Week 5 Discussion: Learning Politics
Read/review the following resources for this activity:
- Textbook: Chapter 6, 10
- Additional scholarly sources you identify through your own research
Think about conversations around politics when you were in primary school (around age 10). What were some of the ways you learned about the political establishment through family members and friends? How were you politically socialized as a child? Use evidence (cite sources) to support your response from assigned readings or online lessons, and TWO outside scholarly sources.
For a little more information about political socialization, here’s a great, and short video to help add a little information for you. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-us-government-and-politics/american-political-beliefs-and-behaviors/political-socialization/v/political-socialization (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Magstadt, T. M. (2017). Understanding politics: Ideas, institutions, and issues. Australia: Cengage Learning.
Lesson: Citizens’ Responsibilities
In primary school, many of us dutifully recited the Pledge of Allegiance and took history classes extolling American virtues. Even though primary school is over, political socialization continues. One need only think back to the football players who recently took to their knees during the Star-Spangled Banner to see political socialization in action. Those players risked ridicule from the entire political establishment and citizens. We are socialized to be ideal citizens, loving freedom, hating tyranny, and respecting political socialization. Luckily, in this United States this has not turned into nationalism leading to a totalitarian government. This week is about how we are socialized to become ideal citizens.
A Good Citizen
When nations begin developing and forming their governing structure, one essential component is building a country that respects and reveres the government structure; this is referred to as nation-building. Nation-building comes in many forms, but the most powerful is socializing citizens into ideal ambassadors of the nation. This socialization begins with family and extends to school where we are often taught to live by rules, laws, and rituals.
Aristotle believed that to be a good citizen meant to be actively involved with the state enlightening and educating its citizens (usually free men). Furthermore, Aristotle did not just expect the citizen to be virtuous thus automatically becoming a good citizen; instead, he assumed the good citizen to have enough leisure time to participate in governing (Clayton, n.d.). The United States took the role of citizen educator seriously, adopting standards for socialization.
Think about when you first began forming opinions about the political culture. How did this come about in your life? Usually, we first mimic our families in learning about what is, and what is not acceptable. Our families often influence how we feel about voting, paying taxes, hot button issues such as abortion and immigration, and politics in general. Most children will gravitate toward the party their parents chose, which shows the power of family political socialization.
Religion, also, plays a part in political socialization. The First Amendment of the US Constitution affirms the right of every citizen to speak their mind, to ask the government to help them, and to allow people to express their religious preference. The latter has been hotly contested throughout the years, but the US Supreme Court, the final arbitrator of laws, has mostly upheld there is an invisible wall between Church and State. Religious establishments often interject their moral objects to specific issues, such as abortion, to the various branches of government through direct and indirect advocacy. Political socialization occurs when the head of the religious establishment pontificates a particular view on an issue, or the establishment’s rules explicitly state what believers must abide by (Masci, 2016).
Schools and peer groups are two other powerful tools used in socializing. With the establishment of schools to educate young people until at least 16 years old, there is a robust education around being a good citizen. At school, we are not only taught about history, but we are also informed about the importance of political participation. Moreover, schools model the rituals and rules around being a good citizen, like standing up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Another powerful tool is peer groups. We tend to seek out like-minded people to socialize and form community with, usually people with the same political views; this plays to a person’s psychological need to be accepted by a group.
Finally, mass media and the Internet have become powerful tools to socialize the public. In the 2012 debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, Twitter showed its strength. Governor Romney’s hours of discussion was simplified to “Big Bird, Bayonets, and Binders Full of Women” (Rogers, 2012). The Twitter trend has continued as Presidents Obama and Trump both use this medium to reach voters and the public. Additionally, in the 2016 election, claims were made of the fake news pieces on Facebook, which was primarily believed by the Democratic Party to have caused the loss of Presidential candidate Clinton. Whether watching Hannity on Fox News or Maddow on MSNBC, the public is inundated with political messaging. Oftentimes the mass media, and increasingly the Internet, are shaping people’s political views.
Political socializing is important for governments to gain legitimacy. Whether it is at home, in the bar, at school, with friends, or looking at Facebook, politics seem to loom large.
Totalitarianism and the Good Citizen
Tyranny is a form of government by one ruler, and oligarchy is a form of government with several rulers. Both forms often give power to only a select few creating a totalitarian state. In order to maintain complete control in a totalitarian state, rulers often control and utilize mass media to generate fear toward a specific group of people, and thus create a common enemy. These governments often use violence to maintain control of the citizenry. We can look to the motion picture The Hunger Games, to see how fear-based control might look. In the movie, President Snow sanctions the murder of children from each district to control the people and pay penance for an uprising that occurred against the government decades earlier. As the movie unfolds, Katniss becomes the sign of the resistance seeking to stop the games and return control to the people. President Snow to keep control highlights whippings and shootings on mass media. Although the Hunger Games is fictional, many totalitarian states have existed in Germany, China, and Haiti.
The United States has a strict policy of non-negotiation with these totalitarian states and has often helped rebel leaders fight against their governments. The US has also conducted wars to dispose of a totalitarian regime and used its economic strength to cripple the administration of these totalitarian states economically.
It is no doubt that it is hard to be a good citizen in this kind of totalitarian regime. But throughout history, there is evidence of citizens going through extraordinary efforts to help the scapegoated population. For example, some Germans helped the Jewish people escape Nazi Germany. People, often risking their lives, have protested, took up arms, and performed a myriad of other civil disobedience tactics to change a regime.
It is important for us to be vigilant and resist a state from turning to an elite ruling class with total control. Democracy is fragile. To maintain democratic principles, it takes engaged citizens that vote, protest, debate, and compromise, even when entrenched ideologies are at stake.
Clayton, E. (n.d.). Aristotle: Politics. Retrieved from https://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-pol/#SH9a
Masci, D. (2016, June 21). Where major religious groups stand on abortion. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/21/where-major-religious-groups-stand-on-abortion/
Rogers, E. (2012, October 23). Big Bird, binders, and bayonets. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-insiders/post/big-bird-binders-and-bayonets/2012/10/23/08981280-1d0d-11e2-8817 41b9a7aaabc7_blog.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d0a351c5fa6b