President Obama early in his farewell address said “by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.” But later he pointed to a way that we are weaker—and it’s a weakness that’s directly related to our current political situation, specifically Trump’s victory November 8.

“All of us,” Obama said “regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.” In this section, Obama focussed on a narrow slice of civic engagement. He spoke about falling voter turnout, the sense that ordinary voices are drowned out in Washington, and on Congressional dysfunction.

These are some very specific problems regarding a very narrow slice of civic life. And sometimes liberals confuse this slice of civic life—federal political engagement—for the entirety of civic life. In any event, Obama was right to bring up this problem.

Civic engagement is becoming a luxury good in the U.S. As Robert Putnam documented in Bowling Alone, people are increasingly detached from their neighbors, and from the world around them. People go to church less, they get involved in community organizations less. Many Americans, especially in the regions of the country that shifted to the GOP under Trump, have dropped out of even the workforce.

The wealthy and the upper-middle class still have youth sports, strong neighborhoods, parents deeply engaged in schools, book clubs, and even church. The bottom half of the country, not so much, especially among the white, non-immigrant portion. This helps explain the Trump vote.

But the disconnectedness is spreading everywhere. It’s one of the explanations, I believe, for the Tea Party and Occupy. It helps explain the Bernie Sanders movement. People feel their political muscles atrophying. The Occupiers and the Berners think the solution—the way to once again live out their political nature—is to unrig Washington, and get the special interests out of the way. This was the message conveyed by Obama in his speech portion on the “institutions of Democracy.”

Later on, Obama broadened the picture he was painting of civic life and citizenship. He implored us to talk to our neighbors. He implored us to run for office ourselves.

Again, this is too narrow, though. Because fulfilling our duties as citizens, the highest office in a democracy, as Obama put it, involves a lot more than electoral politics. It involves running a parish committee, it involves starting a calendar for bringing meals to family that’s run into trouble, it involves joining a neighborhood pool.

These are the connections lacking in much of America. If people think they can meet their needs if they just get Wall Street out of the way, or if we just get a President who’s *strong,* they’ll be disappointed.

Conway: Intel officials didn't tell Trump about Russia's damaging info on him

Also from the Washington Examiner

Kellyanne Conway denied that President-elect Trump was verbally briefed on part of the report.

01/10/17 11:08 PM

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on

Obama goodbye: The US must forge a 'new social compact'

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President Barack Obama patted himself on the back and thanked his supporters in his final address to the nation Tuesday night, while calling on the country to “forge a new social contract” in the era of his Republican successor.

“Every day I have learned from you,” the outgoing president told Americans from crowded auditorium in the Windy City. “You made me a better president. You made me a better man.”

Standing before his wife Michelle and two teenage daughters, Obama urged Americans to “pay attention and listen” to each other.

“For white Americans, this means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the 1960s,” he said, noting that race “remains a potent and often divisive force

01/10/17 9:49 PM

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