“Cynicism is a refuge for cowards.”
— Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia
Cynicism as a scourge of civic engagement is a familiar theme of Cory Booker’s speeches. The highly quoted riff in his speech Monday at the Democratic convention is particularly on point in this long, bitter, depressing political season.
“Cynicism is a refuge for cowards.” Booker is right. But Tom Wolfe’s words in The Bonfire of the Vanities also speak directly to 2016 American democracy when he described cynicism as “a cowardly form of superiority.”
The demagoguery currying favor today feeds a dangerous superiority complex. It makes no attempt to calm fears or to encourage rational thought. It is a tragically popular appeal that fuels dark passions, including some that have simmered since 9/11 and others with deep roots that predate the founding of the nation.
Passionate fear sells today. Passion propels people to the polls.
But cynicism also can snuff enthusiasm for engaging in the political process. A political refuge is the cowardly place people seek to rationalize sitting out this election, to tune out when now more than ever we need Americans to tune in.
Cynical cowards, active or passive, threaten a free land, the home of the brave.
(Photo credit: booker.senate.gov)