What explains the rise of political hobbyism? One important historical explanation is the culture of comfort that engulfs college-educated white people, a demographic group that is now predominately Democratic. They have decent jobs and benefits. There has been no military conscription for some fifty years. Harvard’s Theda Skocpol argues that as the percent of Americans with a college degree has increased over time, they have come to feel less special, less like stewards of their community, less like their communities depend on them. As the college-educated population has grown over time, community participation has, surprisingly, plummeted.
In other words, college educated people, especially whites, do politics as hobbyists because they can. On the political left, they may say they fear President Trump. They may lament polarization. But they are pretty comfortable with the status quo. They don’t have the same concrete needs as Querys’s community in Haverhill has. Nor do they feel a sense of obligation, of “linked fate”, to people who have concrete needs such that they are willing to be their allies. They might front as “allies” on social media, but very few white liberals are actively engaging in face-to-face political organizations, committing their time to fighting for racial equality or any other issue they say they care about.
Instead they are scrolling through their news feeds, keeping up on all the dramatic turns in Washington that satiate their need for an emotional connection to politics but that help them not at all learn how to be good citizens. They can recite the ins and outs of the Mueller investigation or fondly recall old 24-hour scandals like Sharpiegate, but they haven’t the faintest idea how to push for what they care about in their own communities.