The US has always had a large fraction of uninformed voters. On some level I think that is an inevitable result of expanding the franchise. Playing political theorist here, one could imagine a system under which the only people who are entitled to vote are those who have achieved a certain level of education, who can read, write, and pass a test about basic historical facts, etc. One can even argue that the public-minded Founding Fathers imposed the property ownership and gender limitations on the franchise to ensure that the folks doing the voting would not be ignorant yahoos (or, channeling my estimate of their estimate of women, overly emotional and subject to excessive “passions”) and thus would have at least a shot at deciding in the public interest. (Obviously the fact that the limitations on the franchise in the original Constitution matched the demographic of the Founding Fathers themselves was no coincidence.) The problem is that imposing gender, education or other “life accomplishment” limits on voting disenfranchises the most oppressed.
But irrespective of theory, we have a system now in which lots of people who are neither very smart nor very informed can and do vote.
Given this, the challenge of politics as a practical matter is for the different factions of the elites to find a way to get enough people to vote for what they want. Where I think I disagree with you is the notion (that you may not hold but that is to some extent implicit in your critique below) that “the elites” are a monolithic group with identical views of what is good for the country, either long- or short-term. You are not going to find many Communists or Levelers (or even Socialists in any meaningful sense) among American (or world) elites. But you are going to find plenty of people (I suspect notably in America as compared to places with monarchy/hereditary aristocracy deep in their culture) among the elites who are smart enough to understand that the nation as a whole, and the world as a whole, and, therefore, their own lives and those of their descendants, will be better off if the system is fair (or at least fairer than it is today) and if folks who are not elite see paths to leading reasonably secure, reasonably enjoyable lives, and maybe even joining the elites themselves.
So from my perspective the key to making progress is for the left-liberal elites to become (more) effective at rallying the non-elite populace to vote for things that are good for the country as a whole in the long run. The paradigm case of such a move was Roosevelt in 1932. The problem with that model is that Roosevelt got in because the economy was in the toilet to an extent that we had never seen before and have never seen since. I’d rather not relive the 21st Century version of the Great Depression in order to keep progress moving on enacting progressive policies.
Now, there will obviously be things as to which the elites more or less all agree, and some of those things will be things that systemically advantage the elites as against everyone else. That phenomenon creates its own reaction, in the form of populism. If elites are educated, populists attack pointy-headed Ivory-tower intellectuals. If the elites are rich, populists attack banks and insurance companies and big corporations and other sources of wealth. Of course, to the extent that there is a relatively progressive faction of rich, educated elites, counter-factions (while also rich and educated) can promote populist outrage as a means of attack. On some level that’s my shorthand explanation for the Tea Party, but it was ever thus. Hofstadter’s classic “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” is 50 years old, and it wasn’t describing a new phenomenon at the time.
So, again from my perspective, the key to moving in a good (i.e., for me, relatively progressive) direction is to encourage/work with/root for progressive factions among the elites. Not quite as dramatic as storming the barricades, certainly, but more likely, in my view, to move the needle in the right direction. Chris S.
But you have a very wrong impression if you think I am arguing that the elites are monolithic . In fact , ironically the fact that they aren’t is causing the problem. The danger I see , is that the more crazy faction of the elites will be able to better manipulate the Dumb Shit vote and put very dangerous people in power. This problem has been made more severe by the recent Supreme Court decisions removing all restriction on money in politics. All retrains are off and any nutjob billionaire can run their own personal loose screw candidate, maybe into the White House. That’s my central point, danger Will Robertson, danger. Bob
Nobody can be trusted with absolute power. Our clunky system in the US that splits power among House, Senate, Executive and Judicial branches (with additional informal separate power in bureaucratic agencies), and then between federal and state government, is designed to keep any one group from taking over the whole system. Doesn’t work perfectly, obviously, but I can’t think of a materially better one. Chris S.
I don’t see any solution, but it doesn’t help to think it’s hopeless. One further point, no elite can ever be trusted with absolute power, even they aren’t crazy. That’s why democracy is the only hope, though it’s a thin reed to hang anything on. Bob
The only type of government that has any hope of creating a society that minimized injustice and promotes the general welfare is a democratic republic. But in order for a democratic republic to function as a democratic republic is to have sufficient number of its citizens possessing the basic cognitive skills to correctly assess their self interest, and also to understand that a livable society requires this self interest to be enlightened, which requires considerable reasoning skills.
Democracy is failing in many countries, but especially in the United States. Why is this? It’s the dumb shit factor. Once you have a critical mass of dumb shit voters , any elite can use its wealth to manipulate their voting choices to as the negate the corrective nature of democracy which is that if you screw enough people and you’re voted out. This elite using corruption and psychological manipulation have seized almost total control of government. But the elite is not monolithic, it consist of various factions. Usually the interest of the elite coincide, but as the political process becomes more and more corrupted, difference between elite factions play out more openly in the political process .Government can become dangerously unstable. We are seeing this now in the United States.
The elite have worked hard to create this critical mass of dumb shit voters. This explains the attacks on public education, and resurgence of fundamentalist religion, funded by the deep pockets of the elite. But they might have created a monster they can’t control. This is because of the fractionalization of the Elites, as mentioned above. Elites need not fear the voters directly, rather they need fear other elites , who manipulating the dumb shit voters better than they and who seek to slay the golden goose of government, with visions of a very radical new order. The elites used fundamentalist religion to corral the dumb shit voters, but now there are lots of different elite players with different and ultimately destructive agendas, like Christian Reconstructionism. Visions of end times and gold standards and other related crazy ideas. This is where are going into the next election. Bob