Bowling and Politics

In this post mariner promotes two books. The first one is a sociological view of American behavior particularly as it relates to how Americans have changed how they socialize. The second is by a memorable US Representative from Michigan, John Dingell, who was an active liberal during his tenure – the longest of any Representative serving from 1955 to 2015.

֎ Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam, 2001, Simon and Schuster

The premise is that Americans have, as a total population, withdrawn from community activities and civic life. The popularity of TV reflects people’s desire to wind down and relax in a setting over which they have total control. Many people may feel that socializing with neighbors is taxing, while TV is in one’s home and it’s always available. The national average across all segments of the population is eight hours per day.

Add to TV the phenomenon of smartphones. Mariner has noted in past posts how the smartphone eliminates extended or serious conversations in family life. Children aren’t admonished for using the smartphone too much because the parents are busy using the smartphone too much. A Silicon Valley executive once admitted he requires all electronics to be left by the door when family members return home. Just like in the Wild West days when guns were left at the door – will both harm us?

Another distraction to interactive human life is social media. Why visit family when one can pretend to visit on Facebook?

“Putnam contends that participation in collective activities such as bowling leagues and other leisure, faith and political associations, fosters norms of reciprocity through which people develop an orientation to cooperate with and trust others. Surveys have consistently shown that members of associations tend to trust others and have more friends in the neighborhood than non-members. Such norms and networks of civic engagement constitute what sociologists have called ‘social capital’. Drawing on theoretical insights developed in his previous book Making Democracy Work, Putnam argues that social capital is important because the high levels of trust and cooperation that characterize socially and civically engaged communities are positively associated with the performance of social institutions, economic prosperity, and individuals’ wellbeing and longevity.”[ResearchGate]

Since the 1960s Americans increasingly have moved to socially and ethnically homogeneous, car-dependent suburban areas. Obviously this arrangement limits open, public discourse on matters of the day with others who may be from different social situations. This neighborhood isolation leads to false assumptions that are counterintuitive to democratic concepts, for example, “NIMBY” – not in my backyard!

֎ The Dean – The Best Seat in the House, John Dingell, 2018, HarperCollins.

John Dingell always has been known for calling a spade a spade. Speaking to the terrible shape our nation is in:

“There are many reasons for this dramatic decline: the Vietnam War, Watergate, Ronald Reagan’s folksy but popular message that government was not here to help, the Iraq War, and worst of all by far, the Trumpist mind-set. These jackasses who see “deep state” conspiracies in every part of government are a minority of a minority, yet they are now the weakest link in the chain of more than three centuries of our American republic. Ben Franklin was right. The Founders gave us a precious but fragile gift. If we do not protect it with constant vigilance, we will most certainly lose it.”

How does John suggest we restore our political ethos?

“An electoral system based on full participation. At age 18, you are automatically registered to vote. No photo ID, no residency tests, no impediments of any kind. Advances in technology can make this happen effortlessly. Yes, voting should be restricted only to American citizens. Strict protections against foreign meddling are also necessary.”


“The elimination of money in campaigns. Period. Elections, like military service—each is an example of duty, honor, and service to country—should be publicly funded. Can you imagine if we needed to rely on wealthy donors to fund the military? I know there are those who genuinely believe in privatizing everything. They are called profiteers.”

Restructuring the Federal branches of government:

“The end of minority rule in our legislative and executive branches. The Great Compromise, as it was called when it was adopted by the Constitution’s Framers, required that all states, big and small, have two senators. The idea that Rhode Island needed two U.S. senators to protect itself from being bullied by Massachusetts emerged under a system that governed only 4 million Americans.”

“Today, in a nation of more than 325 million and 37 additional states, not only is that structure antiquated, it’s downright dangerous. California has almost 40 million people, while the 20 smallest states have a combined population totaling less than that. Yet because of an 18th-century political deal, those 20 states have 40 senators, while California has just two. These sparsely populated, usually conservative states can block legislation supported by a majority of the American people. That’s just plain crazy.”

“With my own eyes, I’ve watched in horror and increasing anger as that imbalance in power has become the primary cause of our national legislative paralysis. In primaries, the vocal rump of a minority of obnoxious asses can hold the entire country hostage to extremist views. This insanity has sent true public servants fleeing for the exits. The Electoral College has the same structural flaw. Along with 337 of my colleagues, I voted in 1969 to amend the Constitution to abolish it. Twice in the past 18 years, we’ve seen the loser of the popular vote become president through the Electoral College formula, which gives that same disproportionate weight to small states, each of which gets two automatic votes for its two senators.”

There is a solution, however, that could gain immediate popular support: Abolish the Senate. At a minimum, combine the two chambers into one, and the problem will be solved. It will take a national movement, starting at the grassroots level, and will require massive organizing, strategic voting, and strong leadership over the course of a generation. But it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? “Abolish the Senate.” I’m having blue caps printed up with that slogan right now. They will be made in America.

If mariner were motivated to write a book, he would not need to – John wrote it for him.

Ancient Mariner