Roderick P. Hart
How Ordinary Americans Keep Democracy Alive
Cambridge Univeristy Press 2018
To find out what Americans really think about their government, University of Texas-Austin Professor Roderick P. Hart read and analyzed approximately 10,000 letters to the editor, from 12 “ordinary” cities, written between 1948 and the present. In Civic Hope: How Ordinary Americans Keep Democracy Alive (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Hart argues these letter writers are essential because “[c]reating and sustaining a culture of argument at the grassroots level” is what makes “democracy flourish.” Despite the sometimes cantankerous nature of letter writers, Hart praises their commitment to participating in a public dialogue. He notes the importance of sharing opinions in local newspapers in one’s own name, where neighbors can see them and respond to them, aiding communal understanding. But Hart also sees in his research a decline over the past several decades in “Oppositional Literacy,” the understanding of opposing views, possibly fed by “hyper-partisanship” in non-local online discourse. Nevertheless, “Civic Hope” is bound to make readers rethink the value of the letters page and the contributions of letter writers to democracy.
Bill Scher is a Contributing Editor for POLITICO Magazine. He has provided political commentary on CNN, NPR and MSNBC. He has been published in The New York Times, The New Republic, and The New York Daily News among other publications. He is author of Wait! Don’t Move to Canada, published by Rodale in 2006.