Informed Citizens

In 1816, President Thomas Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects to what never was and never will be.” In 1919 Professor H.B. Alexander wrote, “The two great institutions upon which Americanism rests are the ballot and the public schools, and the latter are the true preparation for the former.”

While watching the House Managers make their case for the impeachment of President Trump, I was reminded of the above quotations when they quoted more than one Trump Terrorists as saying, “I feel duped” in explaining his or her part in the January 6, 2021 insurrection. I don’t know if any of the “duped” are aware of their accuracy, but they all used the precise word to describe what happened to them because they believed the Big Lie of President Trump.

I am pretty sure that Donald Trump cannot identify the source of “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;” but his Big Lie to unlearned citizens could have used Anthony’s speech as his model. Both men were speaking to a crowd mostly of ordinary citizens; Anthony used irony to appeal to the emotions of his listeners while Trump used the repetition of his Big Lie to create an alternative reality that appealed to his crowd’s emotions. Both speakers succeeded and as his crowd departs to find and kill Brutus and the other murderers of Caesar, Anthony says, “Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt!” President Trump could have uttered the same words. However, what resulted in both situations is much worse than mischief.

Good speakers sway crowds as did these two. As interesting and important as the two speeches are,  I am interested in those spoken to, the crowds. While Anthony’s speech is in a play, it is a real-life example of what could happen. Trump’s words recently spoken to a modern-day, real crowd are as powerful as those of Anthony. But why did both crowds get driven to such an emotional frenzy? The words of the speakers?

I wrote earlier that the word duped as used by some of the Trump Terrorists is as perfect a word as possible because it carries the connotations of being emotionally used. In the case of dupe, the speaker plays on the emotions of the listener in order to achieve the desired result(s). The Trump Terrorists were duped because Trump played on their emotions and got them to do his bidding. Their feelings of “losing our country”, “it’s not like it used to be” and other feelings of white supremacy were pricked and their anger against anyone but their speaker and themselves overflowed. A good speaker who has said, to paraphrase, I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it, succeeded. His mischief was afoot.

Every person in the crowd who marched to and shared in the attack on the Capitol, is, however, responsible for his or her action. To try and blame President Trump, excusing themselves because he had “duped” them, is a sad excuse. Each member of that crowd carries self-responsibility. And I question their individual and collective awareness of government because how could they believe the Big Lie of Trump week after week? Would they have believed him if he had said the world was flat? How gullible are they? Does their white supremacy rule their intellect?

Jefferson and Alexander warned of the dangers of a poorly educated and informed citizenry. For our form of government to thrive, we depend on our voters being informed. That does not mean we necessarily agree, but it does mean that each of us have sound reasons for how we cast our ballots.  But to be an informed voter means that we each must work to become knowledgeable by searching for information from a variety of sources—newspapers, books, magazines and periodicals, and other reliable resources (social media does not meet this requirement). Each of us should strive to become a learned citizen.

The citizens who heard both speakers allowed emotions to rule. Had they taken time to think about the words they heard, both outcomes would not have been as unfortunate. Citizenship is a privilege which carries responsibility.

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