With the recent ascendance of Donald Trump as the presumptive Republic Presidential nominee, political historians and pundits across the country have been pondering the question: "How did we get to this point?"
The answer is one that many of us have shied away from properly addressing, and for good reason: It is an uncomfortable truth that takes all of us to task as responsible citizens and exposes systemic issues we have not been interested in grappling with.
Like any serious problem, the emergence of radical politics of the right or the left is a symptom of social, educational, civic and economic variables. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson warned in a letter to a government official: "Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and the whole of government, shall all become wolves. For it seems to be the law of our general nature."
Jefferson was making a rather insightful point. When citizens cultivate a lack of interest in affairs of state, a natural reaction seems to take hold that produces a backlash and distrust of the system. When we no longer value credible information, when legitimate news sources are drowned out by blogs and posts, and when learning civics is replaced by Kardashian trivia we become inattentive to and ignorant of the reality of governance.
In 1991, the American Bar Association conducted a poll and found that only 33 percent of those surveyed knew what the Bill of Rights was. In 2014, a poll found that only 36 percent of people could name the three branches of government. As Jefferson predicted, our own ignorance is leading to our government's demise.
When people are devoid of information and facts and, moreover, find it difficult to discern between fact or fiction their susceptibility to being manipulated rises exponentially. Combine low information with a struggling economy, the decimation of the middle class and social disorder and you have a recipe for the emergence of radical politics.
This is the same radical politics that led Sarah Palin to claim in 2008 that President Barack Obama "palled around with terrorists," that let Donald Trump claim the president was born in Kenya and prompted Glenn Beck to say Mr. Obama had a "deep-seated hatred of white people,"
It was the same politics that in 2010 produced the tea party wave in Congress leading to the 2013 government shutdown. It subsequently led to Republican lawmakers blocking more than 500 bills in Congress, producing one the least productive eras of governance this country has ever witnessed.
Now we find ourselves in 2016 at the height of radical politics pondering how we got to this point.
Here's how: The racial divides that were exploited for political gain; the economic plundering by the upper class at the expense of the rest of us; the deconstruction of an educational system that can barely graduate readers let alone civic minded students; and a news media more concerned with profits than correcting the record.
Yes, Jefferson was right. Our inattentiveness to public affairs has triggered a distrust of government and has blinded us to the monster of our own creation.
LeVar Michael, Baltimore