Riley Parr: Political apathy in U.S. continues to grow

Riley ParrIf Reagan was right that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction, then apathy or despondency ranks among the cardinal sins for a free society.

Perhaps it is the post-election blues, or maybe people have finally gotten tired of hearing that every election for the last seven election cycles “is the most important election in our lifetime.” Or it might be that the combination of a worldwide pandemic and a sensationalized media has taken its toll.

I suspect those on the left are still reveling in their closer-than-expected-victory. Many on the right, though, seem tired. Maybe it is exhaustion from a roller-coaster of a decade that started with pushing back against President Obama’s agenda, and ended much the same way, while some of the years in between brought euphoric highs.

Whatever the causes, many Republicans I’ve talked with over the last several months are more concerned about the future of the country than during the Obama years but less willing to do something about it.

It has been more than a dozen years since the 2008 election that was supposed to bring everybody together. In the intervening years, the exact opposite has happened, and the chasm seems to be growing.

They say the mark of a failed relationship is when there’s no more fighting, because that means at least one side has stopped caring. That would be a mistake for conservatives on multiple fronts.

For one, conservatives can still help their states and localities. And they do. It should come as little surprise that many Republican-run states keep their house in order, while liberal states kowtow to teachers and other public-sector unions, as well as to whatever the popular cause of the day might be, leading to bankruptcy and social disarray.

Those on the right should stay engaged for another important reason: The lackadaisical leadership from the left at the local level provides an opportunity for Republicans to reassert themselves as a party that can compete in urban areas. It was not so long ago that cities were the center of Republican politics. It might be some time before that returns, but Americans, regardless of political stripe, do not want to walk around a downtown fraught with riots, boarded-up businesses and homelessness.

Another problem emerges when one political party adopts a defeatist mentality, especially in a two-party system, and especially when the party holding the reins of power shares the ideology of those who control most of the media and virtually all of social media: Who is left to serve as a counter, a check and balance, to the increasingly vocal and popular progressive wing of the Democratic Party? The First Amendment might not apply to private companies, but in order for the First Amendment—and the rest of the Constitution—to continue to serve as the bedrock of the American experiment, those who think it important to stand up against “cancel culture” must not sit down.

I had a professor tell me one time that economists exist not to make value judgments, but rather to explain the likely consequences of those judgments. Conservatives must resist the urge to become political economists. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “The credit belongs to the man in the arena.”

Sitting on the sidelines and complaining about the nation’s state of affairs might provide short-term relief—much like a spectator at a game yelling at the referee—but it does nothing to help the team to victory.•


Parr is a practicing attorney in central Indiana. Send comments to

Click here for more Forefront columns.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.