Watching the impeachment proceedings, with politicians on both sides seemingly more interested in political points than in the good of the country, Americans may have been pondering a legitimate question lately. 

They may have thought of it again as they watched old video clips of today’s politicians trading places with their political opponents 21 years ago, and mirroring their words of today, when a Democratic president was the subject of an impeachment.

It is this: In a nation governed by a representative democracy, is this the government they deserve?

The answer to that is mixed. 

It is “no” when you consider what really concerns average Americans. We’re not just referring to their interest in the impeachment process, which a recent Hill-HarrisX poll found waning. As of two weeks ago, 62% of Americans expressed interest, compared with 70% a month ago. 

No, we’re referring to what is top of mind for many American families. 

For five years now, the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University have joined forces with YouGov to conduct the American Family Survey, which indicates what really concerns Americans.

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These surveys make it clear that families and relationships remain at the heart of the nation. Nearly half the nation’s adults are married, and the vast majority this year said their families, and their marriages, are as strong or stronger than they were two years ago.

When asked to identify and order which issues are most important to families, the largest share, 72%, identified issues having to do with family structure and stability, including the number of children being raised in single-family homes. The second most concerning item, at 61%, was some kind of economic issue, whether it was the cost of living, high work demands, the lack of good jobs or the need for government programs to support families.

The third most popular choice was culture, including concerns about declining faith and church attendance.

It may be an understatement to say Congress seems out of step with those concerns. The high level of worry about economic issues belies a national economy that has produced record growth and low unemployment. However, it is not inconsistent with the nation’s soaring national debt, now well over $23 trillion, and an annual federal deficit that now exceeds $1 trillion.

Against that perspective, arguments over the minutiae of impeachment proceedings seem about as relevant as fighting over a bag of pretzels from the airline snack cart while oxygen masks are dropping from overhead.

And yet, Americans certainly do seem to deserve the government they are getting when levels of civic engagement are taken into account. If 62% of Americans still are interested in the impeachment process, it’s interesting that only 55.7% of the voting-age population bothered to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. That figure is fairly consistent with presidential elections going back nearly 50 years. 

Put differently, it means that nearly 45% of the adults eligible to vote were happy to let someone else make the important decisions about self-governance. 

This is critical, because the seldom-stated truth about the current impeachment proceedings is that it’s all about the 2020 election. Given the partisan nature of it all, impeachment seemed a foregone conclusion in the House, just as exoneration seems certain in the Senate. 

But everything rests with the most important and powerful element of government in the United States — the people. That’s how the founders designed the system and, no matter how cynical people may become, it remains true.

As Abraham Lincoln once put it, perhaps indelicately, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Perhaps this has never been more true. The cure to apathy begins in each home, and in each heart. Civic engagement is the only way to force a realignment of Washington with the issues that matter most to the American people.