignorant, ignoring their civic life in favor of solely profitable or pleasurable pursuits. Another subset of the well-educated narrow-bands their interest in public life to a single issue like abortion, gun rights, LGBT rights to the point that they do not engage in broader public issues.
Many, particularly young adults, that do read news lack the attention span to even read through an article of any length. The USA TODAY syndrome of "dumbing down" the news to appeal to readers with nano-second attention spans has further catered to our devolution. America's reading habits belie its passion for entertainment and self-gratification, with no care for civics or how the world around them is being reshaped.
- Of the top 25 magazines in this country the only news magazine in the list is TIME at number 12 or 13 most months.
- The top 25 news sites in the U.S. recorded 342 million average unique monthly visitors in 2011 - up 17% over the prior year, according to Nielson Online. While that might sound like good news, unique visitors aren't unique, because many are one person on multiple browsers on the web, phone, etc, false page jumps are counted, and people who don't read the articles are also registered as having looked. That only equates to 123.1M actual readers, most of whom are already factored into the readership estimates of newspapers in their online editions. HuffPo's 35.5M unique visitors is more likely an estimated 12.7M people who actually read the articles. Drudge Report's 13.3M uniques is an estimated 4.8M readers. 
- Only 12.5 million people read the top 25 newspapers in this country. Of them, Rupert Murdoch's Right-Wing Wall Street Journal is No. 1, The Daily News and the Post are 5th and 7th respectively. The Post and the News are Right-Wing spin rags hardly qualifying as newspapers with 2.35M readers between them. 
It isn't surprising, then that Americans have a staggeringly low understanding of civics, and how our government, which actually is US, not the enemy, works. A National Civic Literacy study by Xavier University found:
- One in three native-born citizens fail the civics portion of the naturalization test, in stark contrast to the 97.5% pass rate among immigrants applying for citizenship.* (Based on 6 of 10 questions answered correctly.) If the pass rate were 7 out of 10, one half of all native-born citizens would fail.
- While native-born citizens do well on basic questions related to history and geography, the results reveal a low level of knowledge concerning the principles and features of American government that underlie our civic life. Gaps in familiarity and awareness are in two primary areas:
The U.S. constitution and the governmental, legal and political structure of American democracy
Basic facts related to current political life and identification of key political decision-makers
In fact, in straight rank order, these questions elicited the highest incorrect scores.
We're a nation of reality TV watchers. Our television news has been reduced to infotainment, and it faces a shrinking viewership.
Democracy can't function without an educated populace that understands its role in civic life. Civics are taught in less than a third of American public schools, but they have a big impact, according to a Harvard University study.
"[S]tudents who complete a year of coursework in American Government/Civics are 3-6 percentage points more likely to vote in an election following high school than those without exposure to civic education. Further, this eect is magnied among students whose parents are not highly politicized. Among students who report not discussing politics with their parents, additional coursework is associated with a 7-11 percentage point increase in the probability of voting. This result suggests that civic education compensates for a relative lack of political socialization at home, and thereby enhances participatory equality."The slide into a corporatocracy, controlled through easily digestible propaganda, is all but guaranteed. Progressives are armed with the pop-guns of optimism and grass-roots communication against a behemoth of hundreds of millions of dollars, and decades of systemic changes to the fabric of this country from its educational system to its mass media.
I fear for this nation. You should too.
My shiny two.