It’s better when all politics is local

The following is an excerpt from a November 08, 2016, New York Times conversation between Arthur Brooks and columnist Gail Collins:

Arthur Brooks: I think we have radically “federalized” our attention to politics and public life. I fear it crowds out attention to local matters and the hometown paper. In politics, people are losing their marbles about Donald Trump, but don’t even know who is running for the school board that oversees their children’s education. It’s like staring out your windshield through binoculars while you ram into the car in front of you.

Gail Collins: Excellent point. I spent much of my life telling people to forget about Washington and pay attention to state legislatures. Without, I must admit, much success.

Voters who want to keep an eye on their state and local governments get less help from the media every year. The community weeklies are dying off fast. A lot of daily papers have stopped covering the state legislature, or even their local city councils. TV and radio stations have pretty much retired from the whole business of reporting. The new generation of web savants is going to have to figure out a way to fix this, or we’re really in trouble.

Arthur: Ironically, this inattention to local matters has happened at the same time that people have become less and less geographically mobile. In fact, people are only about half as likely to move in any given year as they were when you and I were kids.

Gail: Did not realize that. This is why I like conversing with you so much.

Arthur: People are rooted in their hometowns — maybe even stuck — but not really engaged in them. The worst of all possible worlds.

The result is that they stay in a terrible job market and keep their kids in failing schools, while complaining about the faraway federal government and the national election as if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton were going to make their lives so much worse or better. It’s a weird vortex of self-inflicted futility.

So this is my somewhat tongue-in-cheek Election Day recommendation: Stop freaking out about the silly presidential race. Start reading your local paper. Figure out where City Hall is and go down there with your torch and your pitchfork. And just maybe, go rent a U-Haul and move where there are better jobs and schools.

Read the rest of this online conversation between Arthur Brooks and Gail Collins at The New York Times.

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