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Michael Engel: People, not Congress, remain our only hope

To the editor:

Regarding your encore publication of Orlando Sentinel columnist Charley Reese’s 1984 essay (Feb. 18), in which he wrote: “It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 235 million people cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts — of incompetence and irresponsibility.”

And that, Mr. Reese, is the real problem, which your column completely ignores. It absolves the American people of the blame for the failures of Congress — and that is where the blame really belongs. After all, we continue to elect and re-elect our representatives, which must mean that we ourselves are too lazy, ignorant, or self-absorbed to deal with all that “incompetence and irresponsibility.” Indeed, more than half of all eligible voters don’t even bother to go to the polls in off-year elections.

Active citizenship and useful political dialogue have been replaced by sitting in front of a computer screen and throwing insults at those who disagree with you. Mean-spirited ideological rigidity, both left and right, has taken the place of reasonable discussion and political compromise. Our test-obsessed public schools have no interest in teaching civics. The mass media has replaced hard news with infotainment. Twitter, Facebook, texting, and email, whatever their usefulness, have destroyed any concept of genuine community.

And most of us have accepted all of this without complaint because doing something about it is difficult, inconvenient and costly in terms of time and money. So we shift the responsibility to those we sent to Washington, and we approve of Reese’s view because it justifies our sloth.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us” is by now a cliche, but it never seems to wear out as an explanation of everything that is going wrong with our country. Democracy in America is dying, and it is up to us, not Congress, to revive it.

Michael Engel

Southampton

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