Blaming “The Elites” is Simplistic and Misses the Real Problems

#RulesMatter

constitution-preamble-quill-penRobert W. Merry, writing at The American Conservative notes Removing Trump Won’t Solve America’s Crisis with a subtitle (and basic thesis):  ”The elites are the problem.”

He starts off with:

America is in crisis. It is a crisis of greater magnitude than any the country has faced in its history, with the exception of the Civil War. It is a crisis long in the making—and likely to be with us long into the future. It is a crisis so thoroughly rooted in the American polity that it’s difficult to see how it can be resolved in any kind of smooth or even peaceful way. Looking to the future from this particular point in time, just about every possible course of action appears certain to deepen the crisis.

He notes problems with immigration policy, foreign policy, financial policy, and economic policy.  That we have serious challenges in all those areas, perhaps even to a crisis state in some cases, is not an unreasonable position to take. Still, I would take issue with the way in which he characterizes a lot of these specific issues, as well as to whom blame for various failures belongs.  I very much wonder if we are in the biggest crisis since the Civil War, however.  The combo of the Great Depression and WWII ranks up there, and problems such as segregation and resistance to the Civil Rights movement (and the political, social, and economic upheaval associated thereto) comes to mind, not to mention the real threats of nuclear war during the Cold War.  I say all of this not to dismiss real problems, but to simply suggest some perspective.

Still, that really isn’t what got my attention in the column, it is his litany about “the elites.”  This manifests in two basic ways.  The first is about Trump and the elites, and the second is a broader discussion of “the elites.”

In re:  Trump,

Now comes the counterrevolution. The elites figure that if they can just get rid of Trump, the country can return to what they consider normalcy—the status quo ante, before the Trumpian challenge to their status as rulers of America. That’s why there is so much talk about impeachment even in the absence of any evidence thus far of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That’s why the firing of James Comey as FBI director raises the analogy of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” That’s why the demonization of Russia has reached a fevered pitch, in hopes that even minor infractions on the part of the president can be raised to levels of menace and threat.

First, to use the term “counterrevolution” is to state that there has been a revolution.  Trump’s election, while highly lamentable, is no revolution. Second, there is no “Trumpian challenge” to the status quo save the chaos that comes from an incompetent, immature president (to suggest a systematic threat gives Trump far more clarity of motivation and goals than any empirical observation would suggest is the case).   Indeed, the GOP leadership in the House and Senate appear currently quite willing to ride Trump to whatever legislative success they can muster.  Neither Speaker Ryan nor Leader McConnell look to be working to oust Trump.  Third, the litany of concern over Comey, Russia, etc. is not derived from some pretense by elites to oust Trump, but from a series of events and actions that raise real questions about Russian influence in the campaign process, and actual connections to Trump allies.

Regardless, what I find the most problematic about the column is the attack on “the elites.”  Now, let me be clear:  my point is not to defend the current crop of political (or financial or whatever) leadership in the country.  There is plenty of criticism to go around (but it is ever thus).   My problem is with mindless usage of “the elites” as a target of derision.  For one thing, that is essentially how we got Trump in the first place.  It is Populism 101 to blame “the elites” (whether that is the terminology used or not). “Drain the swamp” and other such bromides are in the same family of rhetoric.

He concludes his column as follows (emphasis mine):

There is no way out for America at this point. Steady as she goes could prove highly problematic. A push to remove him could prove worse. Perhaps a solution will present itself. But, even if it does, it will rectify, with great societal disquiet and animosity, merely the Trump crisis. The crisis of the elites will continue, all the more intractable and ominous.

 

Really, all of this is part of very long-standing philosophical debate over government.  Aristotle noted, a very long time ago, that a monarchy was the best form of government, if you could find a truly wise king. He further noted, however, that the absolute worst form of government was tyranny, which basically what one gets when the monarch is a rotten bastard.  Since a wise monarch was unlikely, and a tyrant far more likely the outcome of one person rule, Aristotle had further ideas about how to create a functional polity (see The Politics for more on that).  Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, had a vision of governance based on a selective breeding scheme that would have produced a class of philosopher-kings who would know what was best.  Thomas Aquinas thought if kings were subject to the priests and to God, they could rule wisely, and so on. Indeed, much of human history has been predicted on the assumption that getting the right people into government would result in good governance.  The whole notion of the King as appointed by God, or the notion that the right families would produce good governance is a long-standing one that is reflective of this position.  All of this is ultimately vested in the notion that if we just had a better class of politician (or leaders in general) then all would be well.

Sure, better is swell and all, but the bottom line reality is, to quote one of my favorite passages from James Madison, the following:

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

This is, by the way, a long and fancy way of saying something I note all the time:  the rules of governance matter.  Humans aren’t angels.  Government is necessary.  The challenge, then, is designing a government that can both govern and curtail the negative impulses of some of those who seek to govern.  At the root of Madison’s argument, and of constitutionalism in general, is the notion that properly designed institutions can facilitate good government in a way that relying solely on good people cannot.  All of this is, ultimately, why “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

I suffer no illusions that human being are perfectible, and therefore government can be perfect.  I do think, however, that relatively successful governance is quite possible (history bears this out) but that public policy is rightly dubbed, as Charles Lindblom did back in the 1950s, “the science of muddling through.”  The better we can design mechanisms for getting input and feedback from the public, as well as creating appropriate accountability mechanisms for those who makes decisions, the better. And if we have a crisis of governance in this country, that is where the crisis is.

Note:

  • Our congressional districts are not competitive (that means inadequate, if not absent, feedback from citizens).
  • Gerrymandering and geographical sorting lead to large swaths of voters being ignored in their own districts.  Also in many cases, politicians are picking their voters, rather than the other way around.
  • Primaries are more important than the general election in most districts (which are low turnout affairs typically driven by more extreme elements of the electorate).
  • The process to elect the President is skewed in a way that allows a minority of voters to choose the occupant of the office.  This is the result of poor design (this is manifestly clear) and has now happened twice in the last five cycles.  This is not healthy for the country.
  • The nature of the Senate creates substantial representational imbalances that skews legislative outcomes in a way that can thwart majority preferences.  (Yes, I know this will not change, and some of the inequality might be defensible on federalism grounds, but a dispassionate assessment has to acknowledge the gap between large and small states has grown considerably since 1789).
  • Rules of the Senate exacerbate the power of numeric minorities.
  • The system to amend the constitution is onerous (and that is part of why the courts have taken on such an important constitutional role:  reasonable reform is all but impossible, and so SCOTUS interpretation becomes the only way to affect constitutional change).
  • Lifetime appointments to SCOTUS (and the federal courts in general) ramp up the political significance of appointments.  This makes such battles into political life and death.  Throw in the fact that a president can be elected with a minority of the votes and a lifetime appointee can be confirmed by a Senate contingent that represents a minority of the population and you have a bit of a mess if you take the notion of popular governance seriously.

This is just a partial list of big ticket item that occur to me on a Sunday afternoon (although informed by a good bit of academic pursuit of over the years).  I am, I am sure, missing something from the list or perhaps not adequately explaining the significance of the items I have provided.

Still, the problems, therefore, of governance in Washington are not that we don’t have the right people in place, necessarily (at least not in the sense that if we could just throw the current set of bums out that the new set of bums would fix things).  The institutional structures of congress itself make things like financial and immigration reform almost impossible.  The current system rewards impasse (the reward in question is re-election). There is no incentive to govern and the mechanisms of our system, despite the veneration it receives, reinforces that fact.  If we want better governance, we need a better way to have our views understood in Washington and better way to hold officeholders accountable.  A simple place to start might be to elect the president on the basis on the majority preference of the country.  Changing the way we elect the House so that there would be clearer competition and feedback would be a massive start.  Another reasonable reform could be changing the structure of SCOTUS so that it looked more like the system used for the Fed (i.e., long, fixed, staggered terms).  These are all pipe dream, and so I am not even sure what to call reform of the Senate or of the amendment process.

As I usually point out in the comments to this posts:  I recognize that none of this is likely to change, but I do want to encourage thought, discussion, and debate on these, and related, ideas.  The US polity treats its institutions as if they are carved in granite by the finger of God and are thus perfect and unalterable.  This is, however, not the case.

So, back to the column, the problem isn’t the dreaded “elites” because, as soon as one set of elites is gone, another takes it place, since the very definition of “elite” is a person in power.

(Okay, I have ridden my hobby horse, now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…).

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FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    Merry got a lot of pushback in the comments at the American Conservative. Rod Dreher is also one to frequently comment about ‘elites’. Despite Merry and Dreher being wordsmiths, I am convinced they’re using the wrong word. Further, I’m almost convinced they use it intentionally as ‘newspeak’.

    And honestly, if you’re truly against the sort of shenanigans they describes, the GOP is the last party you should remain in. Remember, this is the party that is universally against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Glass-Steagall any practically any attempt to increase visibility in government or business interactions. The Democrats have often proven marginally better but if you really want change instead of placating rhetoric, you go with Progressives.

    Progressives, by their nature, want to effect changes whereas conservatives are not temperamentally inclined.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    “problems such as segregation and resistance to the Civil Rights movement (and the political, social, and economic upheaval associated thereto)”
    The roots of the modern Republican Party.

  3. Pch101 says:

    Populism generally and the modern Republican party specifically are the problems.

    “Elites” is shorthand for people who have better organizational skills than “populists”, who tend to take a machete and flamethrower to things. A populist is almost certain to be a disaster due to the inability to execute; an elite is only as good as the agenda that he represents.

    The Republicans are devout believers in “facts” that are not true, which makes them destructive and counterproductive. The US could benefit from having a smart center-right party, but the GOP is neither of those things.

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    I think it would be a mistake to totally write off complaints about the elites. I heard the same things over and over again in the last election cycle — that regulation was onerous, that Washington was only concerned with funneling money to their friends, that good jobs were disappearing, etc. … and the main thing politicians seemed concerned with was transgender bathroom access. Not that the bathroom issue is meaningless but it became an example of politics chasing its own tail. You add to that a sneering disregard for everyone who isn’t enlightened — e.g., picking on some obscure pizza place that didn’t want to serve a gay wedding — and the condition was ripe for this sort of populist moment. Not that Trump is a solution to this. He’s an elite too; he’s just a stupid one. But they look at the Republican Party that thinks coal mining has a future and a Democratic Party that thinks that jobs that don’t exist at $9/hour will suddenly appear at $15/hour. And they look at Trump who’s … not that.

    I would disagree with your diagnosis of structural problems. Most of that structure has existed for two centuries and we did fine. This is something different.

    That having been said … there’s a danger in reading too much into Trump. 60% of the primary voters voted against him. He won because he was the most famous in a large field and got billions in free media publicity. He then lost the popular vote against the second most unpopular candidate in history. And it’s hard for the GOP to buck him because he’s still popular with the base (and keep in mind, we’re only four months in).

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Excellent column.

    The checks and balances in the Constitution don’t seem to work well with all three branches controlled by the same party.

    since the very definition of “elite” is a person in power.

    But.. but… I thought elite meant libruls and pointy headed academics, anyone I’m sure, without evidence, looks down on me. Surely you don’t mean to say McConnell, Ryan, Limbaugh, the Koch Bros, and Trump himself are elites?

  6. @Hal_10000:

    This is something different.

    Some of the problems noted have existed for a while.

    But, yes, something is very different: ideologically sorted parties (and a linkage of that sorting to geography). This started in earnest only in 1994. It exacerbates almost everything on my list.

    Ironically, it was the Civil War (really Reconstruction’s) effects on the party system that forestalled some of these structural problems from coming to to the fore earlier.

  7. Gustopher says:

    Elites are a great scapegoat because they mean something different to every person.

    When someone is complaining about how the elites have too much power over media, the government and the economy, you can never be sure if they are talking about the moneyed interests, the liberals, or the Jews. (Up until recently, you could always tell, but now the term gets used for gentiles as well)

  8. @Argon: @gVOR08: It is an odd thing for a “conservative” to complain about, as by definition a conservative should ideologically assume that elites are in place for a reason due to the development of the polity over time and should not seek to toss them out (at least not reflexively).

  9. David M says:

    I view “elites” as a way to say “bogeyman” without getting laughed at. It’s completely meaningless at best, but more likely serves as a way to misinform people, similar to most generic complaints that treat “Washington DC” or “Congress” as single entities.

  10. KM says:

    As others have noted, “elite” has become a catch-all term for Other and is thus meaningless to try and parse further. When someone bitches about a specific complaint and then follows it up with vague grumblings about “elites”, it really means they have absolutely no idea what cause the problem or how to fix it. Might as well be cursing aliens, demons or gods for how the term gets invoked. No one they personally know is an elite, no matter how much you’d think they fit the definition. The nice doctor down the street taking care of their elderly mother? Not an elite. The owner of the business they work at who pays them more then min wage? Not an elite. Their kid’s teacher who they see at the bar every Sat? Not an elite. Local politicians, police and lawyers on the same ideological spectrum? Not elites.

    Funny how that work, huh? World’s full of elites ruining America but somehow they can’t seem to run into one….

  11. john430 says:

    I think that the Founding Fathers never contemplated a professional class of politicians, i.e. “elites”.
    Being professional officeholders with wide powers, it was natural that other elites like executives and power-brokers would align themselves with the politicians. Power begets favors and favors beget alliances.

    Oh, for the days of citizen-politicians and Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    …and the main thing politicians seemed concerned with was transgender bathroom access. Not that the bathroom issue is meaningless but it became an example of politics chasing its own tail. You add to that a sneering disregard for everyone who isn’t enlightened — e.g., picking on some obscure pizza place that didn’t want to serve a gay wedding — and the condition was ripe for this sort of populist moment.

    I wonder if similar complaints were made about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s…I mean, really, who cares about these silly minorities and their insignificant problems…it’s interesting how certain “elites” use wedge issues like minority rights to direct people who want to be part of a righteous populist movement when the enemies of those people aren’t minorities but, rather, the rich fat cats who want to funnel as much wealth as they can to themselves at the expense of everyone else…

  13. S. Fields says:

    @Gustopher:

    Elites are a great scapegoat because they mean something different to every person.

    I think this is key. At The American Conservative, blaming the elites allows their readership to halfheartedly acknowledge that the Republican Party does next to nothing to serve their interests, while simultaneously harboring the contempt for the Democrats that gives their lives meaning

    To instate the gilded Mr. Trump as the champion of the anti-elites takes some fantastic somersaults of logic, but that’s apparently easier than accepting your life long party affiliation has been a mistake.

  14. Mr. Bluster says:

    Oh, for the days of all white, male, citizen-politicians and Mr. Smith goes to Washington.
    FTFY

    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939

    Here’s two historical items that reveal what life was like in the good ole’ USA back then:

    April 9 – African-American singer Marian Anderson performs before 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., after having been denied the use both of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and of a public high school by the federally controlled District of Columbia. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigns from the DAR because of their decision.

    June 4 – The SS St. Louis, a ship carrying a cargo of 907 Jewish refugees, is denied permission to land in Florida after already having been turned away from Cuba. Forced to return to Europe, many of its passengers later die in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    What worked for a nation of a few million scattered up and down the eastern seaboard does not work with 330 million people spread across a continent, with interests in every corner of the world. A minor regional power living off tobacco, cotton and slaves has very little in common with a nuclear superpower.

    The system stopped working because the underlying conditions addressed in the Constitution no longer exist. We could make it work, but that would require far better-informed, adaptable and rational voters. Yes, the system is a mess, but a better citizenry could either a) make it work or b) make it workable.

    We can’t do either, and the fault lies with voters. It is the voters who reward stupidity. It is the voters who block change. It is the voters who can’t see 24 hours down the road let alone shepherd the world’s most powerful nation. In a democracy the problem is by definition the voters – they hold all the power.

    This is why Trump is such a tragedy. It’s a massive voter failure. The element that failed, the broken axle in the jalopy of state, is the American people.

  16. Kylopod says:

    @john430:

    Oh, for the days of citizen-politicians and Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

    You do realize Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was fiction, right?

  17. Pch101 says:

    To the hard right, “elite” goes hand-in-hand with “RINO”, which is a label that the fringe uses to claim that it carries alone the “true” mantle of the conservative faith, unlike its establishment counterparts who apparently aren’t good enough.

    This is what infighting looks like. This is just the language that provides the soundtrack to the ideological pissing contest that Reagan’s generation of the GOP discouraged via the “11th commandment” (“Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”) Good — let the bastards tear each other apart.

  18. KM says:

    @michael reynolds :

    We can’t do either, and the fault lies with voters. It is the voters who reward stupidity. It is the voters who block change. It is the voters who can’t see 24 hours down the road let alone shepherd the world’s most powerful nation. In a democracy the problem is by definition the voters – they hold all the power.

    No snowflake believes itself responsible for the avalanche.

    It’s incredible ironic that We the People became a meme without them realizing “they” are a part of “We” and are the people in question they’re bitching about.

  19. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @john430: You’re right. It’s not like is was in the old days. Then again, it wasn’t like that then either.

  20. @john430:

    I think that the Founding Fathers never contemplated a professional class of politicians, i.e. “elites”.

    Well, the reality is that the Founders were, mostly, politicians who were so wealthy that they could afford to not work so that they could participate in politics.

    Washington, Jefferson, and Madison (to name three) were pretty darn elite.

    “Mr. Smith” (i.e., the true citizen legislator) is mostly a myth.

  21. @michael reynolds: I will certainly agree that it would be better if voters were more informed.

    However, it is hard to make the claim that the voters are to blame for Trump when over 3 million more of them voted for Clinton.

    This election was a failure of our institutions more than a failure of voters. If, for example, we had the French system (like most other presidential democracies), Trump would not be president.

  22. @michael reynolds: Also: when voters predominantly live in districts that are not competitive, it is hard to blame voters.

    I am not trying to fully let voters off the hook, but the current institutions do not actually give voters as much say as we like to think is the case.

  23. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    To the hard right, “elite” goes hand-in-hand with “RINO”

    Yes–but it encompasses more than just RINOs; it also includes liberals (or “coastal elites”), and there tends to be an underlying implication that the former are in fact closet examples of the latter.

  24. Argon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Argon: @gVOR08: It is an odd thing for a “conservative” to complain about, as by definition a conservative should ideologically assume that elites are in place for a reason due to the development of the polity over time and should not seek to toss them out (at least not reflexively).

    Yep. The issue is not ‘elites’ per se. The problem that they are not the right elites. Dreher and Merry are perfectly happy to promote elites as long as those elites reinforce their preferences. They desire to be respected as elites themselves.

    Here’s a link to a Tom Tomorrow comic that’s somewhat apropos to the issue of how rage is harnessed to drive counter-productive action.

  25. Slugger says:

    Mr. Merry starts out by saying that he thinks a peaceful resolution to this problem is unlikely. I wonder whether he would like to see a Cultural Revolution with professors and scientists driven into the fields to harvest crops with their bare hands, or would he prefer a full Pol Pot solution? I do think that a site called American Conservative calling for a outright Maoist solution is strange.

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Who elects the kinds of dishonest, self-interested cheats who gerrymander? Voters.

    And the fact that more people voted for Hillary does not disprove my thesis. A rational voter base would have been unanimous for Hillary. This is a hiring decision. We are the HR department. We had two resumes on our desk, one for a dull, uninspiring apparatchik who would keep things chugging along. And the other a resume written in crayon by a psychopath who drew us a dick pic.

    Not hard. Not complicated. There is not a single HR department at any company, anywhere, that would have picked Trump. And yet: 46%.

    Voters don’t even know what they’re voting for. They hired a birthday party clown to run a nuclear submarine because they thought, “Liberals hate clowns!” Because that makes perfect sense.

    We can redesign the system all the livelong day, but no democratic system will ever be safe from the voters.

  27. @michael reynolds: As much as I would like to think that any rational voting base would vote 100% for any candidate. Party ID matters. There were people who rationally calculated that all they wanted was a GOP SCOTUS nomination, which they got. That was not irrational, even if you or I think that it was not the right calculation.

    Who elects the kinds of dishonest, self-interested cheats who gerrymander? Voters.

    It is ludicrous to blame outcome that are essentially predetermined on the voters. If I live in a district with 80% Republicans, the Republican is going to win.

    Voters don’t even know what they’re voting for.

    And, hence, democracy is the worst, except for all the other options, etc.

    We can redesign the system all the livelong day, but no democratic system will ever be safe from the voters.

    But the rules matter. This is unequivocally true.

  28. @michael reynolds:

    They hired a birthday party clown to run a nuclear submarine because they thought, “Liberals hate clowns!” Because that makes perfect sense.

    Except, that isn’t the way most people think, as much as living on the internet makes it seem that way. Most people vote party due to some general identification they have with that group.

    Of course, our system creates a binary choice, which makes it harder to deviate to another choice.

  29. john430 says:

    @Kylopod: No sh*t, Dick Tracy.

    @Steven L. Taylor: You missed the word “professional”

  30. @john430: No, I didn’t.

    There really is no such thing as a amateur politician. You might could find a part-time one at the local level, I guess.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: Well, certainly what Dr. Taylor and you have both noted is spot on. Merry, on the other hand, needs to write for a different audience and TAC is not likely to publish an essay where the message is “we have met the enemy and he is us” (with apologies to Walt Kelly). He has to write something that will resonate with his audience, or find a new audience that will accept a different message. He chose to go with the time honored “it’s all the fault of the man [TM].” Not a bad choice.

    Makes a p!$$-poor argument, but what’s more important, his philosophical statement or his bank statement? I think he’s demonstrated which one admirably.

  32. Andy says:

    Interesting, but I don’t think your self-admitted hobby horse theory is the cause or solution for the crisis of confidence in elites (Which I’ll call “CCE”):

    – As Hal noted, we’ve had our system for a quite a while including large periods of time when there wasn’t a CCE.
    – Other advanced democracies are experiencing the same or similar CCE’s and they have much different political systems, so that suggests this isn’t an issue specifically with American institutions.
    – There are a lot of other factors that are more congruent with CCE and I’d say the most important is globalization along with its management and effects. In short, elites over-promised and under delivered on globalization and have too much faith in technocracy and their own superiority. Most of all, elites failed to account for non-economic factors.

    For instance, within any nation there are various political communities/collectives that are parts of the whole (“political communities” in this context comes from strategic theory which is based on constructs by Clausewitz and Weber). Most political communities will not be ignored for long – they will either force political change through peaceful political/social action or they will turn to violence and then war. So what we are seeing is a reaction from political communities that believe their interests are neglected. This neglect is the fundamental mistake elites made – and continue to make whether it is here, Greece, France or the UK.

    To me this suggests a pretty clear course of action, but I appear to be in the minority.

    Now, one could argue that reforms to our political system could better ensure the stability of America’s social fabric, but I doubt the people in power who caused the present crisis possess the imagination, interest or ability to make substantive changes.

  33. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It seems your view of the problem doesn’t have a solution – at least as long as those “voters” continue to have political agency.

  34. Hal_10000 says:

    Elites are a great scapegoat because they mean something different to every person.

    That’s true, but I think elite in this context has come to mean something very specific: coastal, college-educated, politically connected. And there is a feeling that it’s become a closed circle. Bill James has a good post on this on his website (behind the firewall) about how cultural norms on race, for example, slowly evolved to something everyone agreed to — not using certain racial slurs, etc. But we now have a group of self-appointed stewards of the culture issuing decrees on what is acceptable.

    Keep in mind … most of us on this site are elites in that sense. So it’s kind of hard for us to see what everyone else is on about.

  35. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Except, that isn’t the way most people think, as much as living on the internet makes it seem that way. Most people vote party due to some general identification they have with that group.

    I think it’s more likely that most people, when faced with two choices they would not have picked to be on the ticker, will choose the lesser evil. The outliers are people like me who would rather vote third party.

  36. Yank says:

    Oh, for the days of citizen-politicians and Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

    The last thing this country needs is more stupid people in Washington.

    The average American is an idiot. I don’t care if it is smug or elitist to say so, it is the truth. And I don’t want Joe six-pack voting on things like the budget, healthcare, tax reform etc.

  37. Kylopod says:

    @john430:

    No sh*t, Dick Tracy.

    And yet you referred to the “days of citizen-politicians and Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” which is sort of like talking about the “days of rapping politicians and Bulworth.” If you recognize that Mr. Smith was fiction, then your point is nonsensical, because you’re pining for days that by your own definition never existed.

  38. Ratufa says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Who elects the kinds of dishonest, self-interested cheats who gerrymander? Voters.

    Yes, voters vote according to their perceived self-interest, along with various less-rational factors, such as branding, self-image, etc.

    A rational voter base would have been unanimous for Hillary.

    That assumes that rational voters don’t have a lot of variance wrt values, and beliefs.

    We are the HR department.

    I think it’s more accurate to say that voters the are the government’s customers, and they don’t believe that their interests are the same as the people running the government.

    a dull, uninspiring apparatchik who would keep things chugging along

    Yep. Not the sort of person you’d vote for if you were extremely unhappy about the status quo.

    In any case, complaints about how it’s all the fault of the voters, while technically true, remind me of Lester Maddox’s response when asked about what could be done about the terrible conditions in Georgia’s prisons: “We need a better class of prisoner.”

  39. Ratufa says:

    @Gustopher:

    Elites are a great scapegoat because they mean something different to every person.

    As David Graeber put it:

    I think the major way ideology works today is not by convincing people that things are basically okay, that the system basically works. I think most people realize that the system does not work. Ideology is in convincing people that they are the only ones who have figured it out.

  40. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The conundrum is that what it is referred to as Conservatism in the US has only a tenuous relationship to what is understood as classical conservatism political thought. These so-called conservatives are in fact revolutionaries who desire to return if not to an ante bellum society then to a new gilded age.

  41. @Andy: I am not suggesting that what I am describing is solely about the current moment (although the current moment helps reveal some of the cracks).

    But again: France’s political institutions thwarted a La Pen victory while ours led to a Trump victory. That isn’t nothing (and yes, of course, it is more complicated than that, but it isn’t wrong, either).

    Their system promotes multiple parties, ours promotes arguably the most rigid two party system in the democratic world.

    Our system can hand the presidency to a candidate who can’t even win a plurality of the popular vote. Their’s guaranteed that the president would have to win the absolute majority of the vote.

    Rules matter.

  42. gVOR08 says:

    @Argon: But Hillary’s emails!?

    Thanks for the Tom Tomorrow link.

  43. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The French system is a mixed bag because it helps to marginalize the National Front while simultaneously bolstering it. If not for the double-runoff system, then Le Pen may have received far fewer votes, but French voters know that they can cast a protest vote in the first round that won’t put the fringe candidate into office.

    The US has always had racists and populists driving its election results. The difference today is that some of us actually care about this and see it as a problem, whereas this sort of thing used to be the status quo.

  44. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Rules matter, but rules didn’t create the conditions that allowed Trump to be competitive or, in the case of France, allow two outsider parties to beat all the others for the final round.

    Point being, Trump and Le Pen are symptoms of a deeper divides in western society – they are not symptoms of a system of governance or rules. They are, as previously described, symptoms of political communities that are exercising their political agency against an establishment that has ignored or neglected their interests.

  45. Pch101 says:

    The Republican party has been cultivating racist extremists for decades.

    The US has an election system that sometimes allows the guy who came in second place to take the prize.

    The “silent majority” argument doesn’t explain how the guy who lost is the US president.

  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    It seems your view of the problem doesn’t have a solution – at least as long as those “voters” continue to have political agency.

    The long-term solution is education, and it’s at least 2 generations away — half a generation to undo the damage Republicans have (deliberately) done to nationwide education, and another generation and a half for enough of the brainwashed to die off.

    “Local control of curriculum” is the new “States’ Rights”.

  47. Mr. Bluster says:

    Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
    by James Madison

    Thursday, May 31

    The fourth Resolution, first clause, “that the members of the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several states,” being taken up:

    Mr. SHERMAN opposed the election by the people, insisting that it ought to be by the State Legislatures. The people, he said, immediately, should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information, and are constantly liable to be misled.

    Mr. GERRY. The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots. In Massachusetts it had been fully confirmed by experience, that they are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions, by the false reports circulated by designing men, and which no one on the spot can refute. One principal evil arises from the want of due provision for those employed in the administration of government. It would seem to be a maxim of democracy to starve the public servants. He mentioned the popular clamor in Massachusetts for the reduction of salaries, and the attack made on that of the Governor, though secured by the spirit of the Constitution itself. He had, he said, been too republican heretofore: he was still, however, republican; but had been taught by experience the danger of the levelling spirit.

    Read More

  48. Dave Schuler says:

    Steven:

    To your list of notes I’d add that our congressional districts are too large. Taking your example of France, the French Assemblée nationale has 577 députés to represent a country of 61 million people. Each constituency is about 100,000. On average there are 750,000 people in each House district.

    Michael’s point about an informed electorate goes both ways. The elected representatives must be informed about those they serve as well and the reality is that it’s impossible for any representative to represent a district of 750,000 adequately.

  49. SC_Birdflyte says:

    As I’ve suggested before, one place to start would be to change the Electoral College so that each state gets one elector for every hundred thousand people, with a state’s electoral votes allocated by percentage of the popular vote each candidate receives.

  50. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: In addition to my previous comments about reform of the Electoral College, another possible enhancement: if no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes, a runoff pitting the two top finishers against each other is held four weeks after the first election day.

  51. @Dave Schuler: Agreed. The House is too small for our population size and that definitely has significant implications for representation. The current size was set when the population was around 92 million.

    So, yes, assembly size should be on the list. And it is a change that can be accomplished via federal law.

  52. @Andy: I never said rules were everything, nor am I saying that the French system is ideal by any means. But the contrast is pretty clear: if the US had the same rules as France for electing the president, Trump would not have won (with all caveats about counterfactuals).

  53. @SC_Birdflyte: Might as well just go to the popular vote at that point.

    @SC_Birdflyte: But given the way the EC works, the odds of no one getting a majority of the EV are quite small.

  54. Tony W says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Also: when voters predominantly live in districts that are not competitive, it is hard to blame voters.

    Uninformed voters created the situation that allowed gerrymandering – cynical and self-serving redistricting by whomever is in power when the third digit in the year changes. Uninformed voters allow the Electoral College to continue to exist. Uninformed voters continue to support institutions that hold them down. Uninformed voters select candidates based on the indefensible logic of religion, and ignore the things that actually affect their lives.

    Lucius Annaeus Seneca had it right.

  55. Jen says:

    If we’re including a wish list, then I’d suggest eliminating partisan redistricting commissions. There’s simply no reason that we cannot, in this day and age, agree to a set of shared principles about voting (largely based on court cases that require 1 person=1 vote) and have a computer generate voting districts that are compact and yet competitive. I understand that yes, humans will have to design these programs and that means there could be some shenanigans, but the concept of a non-partisan redistricting process is way overdue.

    To the legal scholars among us, is there any chance that even with this particular Supreme Court, we could see an outcome of the Wisconsin case that gets us closer to this?

  56. michael reynolds says:

    @Ratufa:
    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You cannot argue that irrationality is rational. Party loyalty is not rational. A failure to perceive or willingness to disregard freely available data is not rational. ‘Values’ that result in votes certain to undermine those very values are not rational. Imagining impossible outcomes and then voting that way is not rational.

    And no, we are not the government’s ‘customers,’ we own the government. We create the government. Every elected person in government is there because voters put them there. We the fwcking people.

    There is no escaping the fact that voters have better access to more data about their government than at any time in history, and nevertheless made a bizarre, reckless and stupid decision. The voters are to blame. What we have here is a massive voter failure. Sure, the system needs work, but that does not excuse 46% of voters making the dumbest HR decision in American history.

    For me this election was a depressing realization that as cynical as I can be, as condescending as I am, I was still absurdly naive and optimistic. I thought I was in a class full of, let’s say, educable ninth graders, and it turns out the people around me are actually chimpanzees. I thought they could add one plus one, nope: they’re still working on catching ants with a stick.

    There’s an unflattering comparison in France. The French have worse economic woes, have worse immigration problems, and their right-wing nut candidate is actually informed and competent. But 2/3 of Frenchmen were too smart to vote for Le Pen. American voters aren’t just a little dumber than French voters, they are far, far dumber than French voters, German voters, Dutch voters. . . Even the Brexit voters are cleverer – there are actually some rational arguments in favor of Brexit.

    No, the American voter stands alone as the stupidest voter in the developed world. A little over 100 days from inauguration to special prosecutor. This fiasco is brought to you by the voters. That’s why I while away my evenings looking at villas on the Costa del Sol and apartments in Marylebone.

  57. al-Alameda says:

    @john430:

    Oh, for the days of citizen-politicians and Mr. Smith goes to Washington.

    These are the days of our idealized ‘citizen-politicians’ – we just elected one of them to be our president. These days, our Mr. Smith is an angry and resentful know-nothing like Donald Trump and our Mrs. (or Ms.) Smith is Sarah Palin.

    Our current Mr. Smith is routinely debasing the Office of the Presidency while his family sees the White House as a business opportunity to be picked clean before Mr. Smith retires permanently to Mar-a-Lago.

  58. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Mr. Bluster: “It would seem to be a maxim of democracy to starve the public servants.”

    We seem to have conquered this problem with the possible exception of small towns and rural counties.

  59. gVOR08 says:

    I believe it was Hacker and Pierson who said the dark secret of poly sci that no one wants to talk about is that the electorate are a box of rocks. Does anyone really disagree? However, this applies across time and space. Voters aren’t more ignorant or dumber than they were a hundred years ago. But a case can be made that politics is more divisive, and has produced a worse result, than used to be the case. On the other hand, the same voters who elected Lincoln with a plurality also elected Buchanan. But things do strike me as way worse than when I became politically aware 50 years ago. So what has changed?

    Here, as Dr. Taylor said, “a partial list of big ticket item that occur to me on a” sleepy Monday morning, offered for discussion:
    – the proliferation of media and social media
    – the growth of specifically “conservative” media
    – the embrace by the Republican Party of not just partisan, but delusional, narratives
    – increasing income and wealth inequality (see Piketty for exhausting detail)
    – the fading of the Depression and WWII as uniting events
    – better and faster global transportation and communication
    – fading of direct elite influence on politics; primaries displacing back rooms at conventions
    – increased influence of money on politics
    – the general fading of religiosity accompanied by hyper religiosity of some
    – demographic changes

  60. michael reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:

    The voters are dumber relative to the available resources they have.

    A voter a century ago had his small town newspaper, his church, his party and his family as sources of information. The typical voter today has, what, 100 times more information available? 1000 times more?

    We don’t think a cave man was stupid for assuming the world is flat. But if you think that today, you should probably be institutionalized.

    Again, this was not a hard one. It wasn’t a fun choice, or an exciting choice, but it was an easy choice. And remember, it wasn’t just Trump vs. Clinton, it was Trump vs. Rubio and Jeb and Kasich. Republican voters consistently rejected competence in favor of a nasty, stupid, creep of a human being they wouldn’t trust to babysit their kids.

    It’s not the box the rocks came in, it’s the rocks.

  61. Pch101 says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    A House of Representatives with 3,200 members would not make much sense, either.

    The problem isn’t with the size of the House, but with the extremists in some of their districts. Some Americans devote tremendous amounts of energy to nonsense such as trying to force prayer in public schools and barring homosexuals from marrying each other and preventing women from obtaining medical procedures of their choosing, instead of dealing with substantive issues.

  62. @Pch101: 3,200 would be absurd, but 435 is clearly too small.

    Most who study this stuff would suggest for our population 687.

  63. Back to a theme from the post, a lot of folks in this thread are cleaving to the “get better people” thesis: better parties, better partisans, better voters.

    The problem is: while marginal improvements can be made to all of those things, there is not going to be substantially better people. Hence, my focus on rules (again recognizing that rules can’t fix everything).

    I quote again:

    But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

  64. Jen says:

    @Pch101: I agree that a much larger House won’t solve problems.

    Anecdotally, I live in New Hampshire. We have an enormous state house for the number of voters in this state (we have 400 House members in a state with 1.3 million people). While one would think that the result of this would be more involvement and responsiveness to voters, we have a weird system where each district has multiple House members (I have three representatives and one state senator). It’s just too many to keep track of, so people here tend to vote reflexively for party instead of tracking down each state rep’s views on issues, etc. I’ve also been in this state for more than a decade, and I’ve not once had a rep come door-to-door during a campaign, so it certainly doesn’t manifest itself in a way that requires them to connect with voters.

    It’s also a “citizen” legislature, and by that I mean part time and barely paid ($200 a year, plus some gas mileage money, I think). This means that no one with a “regular” job can do this work, so it’s a combination of some retired people, some with flexible schedules like real estate, some small business owners–but no one is going to give up a job as a doctor, lawyer, or teacher for $200 a year.

  65. Jen says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: 687 with only one Representative per district is feasible and makes sense. The NH multiple-reps model is weird–I think it goes back to a court case.

  66. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I don’t know how clear it is.

    If anything, the Senate is less given to the worst forms of extremism because senators have to represent broader constituencies.

    The electorate is what it is. The best thing that rational people can do is to create mechanisms that render the nutjobs powerless. Their minds can’t be changed, but they can be given less of a voice. Giving them more representatives with smaller districts will probably help those wannabe theocrats.

  67. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: “The typical voter today has, what, 100 times more information available? 1000 times more?”

    While I will certainly agree that Trump was a failure on the part of the GOP selectorate of monumental proportions, the fact that there is 100 or 1000 times more information is not necessarily all that advantageous. Consider the reality that some majority portion of that multiplicity of information is, essentially, partisan b.s. and add that having that much information at our disposal is part and parcel of the tl/dr phenomenon, and you may get yourself to the possibility that the guy 100 years ago with “his small town newspaper, his church, his party and his family as sources of information” may actually have the advantage.

    I’ve served on personnel committees for selection of faculty. One of the problems with being given 100 (or even 25 or 30) resumes to rank is that by the time you’ve read half of them, the candidates start looking identical. It’s a similar sort of information overload.

  68. michael reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. Mencken.

    If we cannot get better voters then we cannot get a better system since the voters choose the people who would change the system. We are stuck in a conundrum. Logically we can only get a better system if we get better voters. Right? Right. So what is the essential problem? The voters.

    I didn’t freak out when George W. Bush won (aside from the SCOTUS debacle) or when elder Bush or Reagan won. I voted against all three men, I thought voters made a mistake in all three cases, I railed against their foolishness, but it was at least possible to construct a rational theory to support their candidacies. One could reconcile Reagan or either Bush with consensual reality.

    This is different. This is something very bad and very dangerous.

  69. george says:

    @Gustopher:

    Exactly. Basically, most of the time people trust the elites on their own team (whether billionaires, scientists, writers, even politicians) and distrust the elites of the other team.

    That being complex, it becomes simpler just to define elite as “powerful people on the other team”. Note this isn’t a “both sides do it” argument. I’m saying everyone does it – its how we react as individuals, and have done so since we were children; we learn to trust (at least most of us) parents or grandparents or older siblings, and carry that into politics.

  70. john430 says:

    @Yank: That’s the arrogant thinking that got Trump elected in the first place. “Deplorables”, “bitterly clinging to their religion, etc” and “flyover country” doesn’t exactly endear you to the voters in those locales.

    It IS being elitist if you want to deny Joe Sixpack his or her vote and opinion. What makes YOU so special? Are you the PhD expert that makes perfect, perfect decisions in federal budgets, healthcare, foreign policy, and social welfare needs?

    P.S. Your totalitarian slip is showing.

  71. Ratufa says:

    @michael reynolds:

    A voter a century ago had his small town newspaper, his church, his party and his family as sources of information. The typical voter today has, what, 100 times more information available? 1000 times more?

    If you really think having 100 times more data sources is a reason why voters, particularly average voters, shouldn’t be “dumber” (or more accurately, have more stupid ideas, believe in more stupid things, etc), then you’re a bit confused yourself. The amount of data is part of the problem. A common coping strategy is to only read “trusted” sources. There’s a bootstrapping problem here, and one solution to that is to choose initial sources that support one’s existing values and beliefs, or that tell you how smart/good/etc. you are. The effect of having more data sources in this case is to expand the echo chamber.

    This is an interesting perspective on the general problem:

    http://squid314.livejournal.com/350090.html

  72. Pch101 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    A “plan” that requires improving the average person is not a plan. It’s a fantasy.

    A substantial minority of the United States is comprised of extremists. It has always been this way and there is nothing that you can do to change that.

    What could potentially be done is the creation of stronger mechanisms that ensure that they have no power to do anything about it. A dogmatic theocrat with no power would be an annoyance, but not a threat.

  73. KM says:

    @john430 :

    It IS being elitist if you want to deny Joe Sixpack his or her vote and opinion. What makes YOU so special? Are you the PhD expert that makes perfect, perfect decisions in federal budgets, healthcare, foreign policy, and social welfare needs?

    Who said they were perfect? Yank said “the average American is an idiot””, which while subjectively rude, has statistical merit. Average doesn’t mean normal, average is not baseline, average doesn’t mean median. More “smart” people make that number go up, more “dumb” people make it go down. Everyone likes to think they are on the smart side of the curve but realistically ~50% of the country are “dumber” in terms of intelligence no matter what. It might hurt one’s pride but truth tends to do that.

    One on the inherent problems with equality in democracy is quality – the idiot and the genius are on a level playing field, same as the sane and the psychiatric patient. The vote itself is not reflective of who casts it. You can be a psychotic murdering cannibalistic puppy-torturer who thinks the government is stealing people’s organs and your vote is precisely equal to someone who diligently studies every issue before deciding. It’s not elitist to point out that the well-meaning ideal of one person = one vote has some obvious flaws.

  74. Dave Schuler says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I guess it depends on the objective. The number of people represented by each legislator in the UK, France, and Germany is about 100-150k. The argument against a significantly more representative legislature appears to be efficiency.

    For efficiency it’s hard to beat one representative for the whole country.

    But that would be dictatorship not representative government. Your suggestion would be better than the present but still dreadfully unrepresentative. I think that given modern technology and with some substantial process revision a House of around 1,200 representatives would be workable.

    There’s another alternative: devolution.

  75. DrDaveT says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    @Mr. Bluster: “It would seem to be a maxim of democracy to starve the public servants.”

    We seem to have conquered this problem with the possible exception of small towns and rural counties.

    Oh, please, not this hokum again.

    If you compare like jobs with like experience, federal employees make (including benefits) somewhere around 75% of what people in the private sector make to do the same work. In return, they get more job security, but it’s a Heritage Foundation alternative fact to insist that federal workers are grossly overpaid. Their analysis depends on a combination of directly comparing new hires against experienced personnel and equating jobs that aren’t remotely equal (e.g. “federal corrections officer” and “private security guard”).

    It is true that entry-level federal workers are paid more than their private-sector equivalents. I would argue that the private sector is underpaid, rather than the other way around, but whatever. That is more than made up for by the pathetic salaries at higher levels of education and skill.

    I would take a 50% pay cut to move to the closest equivalent job in the federal government (and get a 50% boost if I moved to the for-profit sector). My wife could nearly double her pay overnight by jumping to the private sector. When asking whether we are paying our federal employees enough to entice quality people, I would suggest that what we pay engineers and attorneys and economists and scientists and managers has higher leverage than what we pay secretaries and HR clerks.

  76. DrDaveT says:

    @john430:

    It IS being elitist if you want to deny Joe Sixpack his or her vote and opinion. What makes YOU so special?

    What makes me so special is that I am better educated, better read, and more deliberative than 99% of the population. I have considered all of the arguments, and the arguments behind the arguments, carefully. I have a quantitative grasp of causes and effects, unintended consequences, historical outcomes, etc. I have trained extensively in how to think, how to avoid cognitive biases, and how to analyze data and validate scientific claims. My instructors generally though I was pretty good at it.

    Are you seriously arguing that my opinions are no better than those of my cousin the sometime truck driver, who dropped out of high school, has read about 12 books in his life, and can’t balance a checkbook? Yeah, I guess I’m an elitist then.

    Are you the PhD expert that makes perfect, perfect decisions in federal budgets, healthcare, foreign policy, and social welfare needs?

    Perfect perfect? No. Better than some randomly-chosen voter would? Absolutely.

  77. Pch101 says:

    @DrDaveT:

    John8675309 wants a safe space for his dumbness. He thinks that his ilk has some sort of constitutional right to make dimwitted comments without being criticized for them.

    I wouldn’t worry about it. He isn’t worth it.

  78. Andy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There are many problems with your blame the voters thesis, but the most fundamental is that the voters do not get to choose the candidates. It seems bizarre to me to give the voters the two worst candidates in decades (both the subjects of FBI criminal investigations for chrissake) and then blame them for the result. Garbage in, garbage out.

    What is needed instead is for the two major parties to return to being “big tent” parties which present competing visions based on broad principles as just a first step.

  79. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The long-term solution is education, and it’s at least 2 generations away — half a generation to undo the damage Republicans have (deliberately) done to nationwide education, and another generation and a half for enough of the brainwashed to die off.

    “Local control of curriculum” is the new “States’ Rights”.

    Don’t forget homeschoolers and private schools. We certainly cannot allow them to pollute the minds of our youth with Republican ideas. I suppose they will have to be outlawed to prevent inappropriate brainwashing.

  80. Ben Wolf says:

    @DrDaveT:

    What makes me so special is that I am better educated, better read, and more deliberative than 99% of the population.

    And yet no self-awareness. Epictetus is rolling in his grave.

  81. DrDaveT says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    And yet no self-awareness.

    You’re projecting again. I am very aware of my weaknesses, and areas of inexperience, and lack of personal background that would help support empathy in certain areas. None of that makes me think it’s better to be stupid and ignorant than intelligent and educated.

    You can’t have it both ways. Either education and intelligence matter, or they don’t. If you think they don’t, make that claim. If you think they do, and you want to argue that I’m neither smart nor well-informed, make that claim. Otherwise, STFU.

  82. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    Don’t forget homeschoolers and private schools. We certainly cannot allow them to pollute the minds of our youth with Republican ideas. I suppose they will have to be outlawed to prevent inappropriate brainwashing.

    Nah. If the free public education is good enough, the market will ensure that only the cultists homeschool their kids or send them to indoctrinating private schools. It’s a problem that eventually solves itself — if the public schools are good.

  83. Andy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    What should be done with those that resist or don’t conform to the new education system? Reeducation? Institutionalize? Camps? Solent Green?

  84. Pch101 says:

    @Andy:

    The Republican Party: Providing a Safe Space for Idiots Since 1964™

  85. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    What should be done with those that resist or don’t conform to the new education system?

    Um, nothing much? You can lead a horse to water…

    (Though I will admit to being a bit bemused at the idea of ‘resisting’ basic reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, science, and history…)

  86. panda says:

    I heard the same things over and over again in the last election cycle — that regulation was onerous, that Washington was only concerned with funneling money to their friends, that good jobs were disappearing, etc. … and the main thing politicians seemed concerned with was transgender bathroom access. Not that the bathroom issue is meaningless but it became an example of politics chasing its own tail. You add to that a sneering disregard for everyone who isn’t enlightened — e.g., picking on some obscure pizza place that didn’t want to serve a gay wedding — and the condition was ripe for this sort of populist moment

    OMG, you are usually much too smart about this shit.

    First off, the bathroom issue was not ,by any measure something “politicans talked about incessantly,” On perhaps the most relevant measure, it was mentioned in neither DNC or RNC candidate speeches, nor in the presidential debates. Plus, in the one state where the issue was from and center, the Democrat won.

    About the pizzeria, it was literally a one day affair, involving a local news broadcast, and then a social media storm. To make it into a world-historical occasion is simply disengenous.

    And finally, about the populist movement: notice that it’s leader was careful not to say a word about LGBT issues throughout the campaign, exactly because he knew that the actual populus is not on the side of the REAL AMERICANS on this stuff.

  87. Mr. Bluster says:

    To minimize confusion and give credit where credit is due, the quote

    It would seem to be a maxim of democracy to starve the public servants.

    in a post in this thread May 22, 15:14 is properly attributed to Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.

  88. Ben Wolf says:

    Dr. Taylor,

    Most people don’t have a clear definition of who they think elites are, other than the personalities they see on television day-in and day-out. Talking with populists in an effort to hash out who those people are seems to resolve into multiple categories:

    1) Overachievers whose public honors (like educational level) exceed their real abilities.

    2) Professionals who consistently fail upward.

    3) The undeserving wealthy.

    I think there is some truth in that. But we must also recognize that while these “elites” benefit from perpetuation of social dysfunction, they are as much a products of a society that chose to embrace the incentives that made the dysfunction possible. In other words there’s no clear dividing line between cause and effect, and too many populists think “throwing the bums out” will fix it all.

    So if I am reading you correctly, then I agree with your premise that our problems are rooted in institutions rather than a nebulously defined group. We’d be better off making an honest effort to find out why distrust in those institutions has declined to the point of a legitimacy crisis.

  89. Moosebreath says:

    @DrDaveT:

    “What should be done with those that resist or don’t conform to the new education system?
    Um, nothing much? You can lead a horse to water…”

    Dorothy Parker’s line “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think” seems apt.

  90. al-Alameda says:

    @Andy:

    What should be done with those that resist or don’t conform to the new education system? Reeducation? Institutionalize? Camps? Solent Green?
    To those who resist the fake news and fake information establishment that conservatives have created I say, a round of Soylent Green IPA is on me.