Institutions Detached from How People Live

Barack Obama talking to Marc Maron on WTF Podcast, June 22, 2013:

"The American people are overwhelmingly good, decent, generous people. And I can say that because I meet a lot of people. And during this journey that you take, from the time you start running for president to the six and a half years in being president, you see folks from all walks of life.

You don't just talk to your supporters. You meet people who don't like you, didn't vote for you. You go to areas that are, in today's parlance, "red" states, and are considered very conservative. And you talk to people. 

And everybody that I meet believes in a lot of the same things. They believe in some of those same virtues that my mom taught me—honesty and family and community and looking out for one another. They very rarely think in terms of, That's a Republican so I don't like that person or That's a Democrat so I don't like that person. That's not how folks organize their lives.

That always gives me hope, when I see how Americans interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. 

  Marc Meets Obama : Photographs from President Obama's visit to The Garage ( Squarespace )

Marc Meets Obama: Photographs from President Obama's visit to The Garage (Squarespace)

The problem is that there's this big gap between who we are as a people and how our politics expresses itself. And part of that has to do with gerrymandering and Super PACs and lobbyists and a media that is so splintered now that we're not in a common conversation.

If you watch Fox News you inhabit a completely different world with different facts than if you read the New York Times. And that becomes self-reinforcing. And there's a profit, both for politicians and for news outlets in simplifying and polarizing. So all those things have combined to make our political institutions detached from how people live on a day-to-day basis.

That's part of why people get so frustrated and they get so cynical.

But ironically, you get a negative feedback loop, right? When people start thinking, What's happening in Washington is so distant from how I see things, that I'm not even going to bother to vote. I'm not even going to bother to listen. As a consequence, then, the public withdraws and you get even worse political gridlock and polarization. 

So the issue is not the American people. That's where my faith is. The question is how do we build institutions and connections that allow the goodness, decency, and common sense of ordinary folks to express itself in the decisions that are made about who the country moves forward."  


See also:

"What President Obama Said During His Garage Podcast," compiled by Michele Richinik, Newsweek, June 22, 2015 

"How the Presidency Made Me a Better Father," by Barack Obama, Huffington Post, June 21, 2015

"Jonathan Haidt — The Psychology Behind Morality," On Being, June 12, 2014