Movie audiences experience high emotional engagement when they identify personally with the characters. The same is true in modern American politics, which increasingly have become treated as a source of social identity and entertainment.
But should politics be a source of entertainment? Or should politics be boring?
The founding fathers explicitly ordained six essential functions of government:
- Establish justice
- Ensure domestic tranquility
- Provide for the common defense
- Promote the general welfare
- Secure the blessings of liberty
- Establish the constitution for the United States of America
The constitution stresses the importance of unity under this one government, in which citizens focus on a common vision. The government’s purpose was never intended to be held in the social sphere as a hot take or to create division among its people.
Outside of these functions, the founders’ view was that the role of the government should be extremely limited. These six functions are imperative to our “perfect union.”
So it’s concerning that American political discourse is gravitating toward glamorizing governance. Benjamin Gelman from The Daily Princetonian suggests that “we are slowly being wired to pay less attention to nuance and detail … through only skimming the headlines of articles sent to us.”
An obsession with party politics diminishes the primary purpose of government. For citizens to experience genuine human flourishing, the government was ordained those six (and only six) functions. A large government that has its reach in many parts of social society hinder the ability of their citizens to experience their purpose – sustained by a life rooted in liberty and the pursuit of happiness. By finding entertainment in politics and placing identity in the party they align with, citizens are more prone to radical ideas, allowing those who have been chosen to represent them in maintaining a “perfect union” to dictate much more than functions ordained by the founding fathers.
On a fundamental level, the government was intended to be the backstage employee at the hands of its employer: the citizens of the nation. A government works best for itself and for its citizenry when it works in the background of social life. In this way, its citizens should consider themselves lucky to converse about other topics, or become more involved in entertainment that induces a sense of comradery, not division.
The government is working well when no one is compelled to comment on it. As poet Henry David Thoreau said: “That government is best which governs least.”
Converting governance into a spectator sport that pits us against our neighbors distracts from and destroys the essential functions of government. Politics as entertainment ensures mutual destruction for our Democratic republic – and ourselves – by tearing apart the social fabric that holds us together.