American loneliness cause for political discord?

Dec 6, 2018

Gleaves Whitney, Director Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University
Credit gvsu.edu

The search for political common ground has become a challenge for Americans. While it’s a frustrating challenge, the director of Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies says we cannot avoid it. Gleaves Whitney confronted the issue last night in Grand Rapids during his address titled, Common Ground? He explains it is essential we reach out to people with whom we disagree in order to make our democracy work.

“The essential problem with American culture right now is that we’ve produced a culture that has made a lot of people lonely. And when people are lonely the corollary is they’re not friends. We’ve lost the old Ciceronian, the old Aristotelian idea of civic friendship.”

Gleave Whitney is Director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential studies at Grand Valley State University.

“This literature about American loneliness goes way back. It goes all the way to de Tocqueville. I’ve been reading Democracy in America which is, of course, arguably the best book about America ever written and the best book about democracy ever written and the two best books come together in this one great volume.” de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America in 1835.

Alexis de Tocqueville
Credit Wikimedia Commons

“He predicted that Americans would have a tendency to fall back into their own hearts. It’s a very striking passage in part II of Democracy in America and unfortunately it’s become quite the situation. Now, 50 percent of Americans report, according to four studies that have come out in the last year, that we are essentially a lonely people. We’re talking about huge samples of people up to 20,000 people, 50 percent have reported that they do not believe they have a significant relationship even in their own home.”

What does Whitney recommend people do to get over that domestic and civic loneliness?

“First of all you have to recognize the issue and then it takes dogged determination to overcome it by meeting with your friends. Is it a bridge group? Is it playing cards? Is it going bowling instead of bowling alone as Robert Putnam described. Is it going to football games? Start somewhere.”

Whitney recommends joining civic organizations, and yes, politics, but not angry politics, rather politics of possibility that we’re all in it together because we all share the same fate as Americans.

Patrick Center, WGVU News