People were aghast to learn from an Annenberg Public Policy Center civics survey that only 1 in five Americans could name even one branch of government.
Which is remarkable because 2 in 5 Americans – based on observation – can tell you how TikTok works. And why.
And it is clear every fall that 4 of 5 Alabamians can recognize a cover 3 defense. And 3 of 5 know which defender has underneath responsibility – and will yell loudly for the quarterback to throw to the flats.
People aren’t stupid. They just haven’t found reason to care as much about their government as they do about their phones, or their distractions that keep them from having to worry about where our leadership is taking us.
Which is dumb in the long run, I’ll grant you. But understandable.
A lot of people stopped caring about government because they stopped trusting government. We know a lot about that in Alabama because government failed us so often, across party lines and demographic boundaries. Democrats ruled Alabama for generations, and failed. Then Republicans took power, in the name of honesty and ethics, and did the same things.
No wonder people don’t know their civics. It’s the same reason smokers don’t want to hear about cancer, and polluters won’t consider climate change. Denial is easier.
It’s why corruption and hypocrisy and poor leadership is a poison.
But it’s important to know, to remember, if only so you’ll recognize when it happens again. So take this survey of recent Alabama history and the sagging branches of our government. Call it a quiz if that helps you pretend it’s all fun and games. Answers below.
1. Seventeen people, including contractors, politicians and administrators, were convicted or pleaded guilty in a massive scandal permeating a state institution last decade. The head of that system pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, witness tampering and more. It was: A) The Ethics Commission; B) The Alabama Public Service Commission; C) The Alabama Senate D) The Alabama two-year college system.
2. This man pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and stepped down from office after a scandal that involved burner phones, a younger woman and mail-order erection pills. A) Tom Parker; B) Doug Jones; C) Robert Bentley; D) Jim Zeigler.
3. This person was kicked out of office for failure to follow the law, was elected again and resigned for the same sort of thing, yet remains a viable candidate for statewide office: A) Luther Strange; B) Guy Hunt; C) Roy Moore; D) Joe Reed.
4. The Republican Party swept into power in 2010, led by this person, and took a supermajority in the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. One of the chief platforms of the takeover was rewriting the ethics law to make state government more honest. That person was: A) Gov. Robert Bentley; B) Speaker Mike Hubbard; C) Judge Roy Moore; D) Nancy Worley.
5. That same person was later arrested, charged with an assortment of crimes against that new ethics law, and in 2016 was convicted of a dozen felonies and sentenced to four years in prison. That person: A) Served three years, and was released on good behavior; B) Served time in a halfway house; C) Fled to Argentina; D) Remains free on appeal as the partisan Supreme Court contemplates ways to let him go.
No wonder people don’t want to pay attention to their government these days. That’s what the Alabama Supreme Court is counting on.
John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a columnist for Reckon by AL.com. His column appears in The Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register and AL.com. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Answers: 1. D) The Alabama two-year college system. 2. C) Robert Bentley 3. C) Roy Moore. 4. B) Mike Hubbard. 5. D) Remains free