The “silent majority” is one of those terms that stays in the public lexicon far longer than it ever deserved to. Nixon used it during his political ascendancy to galvanize people who felt marginalized by the cultural elites who ran the country, and ever since it has been applied to any group of people claiming to be part of “real” America.
This article by CNN’s Alex Castellanos recently resurrected the phrase to describe the more subdued supporters of Mitt Romney’s presidential run. To Castellanos these supporters constitute a majority of the population — concerned about where the country is headed, how much their government is spending and what the economy might look like two or three months from now. They feel marginalized by the elite in Washington.
Vagueness aside, this portrayal of “real” America isn’t really a good reason to sputter with rage at a CNN article.
This, however, is:
“Now it is the silent majority who takes to the streets in protest of their government’s fiscal fantasies. They are adults, rising to say that their country’s time-honored values are not luxuries we can discard, but obligations that must be met.
Their children, who think themselves the first generation with the mental capacity to understand the world’s problems, stare at them. They confuse their parent’s civility with softness. They are baffled to hear that success requires self-discipline — not just self-indulgence, good intentions and intellect.”
According to Castellanos, “real” America is comprised of adults who condescendingly pat their children on the head and lecture about self-discipline. The insinuation, though, goes deeper. The imagery that Castellanos uses to describe his own generation is the same as the visual imagery used by every political ad ever aired on television. The “real” America is steeped in small-town values, is covered in wheat fields and populated entirely by quaint-looking, four member families.
I get it. We’re preoccupied with what it means to be truly, deeply American. But sixty percent of Americans live in cities with populations of more than 200,000 people. Less than one million Americans are actual farmers and I seriously doubt that the average American family is uniformly composed of two parents with two children. The notion that “real” America has a set character holds little sway in modern times.
Meanwhile, as Castellanos’ generation was busy obsessing over “true American”status, my generation was getting worried that we would have to tackle global warming, terrorism, world hunger, racial tensions, human rights, economic inequality, a looming deficit, energy independence, fair immigration policy, gun control, unemployment and financial regulation all by ourselves.
And here’s the kicker. The author uses this word “obligation.”
Well, I looked that one up. Apparently it means a course of action that someone is required to take morally or legally. Take, for instance, voting. Some would call it a moral obligation, part of the “deal of democracy.”
Which leads to a natural question: If the “silent majority” is so steeped in American values that they are the only ones who understand obligation, why are they silent?!
Because they definitely have the silent part down. Silent about the Ross Ice Shelf slowly melting, or the Rwandan genocide, or rising inequality at home. Things that maybe could have used a lot less silence.
So here’s a message for the Castellanos’ generation – the “silent majority”. If you’re here to stay I say “welcome”. Let’s fix this world’s problems together, as equals. If you’re here to do the same thing you’ve been doing since the 1970′s (read: absolutely nothing), then I ask only one thing.
Keep being silent.
And then my generation can get back to fixing the world’s problems. With “self-indulgence, good intentions and intellect”.