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When Americans Stopped Believing In America

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Does anybody remember Lyndon LaRouche? He was a weird, if colorful, U.S. agitator who founded the National Caucus of Labor Committees through which he promoted a strange combination of crazy ideas mixed with a variety of outlandish conspiracy theories. LaRouche overtime built a national organization with significant international connections. He run for President many times as a candidate for his own US Labor Party. In 1976 he got a little more than 40,000 votes –nationwide. His campaign platform stated that unless his plans were implemented, the world would come to an end in about 15 years. Undeterred by this dismal 1976 showing, he kept going. At some point he was charged and convicted of tax fraud and ended up in jail. All this craziness notwithstanding, LaRouche for years enjoyed the support of a small, yet unwavering and loyal, sliver of American voters.

Fringe candidates had modest appeal

LaRouche’s story tells us that there have been and probably there will be strange or even mentally disturbed people who tried and will try to articulate their extreme or impossible ideas into workable political movements. His story also proves that there used to be and there will be at least some Americans willing to be persuaded by these “ideas”.

Closer to our times, we may recall billionaire Ross Perot who mounted an impressive presidential national campaign as a populist independent presidential candidate in 1992. He failed; even though in a three candidates fight, with himself, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he got a respectable, if insufficient 18.9% of the votes. After that national campaign Perot faded away.

Most Americans favored mainstream candidates

The main point here is that, while we have had fringe would-be leaders in the course of the American political history, in most cases at best they enjoyed very modest or at least limited popular support. For better or worse, the vast majority of Americans who cared to participate in the national political process have supported the two mainstream parties and the candidates they fielded. While these parties, their leaders and platforms have proven at times to be mediocre, too extreme or misguided, (think of Barry Goldwater on the right in 1964, or George McGovern on the left in 1972, both of them overwhelmingly rejected by a large majority of voters), overall, most winning and losing national candidates have been insiders, people who emerged from within the two established political parties. Most of them did not promote very radical agendas, let alone conspiracy theories and crazy doomsday scenarios. And this is more or less how the US political system worked.

Trump’s improbable triumph

But then in 2015 Donald Trump, a man with no public office experience, came along as a newly minted candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination, even though he had no previous formal affiliation with the GOP. This sudden entry into presidential politics was not just unusual but unprecedented. Largely because of his lack of experience and therefore credibility, Trump was immediately dismissed by all analysts –liberals and conservatives– as a joke, a publicity-seeking reality TV star with zero substance when it came to public policy, let alone presidential politics.

But Trump surprised everybody. During the GOP primaries Trump in no time literally “destroyed” all the other supposedly reliable, experienced would-be republican presidential nominees. All of them nurtured by the Republican Party Establishment. Several of them with long public office careers and distinguished resumes.

Amazingly, with zero hands on political experience and no record as a policy-maker, Trump became the GOP nominee. By itself, this was an incredible political achievement. But then Trump proceeded to win the national elections against Hilary Clinton, the steel-plated, quintessential Democratic Party establishment candidate whose campaign had ample funding, an enormous staff and the open support of many party heavyweights. Sure enough, in 2016 Trump won by a very small margin of votes in the three swing states that gave him his victory in the electoral college, (a little less than 80,000). But he did win. And he did all this by spending almost no money and with the help of a rather poorly organized campaign managed by second rate operatives, (at least until Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Bannon became key advisers), and assorted amateurs.

Americans fed up with the corrupt establishment

The difference between Lyndon LaRouche improbable and always losing fringe political movement and Trump’s completely unexpected political triumph, first on the old leaders of the GOP and then everything else, rests in part on the almost magic Trump appeal.

But in larger measure his stunning political success illustrates the twin problems of the cultural and psychological decline of the American society and the vastly deteriorated quality of the political establishment against which Trump run –a discredited establishment now openly mistrusted by millions of voters who would roll the dice in 2016 with an inexperienced new person rather than reflexively vote once more for one of its shopworn members.

In 2016 millions of Americans, especially those hit hard by the heavy winds of globalization, felt left out. They were tired of mediocre, self-serving politicians, always making grandiose promises that sounded and were indeed false. Many wanted to see in Donald Trump, a successful businessman, a breath of fresh air, an untainted non politician who would come to Washington and finally clean up the mess and –yes– “Make America Great Again”.

Not the whole story

This narrative may provide a partial explanation for Trump’s meteoric rise. But it does not explain how Trump could get elected president of the United States despite his fantastic ignorance about the issues, despite his heavy personal baggage, his vulgar language and lack of a any experience whatsoever as an elected official.

And it gets worse. As President, Trump ruled in a chaotic fashion, misrepresenting issues, inventing data and stories on a daily basis, improvising policies, while reversing them sometimes within the same day. He caused consternation among his senior aids, many of whom were fired or left. This lack of continuity contributed to the overall confusion about policies and priorities. Furthermore, Trump picked major fights with practically all our Allies, even if at times he had ground for showing impatience with some of them, (think of the unmet pledges by most European members of NATO to increase their defense spending.) And yet his support, while never above 50%, stood firm at around 41-43%. Clearly, his vast army of faithful loyalists stood by him, regardless of what he did or failed to do.

Trump almost won in 2020

In hindsight, it is quite clear that it was the colossal mishandling of the Covid pandemic, with over half a million of dead Americans, that ultimately caused Trump’s defeat in November 2020. Still, despite the Covid massive debacle, Trump lost by a very small, almost negligible, margin in the electoral college, in an election that showed how his bizarre behavior and chaotic messages continue to resonate positively with millions of Americans, including minorities who almost by definition would seem to be his natural political enemies.

And, as we know, Trump did not leave the White House graciously. He never admitted defeat. Now out of office, he continues to affirm publicly –without evidence– that he actually won the elections. His defeat, he claims, is all about massive voter fraud. He did not concede nor is he willing to concede at any time in the future to Joe Biden. This is another first in American politics. Losing presidential candidates always concede, this way providing additional legitimacy to our elections system.

Most Republicans believe Trump

But the real problem here is not about how Trump handled his time in office and political defeat. The issue is that most Republicans –that is millions of American voters– actually believe his story. Indeed, despite his lies about the elections and all his rules-breaking behavior, or may be precisely because of all this, Trump continues to be very popular among rank and file Republicans, this way exerting enormous influence on the Republican Party. All GOP national leaders, whatever they may actually believe about who won the elections, will not publicly contradict him, this way allowing a colossal lie to become “truth”, at least in the eyes of millions of American voters. As all polls indicate, to this day, a majority of rank and file Republicans believe that Trump indeed won the 2020 elections and would definitely vote for him again, should he be a GOP candidate in 2024.

The problem is us

These are some of the key facts –amazing but real. But focusing on what Trump said or did before, during, and after his presidency and how totally outrageous all this is, is not very helpful. The true and difficult issue here is not Trump.

The true issue is how a populist, protectionist, xenophobic would-be leader who routinely misrepresents facts and is at times borderline incoherent can be so immensely popular in a country composed (we thought) of reasonably well educated people, supposedly guided by a good amount of pragmatic common sense. As indicated above, Lyndon LaRouche was also an unorthodox politicians who said bizarre things and advocated strange stuff. However, LaRouche never moved beyond a loyal but very small group of followers. Ross Perot did much better in 1992. But he failed to transform his significant popular appeal into a credible national political force. Trump instead became President in 2017, and he almost got re-elected in 2020. To this day, almost half the country is still firmly behind him.

Sadly, I see only one simple, if disheartening, explanation for all this. The values that supposedly underpin America and supposedly inspire the aspiring political leaders who should carry them on are no longer understood or believed by millions of our fellow citizens. Maybe with cause, I should add.

A partisan cacophony

Indeed, the American national political process long time ago, way before Trump even thought about running, had degenerated into a partisan cacophony dominated mostly by ideologues engaged in weird culture wars and self-serving, cynical pros who are at best capable of supporting the powerful economic interests of those who lavishly funded their campaigns. No statesmen here, only posturing crusaders and wily, opportunistic politicians.

The easiness with which Trump destroyed the old edifice of American politics shows that the building was already condemned. With a mighty Trump kick, the whole thing crumbled –literally. Because of Trump, now we know that this Great American Architecture of strong institutions supported by great values genuinely embraced by honest and competent elected leaders, voted into office by thoughtful Americans –an Architecture that we used to extoll as almost perfect and therefore everlasting– has not been cared for. As a result of decades of neglect, it is now both aged and corrupted. As a result of this long decay, when millions of despondent Americans saw an opportunity to dismantle it via their support for a total outsider, they did so –with enthusiasm.

In so doing however millions of Americans demonstrated that they had given up their common sense. Nothing wrong with a desire for change, trying something new. But “this” change? In choosing Trump as their unquestioned champion, millions of American have turned politics into quasi-religious fanaticism, eventually morphing their support for a candidate into a bizarre cult whose leader, a reality TV entertainer dressed up as a statesman, can do no wrong.

So, here we are. The Trump phenomenon, whether confined to the four years of his presidency or not, is not the cause of our national problems. It is the uncomfortable illustration of how deep they run.

A fragile edifice

The fact is that the American edifice we inherited from the Founders of this Republic was and is very fragile. It needed and still needs constant care and repair. It is not self-fixing. We should recall the reply given by Benjamin Franklin to a lady who asked him what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had come up with. “A republic, if you can keep it”, was the answer. With this simple assessment, Franklin pointed out that the success of this newly minted creation rested in the continuing wisdom of its citizens. “We the People”, that is the education institutions, the culture we produce and embrace, the ethics and morals we display, accept or condemn, along with the respect, decency, and benevolence we genuinely feel and manifest towards one another ultimately determine who we are as “keepers” of this Republic. The sum total of all these diverse factors got us here. Obviously something –something Really Big– went wrong.

In another America, an inexperienced and untutored populist lacing his message with nativism, xenophobia and protectionism would have been at best a footnote in the history of our political process. Whereas in 2016 Donald Trump, against all odds and all by himself, competed against everybody and won, fair and square; along the way mocking, humiliating and shredding to pieces a large field of supposedly seasoned opponents, often exposing in a wickedly clever way their all too real weaknesses, to the delight of his followers.

Unhappy Americans

Trump won because millions of disenchanted Americans were fed up with what they perceived as morally weak establishment politicians. They wanted radical change and believed Trump could bring it about.

In fairness, as president Trump changed many things. He cut taxes and deregulated the economy. By accident or as a consequence of his policies, he presided over an uninterrupted cycle of sustained economic growth, (not exceptional but sustained), and historically low unemployment. These are no trivial accomplishments.

But he did not transform the US economy. The 4 to 5% GDP growth rates he promised during the campaign never materialized. He did not “drain” the Washington swamp. He did not bring coal back, this way saving the jobs of thousands of coal miners. He attacked illegal immigration, but also vitally important legal immigration. Yet, despite all this, and despite the way he still refuses to accept his defeat, he is revered as a prophet among his core GOP supporters.

The Founders believed that Government’s primary mission was to preserve freedom. To accomplish this important task “We The People” (at least most of the time) would elect sensible, moral individuals who would carry out their duties with genuine dedication, in an impartial way. America was not supposed to be about prophets and visionaries to be blindly followed by enthusiastic masses. But this is where we are now.

Can we fix this?

This pernicious regression into extreme populism articulated through emotionally charged but ultimately empty slogans did not happen all of a sudden. The corrosion of our fundamentals which brought about lack of confidence in the would-be leaders who supposedly embody our traditional values on the part of millions of Americans took a long time.

With the Trump phenomenon we had a rude awakening. We had to come to terms with the fact that millions of Americans simply do not believe anymore in the textbook Good America we supposedly learn about in school. The Big Question is: “Now that we know all this, now that we know that we have to repair or maybe reconstruct the foundations upon which our successful but fragile society was built, are we up to the task”?

I really hope so.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




We Lost A Shared Reality

By Paolo von Schirach–

WASHINGTON – May be this was never true; but for a very long time many in America could argue that, whatever our political or ideological differences, we all shared the same facts based reality. We may have differed on what to do about issues and problems; but at least in a broad sense we were basing our judgments, opinions and counsel on the same facts.

Maybe it is a myth

As I said, may be deep down this was never true. Indeed, we have ample evidence that different segments of the American society for the longest time lived in different universes, with their own set of facts and related explanations.

Just to cite the most egregious example, leaders in the American South, even after the end of the Civil War that formally ended slavery, for almost a century embraced the fantasy that racial segregation was a fair and just legal and social arrangement, wisely created for the benefit of all, Whites and Blacks. They claimed that the facts on the ground demonstrated that segregation worked just fine for all parties. Nobody seemed to notice, let alone acknowledge, any conflicts between the US constitutional principle of equal justice for all and statutes that clearly and openly contradicted this core principle, denying African Americans their civil and voting rights, opportunity, education, jobs, and a lot more. And this is just one example, albeit gigantic.

A shared reality

Still, despite this and other discrepancies, the American cultural and political elites seemed to base their opinions on the reassuring assumption that they were drawn from a reality we all shared and agreed with.

For many years, the media reinforced this assumption. Every evening, when the news came into millions of American homes from the three big networks, not many viewers would challenge the truthfulness of “the facts” that were presented to them by the News Anchors, (all of them serious looking, middle aged, white males), and all the other correspondents. If it was on the evening news, well, it was factual. It was the truth. Revered CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite famously signed off his daily broadcast with “And that’s the way it is” which could be interpreted as “This is the final word on this. We have told you the entire story”.

Again, may be what was presented on TV every night was not the entire truth. May be there was subtle or not so subtle editing and therefore willful manipulation in the way the events of the day were covered. But, even if this was happening, even if millions of viewers were in facts duped and fed lies, not many Americans openly doubted the truthfulness of what they watched every evening.

Customized media for true believers

Well, if we fast forward to today, we realize that we are in an entirely different world. Today we do not even pretend to have a shared reality. We have different realities, and we openly and consciously follow the one that suits us the most. When it comes to “news”, we choose to watch, read and listen to those who speak to our biases and prejudices. In the public affairs shows there is not even a pretense to be “objective”. Facts are presented selectively, with an obvious intent to spin in order to make a prepackaged point. Likewise, no effort to separate news and opinions. It is all a big stew. Worse yet, millions of people see nothing wrong with this approach to “news coverage”. The fact that the opinions we love to listen to in many if not most cases our grounded on fantasies, or at the very least serious distortion of “the facts”, is not even contemplated.

A nation of cult followers

Is this unprecedented? Well, not entirely. If we look at our past, of course here in America we always had some extreme political movements, strange cults, and weird sects that proclaimed outlandish things, often basing them on non existent “facts”. And these groups attracted some followers. But the point is that these were and usually remained fringe phenomena, with a modest following.

Now, very large sections of our society have voluntarily chosen to become the modern equivalent of cult followers who embrace a set of fantasyland theories with the absolute, unflinching certainty that they are based on “true facts”. The added corollary is usually that all those who disagree with the believers of a particular “truth” are deemed to be either stupid or evil. In many cases, they are portrayed as archenemies to be fought and neutralized.

A political view of Covid -19

An interesting example of this immersion in fantasyland is in the different way in which Americans, depending on their political orientations, look today at the still unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

What? Are there political views on the nature of the virus that caused this unprecedented health crisis? Yes, there are. And they are not confined to issues on which there can be legitimate policy disagreements; such as: how much money should be spent on testing, on emergency care, or on the development of a vaccine, who should be in charge of this and that, and the like. No, the disagreement is much more profound. it is about the nature of the disease, ans therefore on how dangerous it is, and what sorts of precautions individuals should take.

According to the website The Bulwark, here is the summary of views on the pandemic held by many (albeit not all) Republicans:

  • Less than half of Republicans believe that COVID-19 is a major threat to public health.
  • 63 percent of Republicans say that the extent of the coronavirus is exaggerated.
  • A quarter of the public thinks that the pandemic is the result of a planned conspiracy.
  • 40 percent of Republicans say COVID-19 is no more deadly than the flu.
  • 50 percent of Republicans say the COVID-19 death toll is an exaggeration.
  • 23 percent of Republicans say masks should be worn “rarely” or “never.”

Just to pick one item from this list of truly bizarre beliefs, I do not believe that many in the medical profession would seriously argue today that Covid-19 is more or less as dangerous as the flu. Sure enough, in many cases it looks like the flu. Its symptoms are similar, and the affected patients may experience only some temporary discomfort. But we also know that the mortality of Covid-19 is much, much higher than the flu, 52 times higher according to some calculations. Besides, as of now there is no Covid-19 vaccine; whereas flu vaccines that can prevent or at least mitigate the flu symptoms do exist. Hence the covid-induced lockdowns, and the various public health measures aimed at preventing, or at least minimizing, coronavirus contagion.

So, here we go. Medical experts say something based on empirical evidence. But a segment of the population prefers to believe others who provide an entirely different analysis. The medical experts wonder how is it possible that so many Americans would hold views that are contradicted by the known facts. But they do it anyway.

Green America within reach in no time

On the other side of the political divide, we have some segments within the Democratic Party who talk about their plans to make America Green in just 15 years as a perfectly reasonable, practical and cost effective plan. They honestly believe that it is possible to transform the entire power generation and distribution system and most industries in America, the largest economy on Earth, within a relatively short period of time, with no downside and no meaningful discomfort for a nation of more than 330 million people.

And yet recent developments, such as the California blackouts caused by significant supply problems caused by deployed, and as yet imperfect, renewable electricity prove that going green, itself a worthwhile goal, will require significantly improved technologies that as of now are not available on any scale. And yet the believers dismiss this “fact”. They see no problem in implementing this fantasy based on the “fact” that we already have what it takes to engineer this most dramatic transformation. The only people who see problems –so argue the believers– are those who want to derail the green agenda, because they represent the vested interests of the fossil fuels industry and their lobbyists. So, even here the opponents of “the truth” are essentially enemies.

Private universes

Well, here we are. It is a fact that large segments of our society now live in their own self-sufficient, private universes that have no interest in engaging others holding different views. They are completely impervious to fact based evidence that may contradict their beliefs. They believe what they want to believe, and proclaim that to be the facts-based truth.

There are still some pragmatists, for now

The only positive element in all this is that there still are some Americans who try to understand what the facts related to any issue or problem are. They genuinely seek to find common sense-based agreement on feasible solutions for real issues. And these people try to build coalitions and partnerships in order to advance real world practical solutions. And this is good. But it looks that the armies of the sectarian believers are growing. If this phenomenon does not stop, if the sectarians end up dominating the political and policy environment, we may face a real national crisis relatively soon.

This American Republic is founded on the (fantasy?) assumption that most citizens are generally reasonable people who will naturally seek common ground with others in order to address real life issues that affect the broader society. If this is no longer true, if we are just a bunch of warring sects proclaiming mutually exclusive “truths”, it is hard to understand how our system of government based on compromise and reaching out to others can survive.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Why America is a Unique Country – Part 2

WASHINGTON – Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers of America sincerely believed that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” were and are indeed self-evident and unalienable rights, given to each human being by a Supreme Being. These attributes, “attached” to each person from birth, were described as Natural Rights, and therefore something that no government could legitimately take away from any and all the individuals who collectively constitute The People.

Man is a rational creature

The Founders also subscribed to the belief, very popular in that Age of Reason, that human beings, while sometimes possessed by passions that may obfuscate clear judgment, are fundamentally rational creatures who most of the time reason and think rationally, especially so when their judgement is improved by proper scientific learning.

Therefore, it is expected that in general human beings will think and behave rationally on most issues, including matters of governance and public policy. Based on their optimistic view of human nature, the Founders also shared the belief that most human beings would be good, ethical, tolerant and just citizens and office holders, most of the time.

Self-government is impossible if people are ruled by emotions

Yes, passions at times would interfere with proper rational analysis and right action –some of the time. But, according to the beliefs of America’s Founders, emotions and factionalism, while recognized as threats to good governance, would not rule human thinking and behavior most of the time.

This is really important. According to America’s Founders, human beings are mostly good. And it is this basic human feature –deeply rooted in the foundations of the Enlightenment political philosophy embraced by the Founders — that makes successful self-government possible.

Indeed, the Founders fully acknowledged that if human beings were constantly ruled by uncontrollable emotions and irrational ideas it would be impossible for them to create and preserve a viable republican self-government. The institutions aimed at protecting freedom, however well crafted, would be easily destroyed by the uncontrolled passions of irrational people.

Optimistic view of human nature, with some cautionary notes

So, all in all, the prevailing view of human nature at the time was mostly optimistic. Self-government would be possible because most people most of the time would behave rationally. There were however some cautionary notes. How do we protect the republic from the dangers created by occasional but potentially serious irrational behavior? 

The “remedy” was in establishing separate constitutional powers competing with one another, a system of “checks and balances”. This would make government more complicated, as it required agreement among different centers of power. But it would also make concentration of power and therefore tyranny unlikely, this way allowing the People to enjoy their Freedoms, granted to them by Natural Law.

So here is the antidote to human irrationality. The US Constitution of 1787 explicitly divides power among the President, the Congress or the Judiciary. According to the Founders, divided powers would make government prevarication unlikely, this way safeguarding liberty by preventing concentration of power, and therefore unjust government coercion.

The Western Frontier 

Beyond this revolutionary constitution aimed at preserving Liberty, America had the unique added feature of an open Western Frontier. Thanks to the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, a $15 million deal between the U.S. and France engineered by President Thomas Jefferson, America almost doubled its territory, (at about four cents an acre, an incredibly good deal). Without firing a single shot, thanks to the Louisiana Purchase, America had acquired vast, mostly unexplored territories henceforth available to new, adventurous and gutsy settlers.

The open Western Frontier created an almost magic appeal for many early Americans. In their view, America was not just a great nation founded on Freedom. It was actually an ever-expanding Free Republic which offered what no European state could ever offer: almost free land for all who wanted to go West, settle there, and claim a piece of it. Old settlers and new immigrants alike could have a real chance to make their way West, legally claim virgin land as their own, and become legitimate property owners by using their own virtues of courage, stamina, and spirit of adventure.

Plenty of land

Think about it. Where else in Europe could the children of landless peasants dream of owning the land they worked on that since time immemorial had been the uncontested property of the rapacious aristocracy? Short of a revolution that would destroy the entire political and economic order, (this happened with the French Revolution of 1789; but the Old Order eventually prevailed), this was an impossible dream. But here in America this dream of owning land was quite possible, and fully legal. Difficult and arduous, of course, but nonetheless possible.

Hence the almost irresistible appeal of a Wild American West that simply needed hard working new settlers who would turn the uncultivated prairie into beautiful and productive farm land.

Adventure for the common man

And here it is important to observe how the American Frontier evoked similar deep strands existing within some old European traditions. While unevenly spread, the drive to travel, explore and settle new lands is an old European theme.

For example, centuries before the Christian Era, sailing across the Mediterranean on rather primitive ships, the ancient Greeks colonized Sicily and parts of Southern Italy. And, as we know, classical Greek literature gave us the Odyssey, the incredible tale of a hero’s adventurous journey back to his native island, after a long war in a distant land.

And in later centuries, we have countless European travelers and navigators, from Marco Polo to Columbus, from Vespucci to Vasco da Gama and Magellan. These are the people who discovered new continents and brought back exotic riches and specimens of unknown plants and animals.

This vast heritage of journeys and explorations was in large measure transformed by legends, inaccuracies and fantastic exaggerations. But it kept alive an underlying European yearning for new places, usually imagined as better than the old ones.

The Frontier

Well, the American Western Frontier made the prospect of discovery and adventure possible and available not just to uncommon heroes and skilled navigators, but to the common folks. Driven by the vision of “conquering” the new virgin lands, ordinary people, with no special skills or prior experience, were motivated to embark in the incredible adventure of discovery, eventually claiming new lands for themselves and their families in the American Western Territories.

The caravans of covered wagons that traveled West were driven by ordinary people often with little education and rudimentary skills. These were not captains and admirals bankrolled by kings or rich merchants. They were common people animated by the hope to find good land and settle there, this way achieving the highest aspiration of landless farmers. And it is in large part for this reason that the push West by countless pioneers has become legend. This way, the drive to the American West became a glorified Everyman’s Odyssey.

American uniqueness

So, there you have it. Here is the exhilarating picture of America. There is this New State, founded by a Sovereign, Free People who created strong institutions of Self-Government, whose main purpose was and is to protect Individual Freedoms. On top of that, this New Blessed Land was luckily removed from backward Europe and its constant wars. Thanks to the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in this New Blessed Land people, including all newcomers, can be and are free.

And, to top it all off, people who arrived from Europe almost penniless, with some effort could figure out a way to be outfitted and travel towards the seemingly infinite West, where they would find plenty of land that they could claim as their own, according to clear laws and statutes.

Yes, this attractive picture is in large measure myth. Most likely, reality was much harsher and unforgiving for tens of thousands of ill-equipped, naive immigrants. Nonethless, the myth of a Good America became the established narrative. And this positive narrative sustained the American Republic in its early decades.

Freedom and land

Whatever the exaggerations about what America could offer, for the common man and woman for sure no other country in Europe could match such an attractive prospect. By the standards of the time, America was indeed exceptional: Freedom and Land for all well-meaning, hard-working people.

Over time, this country became successful not because of its size, resources and open land –Brazil and Russia also have size, resources and open land– but because it was founded by people who shared the firm determination to affirm a constitutional arrangement that would uphold and preserve the God-given individual liberties of its citizens.

Protection of Individual Freedom is the core principle at the foundation of America, and its most precious gift to new settlers. Over time, vast prosperity was created by millions of free people who engaged in diverse productive activities, being reassured that their government would protect their endeavors, and not hinder them.




America’s Delicate Democracy

WASHINGTON – Democracy, anyone? But, yes, of course. We all want democracy. In principle we all agree as to the advantages of living in a democratic country, where there are constitutional guarantees which uphold and protect freedom of expression and enterprise, free elections, rule of law, transparent and fully accountable government, respect for minority rights, and a lot more.

Preserving and passing on key values

In reality, though, it seems that many societies –including an old democracy like the United States– are no longer able to preserve, nurture and pass on to the next generation the essential shared values that make it possible to have a well-functioning democratic republic.

Let’s get this straight. A vibrant democracy needs a lot more than political pluralism and free elections held at regular intervals, as prescribed by the constitution.

Yes, these are essential preconditions. But, although absolutely necessary, they are not sufficient to guarantee an effective democracy. You can have (reasonably) free elections, and still give life to a polarized or just confused political system which produces dysfunction, or even chaos.

Basic preconditions 

Here are some implicit, yet basic, preconditions without which democracy becomes a flawed mess. Any vibrant democracy is premised on a reasonably well-educated population in which most citizens/voters agree at least in broad terms as to what rule of law means. This is all about justice, fairness, protection of minority rights, unfettered openness, real access to education, to all economic activities and to the unimpeded pursuit of public office.

The citizens also agree about the goals of public policy. And this includes agreement as to where the boundaries between the private and the public spheres should be. This means that the people share a genuine understanding  about the proper role of the state in providing for the truly needy and in creating appropriate and fair systems that would enhance, in fact guarantee unfettered access to economic and other opportunity to all, without at the same time creating politically inspired and justified entitlements and/or set asides for any group or social class.

Paralysis 

Well, here in the United States we still have all our republican institutions protected by our Constitution. But we also have political and policy paralysis. And this prolonged paralysis tells us that, unfortunately, as a society we no longer agree on critical fundamental values.

And this did not start with the November 2016 elections.  During the eight years of the Obama presidency the Republicans did their best to block or delay anything that the White House wanted to undertake. The widespread perception among conservatives and also many independent voters was that Obama was in fact not the President of the United States trying to promote policies that would benefit most Americans but an ideological leftists who wanted to remake America into a quasi-socialist state. Hence the reflexive opposition to practically anything President Obama proposed. The outcome was paralysis. Almost nothing done when the Republicans gained the majority in the House of Representatives after the 2010 mid-term elections.

Today, after the significant Republican victory of 2016, we have a populist President Trump who at least until now seems to act on changeable instincts rather than on the basis of a well laid-out, properly articulated and widely embraced strategy. The impression is that, beyond broad goals delivered through appealing slogans, this Chief Executive is uncertain as to which are the policy tools that would take America to higher ground.

Ideological warfare

The legislative branch, in turn, is torn by deep ideological warfare, and most of all by the astounding inability of both Democrats and Republicans to elaborate and articulate in a compelling fashion their own strategic visions for America. The outcome of this is more policy paralysis. If this were only a temporary aberration, a glitch, America could survive and move on. But, as noted above, this paralysis did not start in 2016, it has been going on for a number of years, irrespective of who is in power.

Now that the (rather fragmented) Republican Party is in charge, we have the flip side of the Obama years scenario. Now we have the Democrats as almost statutory obstructionists. They will not get behind this President on anything at all, as a matter of principle. Battling them we have a disunited, in fact disjointed, Republican Party ostensibly in the majority. The Republican Party is clearly incapable, not only of attracting members of the opposition in order to form bipartisan coalitions on key policies, but also of maintaining even a modicum of unity and cohesion among its Senators and Congressmen.

This is serious. Indeed so serious that, if we cannot repair the ideological rifts and the deep divisions that make it now impossible to create viable (bipartisan) coalitions which can identify and successfully tackle policy priorities that will benefit America and its people, the very future of this old republic is in question.

Checks and balances 

The fact is that, a long time ago, the Founding Fathers devised a complicated and delicate –I underscore “delicate”– system of government that was primarily aimed at preserving liberty.

America was not and is not about creating a strong government that “would get things done”. It is mostly about creating institutions aimed at protecting free people against the threat of tyranny. And for this reason the Founders came up with a complex alchemy of “checks and balances” : equally strong centers of power that will keep an eye on one another, this way preventing any one of them from becoming too strong, and therefore a threat to liberty.

Easy to block anything 

But here is the thing. While this system of equal forces balancing one another is an effective instrument when it comes to preventing any dangerous power grab, it is also ideally suited for launching successful obstructionist efforts at multiple levels.

Simply put, preventing almost anything from getting done is relatively simple within the U.S. constitutional framework. A small group of legislators, in some instances even a single law-maker, can delay or prevent major pieces of legislation and/or critical presidential appointments from moving forward.

“Getting things done” requires a relatively high degree of political agreement within the parties and often between the parties and among various factions and interest groups within the broader American society.

Lacking such an agreement, the system becomes easily dysfunctional. And this is the way it has been for a number of years, regardless as to who is in charge in the White House or in Congress.

Delicate system

That said, Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong, as a matter of principle, with the U.S. Constitution. What is deeply wrong is that nobody really cares very much about the fact that this American system of government is actually premised on a fairly broad consensus about the mission and the scope of government, sincerely and openly shared by both major parties and other interest groups. In other words, this American constitutional system, while old and tested, is in fact very delicate. It needs consensus.

Recreating the consensus

Indeed, the system is so delicate that it cannot properly function without a fairly high level of “upstream” consensus about shared values and consequently about what should be the appropriate functions of the federal government. These shared values should be the ideological and cultural glue that should unite most if not all citizens and their elected representatives.

Given all this, it is obvious that given this constitutional setup it is next to impossible to have a reasonably well-functioning U.S. government when vocal extreme factions vociferously advocating mutually exclusive visions are in control of the political agenda. They have created a charged environment in which “compromise” is synonym with “betrayal”. The outcome is policy paralysis. (Remember what I noted above about how easy it is to engage in obstructionist efforts while ostensibly operating within the rules of the U.S. Constitution).

Anybody out there? 

It should be fairly clear by now that we have a major problem. Accepting a perennially dysfunctional federal government is not an appealing prospect.

So, here is the question. Who is actively engaged in any meaningful, non partisan effort aimed at recreating the fundamental consensus about values and basic principles that made America possible in the first place? Anybody out there?




Black Ghetto Kids Do Not Have Options

WASHINGTON – Freddie Gray’s death forced us to focus on the careless and cruel way in which police in Baltimore and elsewhere handle prisoners. The allegation that Gray died on account of injuries he suffered during a forty minute ride in a police van looks almost incredible. Indeed, how can this be?

Horrible police practices

Apparently the police officers who arrested Gray (without probable cause) handled him in the same way the handle other prisoners. He was thrown onto the floor of the police van. No standard (and mandatory) safety rules were followed. No seat belt.

He was just thrown onto the floor. And when the injured Gray asked for medical help, he got none. In fact the police made an additional stop to pick another prisoner. It was well after the van had arrived at the police station that officers checked on Gray and found him unresponsive. At that point, it was too late to save a life about to be ended by the injuries suffered during a bad ride in a police van. A bad ride that caused fatal wounds. Amazing but true. In America, in the 21st century, a ride while in police custody may kill you.

Insensitive and cruel behavior led to a death

So, there you have it. What emerges here is a grim picture of police officers doing the dirty work of scooping up suspects in poor, high crime neighborhoods. And this practice often makes them insensitive and cruel.

I am not suggesting that the officers who arrested Gray deliberately wished to harm him or kill him. I am suggesting that they could not care less about his well being while he was in their custody. They did not listen to his requests for help. May be they thought he was faking it. May be they thought that, whatever his problem was, it could wait. And this is the sad picture about shoddy police work in bad neighborhoods. In Gray’s case, shoddy turned into criminal. He ended up dead.

Gray’s life

But this is only part of the story. If we dig deeper, it gets worse. Based on what we know, Freddie Gray was just a foot soldier in the vast underworld of petty crime afflicting Black neighborhoods in Baltimore and other US cities. By all accounts, Gray was not a dangerous criminal. True, he had been arrested many times. He had spent two years in jail. But he was not a violent gang leader ordering people killed.

Gray was the product and to a large extent the victim of a an urban Black subculture shaped by ignorance, illiteracy, drugs and chronic under achievement. To make things worse, as a child he was exposed to extremely high levels of lead poisoning due to lead paint used in his home. In fact there are thousands of “lead kids” in Baltimore and elsewhere. Like many others, Gray benefited from a settlement coming out of a law suit.

Lead poisoning

But the irreversible damage to his body was done when he was a toddler. According to most medical experts, high levels of lead poisoning impairs cognitive abilities, while it may be a factor in the onset of ADD. So here is Freddie Gray for you. An impaired young man whose mother is an illiterate former heroin addict. Gray never finished high school. He ended up in jail. He made a living selling drugs.

Personal accountability

America’s culture is shaped by the principle of personal accountability premised on the assumption that all people, no matter their level of education or station in life, must know right from wrong. Therefore, if you are a criminal, it is because you chose crime. If you dropped out of school, this means that you do not value education and the opportunities that it can open up for you. Which is to say that whatever happens to you on account of your bad choices, this is ultimately what you deserved.

Well, in principle this is the correct approach. There has to be personal accountability. And yes, in most cases people know right from wrong.

A child does not have real choices

But what we see here is a child growing up poor, ignorant and physically damaged. This is not his fault.

Of course, one can always think of a different scenario. The boy from the ghetto one day sees the light. He understands there is a better way. He finds a mentor. He goes to school. Against all odds, he gets a diploma. Through other help, he even gets a scholarship to go to university. And there he really blossoms. With a good degree he can start a promising career. And so he does.

And, after many years, the former ghetto kid writes a book in which he describes his story whose meaning in that “everybody can make it America, if they only show fortitude and perseverance”. Look, these rags-to-riches stories do occur. And this is great. But they are rare.

Sadly, by far the the most common story is Freddie Gray. A young man trapped in semi-poverty by ignorance and lack of opportunity. A young man who could not see much beyond his life of petty crime –a life that eventually, in a twisted way, got him killed when he was arrested because he run away when he saw police officers coming.

In truth, did Gray have real choices? As someone who knew him well commented: “What did you expect him to become? A stockbroker? “. Indeed.

Fix the police, help the underclass

And so here we have two issues. Teaching police officers how to properly do their job, while difficult, is doable.

The real challenge for America is to find practical and constructive ways to help the underclass get out of an endless cycle of self-perpetuating poverty and join the main stream.

This is going to be hard. Really hard.




After 150 Years, We Still Mourn Lincoln’s Death

WASHINGTON – 150 years ago President Lincoln was assassinated as he was watching a play. His killing, just a few days after the end of the Civil War, was an immense tragedy. Beyond the loss of his life, America lost a leader who could have steered the war-torn country in a different direction.

Johnson and Reconstruction

It was America’s bad luck that, because of Lincoln’s death, Vice President Andrew Johnson, a racist, became President. He engineered Reconstruction in a way that allowed the old Southern establishment to reassert itself and circumvent, in practice, Lincoln’s objective to give freedom and equality to the Black slaves.

Slavery had been abolished. But some its worst features came back via the segregation legislation passed by all Southern states. These laws relegated Blacks to the bottom of society, with few, if any,  chances to emerge from poverty and illiteracy.

New course

While it would be too much to assign the entire blame of Reconstruction to President Johnson, he certainly changed the course that had been charted by Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th Amendment that formally abolished slavery.

It took America another century to finally confront the legalized injustice of segregation. It was only in the 1960s that true equality under the law, for all Americans, was finally established.

Which is to say that leadership matters. Certainly the goal of welcoming the former Black slaves into the American mainstream would have been an immense challenge for any President.

But Johnson chose to essentially reverse course. He wanted peace and normalization with the South. And that meant looking the other way as the old White establishment reasserted itself, while pushing the former slaves down, and keeping them down for another century.

America lost a leader

Yes, without exaggeration, sometimes in history one man can make an enormous difference. And this is why the death of Abraham Lincoln is such an immense tragedy.

He lost his life, just days after victory in a horrible war.

Without his leadership, America lost a chance to advance on the path of equality and justice for all.




How Do We Turn Immigrants Into Citizens?

WASHINGTON – Sadly, in the midst of so many strident polemics about what should be done regarding millions of illegal immigrants now here in the US (between 11 and 12 million, according to most estimates), we have not considered a central issue: “What does it take to become an American citizen?” Unfortunately, the heated national conversation focused only on whether illegal immigrants should be rounded up and sent away, or not.

Immigrants with no status?

Well, if we do not send them away, (massive deportation is impossible), then what? They will just “stay” here, millions of people living in America without a clear status and therefore, almost by definition, no stake and no say on any matter affecting the country they live in? Is this healthy? And, even if we assume a fast track to residency and citizenship, how do we help all of them to understand and embrace the American values and institutions without which –if you think about it– there is no America?

America is a representative democracy whose vitality is dependent on a vibrant civic culture honestly and sincerely embraced by most of its citizens. To have in our midst more than 11 million people who are here, but without any feeling of real belonging, is not healthy.

The story of some Mexican immigrants

In a NYT op-ed, (How Mexicans became Americans, January 18, 2015), Journalist Sam Quinones provided an interesting picture of how large numbers of Mexican immigrants living in small communities in Southern California, after the de facto amnesty provided by the immigration law of 1986, little by little came to believe that they were not just immigrant workers but real Americans. Quinones gives us a good story of successful integration, even though he also  describes many of the obstacles that had to be overcome.

We have no induction process

While this is a good story, what we surmise from it is that here in America we have no “induction process” aimed at helping immigrants to become citizens. In the past, it was a given that all immigrants (mostly from Europe) who landed in America had made a conscious decision to leave their country of origin for good. They had bought a one way ticket to America. They had severed their ties. Which is to say that they had come to America with the clear aspiration to become Americans.

The melting pot…

Therefore, once in America, most of them did their best to become citizens. They learnt English and tried to fit in. While the metaphor of America as “the melting pot” that as a matter of course easily turned Germans, Irish, Poles, Italians, Russians and Greeks into cheerful and enthusiastic citizens may not be totally accurate, for the most part it is. The record indicates that the larger American society, inspired by the civic culture that supports our republican institutions, managed to assimilate millions of diverse new comers.

…No longer exists

But the “melting pot” model does not apply any more. Today we have millions of illegal immigrants who came to America from nearby Mexico or Central America, not because they want to settle here and become Americans, but only because America seems to offer better economic opportunities. Please note that there is a critical distinction between “economic immigrants” who think of their country of origin as their real home, and “would-be citizens” who want assimilation.

However, because of their murky status, these illegal immigrants cannot freely come and go. Most of them, once they get here, have to stay. Crossing the border is too risky. Some of them may want to stay for good, aspiring to become Americans. Some do not.

Guest workers program

Well, any sensible immigration reform plan should include a well designed guest workers visa programs. This would provide a choice to millions of people. If what they want is just the opportunity to work in America, so be it. Assuming that the US job market needs additional workers, (it does, especially in the agriculture sector), then guest workers visa programs should create a manageable process that will match employers and would be foreign workers.

Civic education

For all the others that want to become Americans we need to create civic education (and more) programs that will help them in their transition from immigrants to citizens. As the story told by Quinones in his NYT piece clearly indicates, these days assimilation does not take place as a matter of course. In some of the Mexican communities in Southern California, after a great deal of bad experiences, finally there was a transformation from disorganized immigrants to citizens animated by a genuine civic culture. But this successful change cannot be taken for granted.

Real citizens

The larger American society should devise ways to help the immigrants who really want to become citizens. And this goes way beyond the pro-forma civics test that would-be citizens have to pass. Truly embracing American values takes a lot more effort than learning how many Senators sit in the US Senate. We cannot leave this crucial education process to chance.

It is in America’s interest that all those who are here to stay truly embrace our values.




America Needs A New Interpreter Of The Old Values

WASHINGTON – Intentionally or by default, Barack Obama has become the champion of the dispossessed and of the downtrodden. Against all odds, (considering a weak economy and high unemployment), he won the 2012 re-election with a simple message: Mitt Romney and runnig mate Paul Ryan are “bad people”.

Evil conservatives

Their (evil?) goal, according to the well orchestrated Obama campaign narrative, was and is, (if they get another chance), to destroy the social safety nets that guarantee a semi-decent life for those who work hard but get little from a system that is stacked against them.

If you vote for me –promised Obama– I guarantee that you’ll keep your Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Disability Insurance, and the rest of it. And I promise that I shall keep fighting for greater equality. Therefore, and mark my words, don’t be stupid. If you vote for the Republican ticket you are doomed, because they’ll take the little you have away from you.

Well, thanks in part to Romney’s unforced errors that seemed to confirm the artfully created image (by the Obama campaign) of the heartless “vulture capitalist”, Obama got re-elected.

“Sweet Populism” has no standard-bearer

But the moderate right that had placed its hope on Mitt Romney right now is a political orphan. As Pepperdine University Professor Ted McAllister points out in an extremely insightful and elegantly written WSJ op-ed piece, (“Sweet Populism” Awaits Its Leader, August 6, 2014), now within Middle America (traditionally centrist but leaning conservative) there is a palpable yearning for a new, inspired leader (a new Ronald Reagan) who will be able to forge a message of hope based on the reaffirmation of the “Good American Myth”, that McAllister calls “Sweet Populism”.

This is about a set of old (but still vibrant)  principles that explain how “everybody can make it in America” if we would only refocus on self-reliance and industry in this rich and generous land of opportunity that always rewards personal effort, ingenuity and enterprise.

Here is the creed and the program: Let’s unleash the creativity of all hard-working Americans. Let’s tear down the barriers (taxation, hyper regulation, and what not) that stifle individual efforts. Let’s make this country great again.

Conservative and revolutionary ideas

And so, (I would add), we can be both conservatives and revolutionaries, reaffirming the eternal validity of old principles that will allow us to dream about and reach greater heights. And, while engaged in this endeavor, we shall also reaffirm this country’s greatness, a greatness founded on the fundamental goodness of the American people.

“Sweet Populism”: America’s secret sauce

As Ted McAllister puts in his essay:

Sweet populism is a peculiarly American species, organized around a version of the country’s history that is positive and incomplete; stresses the importance of self-reliance; seeks to remove obstacles to individual empowerment when they emerge; and aims any anger it produces at those who deny the essential goodness of the American idea”.

Tea Party got it half right

I fully agree. And I also agree with McAllister that the Tea Party Movement failed to capture the essence of this Good Myth. It could only articulate an emotional anti-government message. “Cut taxes and cut government”. But this is not enough. Ronald Reagan’s brilliance was in his ability to make himself into the prophet of a New Era of Hope, strongly grounded on the reaffirmation of old values.

The Tea Party focused on theoretically correct but in the end abstract and impractical ideas of fiscal purity. In the end, its members have been unable to produce a compelling message that would convincingly combine good ideas that will promote growth, while restraining spending. The Tea Party seems to be “anti-this, and anti-that”. But it is unable to provide a warm, inspiring message that will sway Middle America.

Left: focus on injustice

As McAllister points out, the left has its myth too. But it is not in sync with the narrative of America as a Blessed Land of Opportunity. Its focus is on injustice. The rich rigged the system in their favor. As a result they get all the goodies while the rest of us, hard-working Americans, get the crumbs.

Therefore, the thrust of any progressive public policy has to be the promotion of social and economic equality. And, in order to get there, those who gamed the system now have to pay up.

As the 2012 elections have demonstrated, this “social justice” message, (combined with a weak Republican candidate), worked rather well.

America is on the wrong track

But now we are stuck. While we got out of the Great Recession, there is a general sense of unhappiness. The economy now grows, but only a little, (about 2% a year). Unemployment is down; but it is still very high, (around 6%), while millions of people who are lucky enough to be employed struggle with the meager income provided by their low paying part-time jobs, the only ones they can get.

Indeed, by coincidence the WSJ today also published the results of a national poll that shows how 71% of Americans believe that the  country is “on the wrong track“. This high percentage of really unhappy Americans includes people who voted for Obama in 2012.

Who will lead?

As McAllister writes, the yearning for a new interpreter of the American idea of freedom, and of the promising horizons it can open up today, is there. However, the millions of American moderate conservatives need a convincing standard-bearer.

 




When Moral Behavior Is Based Purely On Convenience

WASHINGTON – A retired elder statesman came up with wise advice for President Obama. He just wrote that, many years ago, when he was just getting started in politics, he was told by a seasoned politician in his own state that one should always be loyal to one’s friends. And he believes that this was and still is a valid guideline.

Loyalty pays

And why? Because –you see– in the long run, this is the smart thing to do.  Staying loyal may carry a price. In some cases it may be inconvenient. But, look, that fact is that you will need your friends’ support when things get rough. Therefore, take my advice. Be smart: stay loyal to those who are on your side. You never know, but sooner or later you will need them.

Well, in principle this piece of advice may sound self-evident and unobjectionable, even though it is clear that, in practice, many leaders do not stick to this principle. No, they turn with the wind and change loyalties, if this seems to be politically convenient.

No moral foundation

Anyway, my point here is not to debate the validity of the advice as it may apply to this or that issue.

My goal here is to point out that the advice of “staying loyal” is based entirely on what is politically smart, as opposed to being moral.

Here the advice to pursue loyalty is presented as the result of a careful and shrewd “cost-benefit analysis”. Even though it may cost you in the short run, in the long run the smart thing to do in politics is to be loyal to your friends. Trust me, when all is said and done, this is the wiser course of action.

Loyalty is smart

So, here we are talking about good or bad tactics, and what may or may not lead to long-term political advantage, and not about moral principles. A business-like approach tells you that being loyal will benefit you more than being disloyal.

So, don’t be stupid. You assess the pros and cons; and, if you are smart, you will see that it is more convenient to stay loyal to your supporters than to betray them.

Again, note that no moral principle is invoked here. The wise advice is not that “You should be loyal because this is the moral thing to do”. No, “You should be loyal, because this is the shrewd thing to do. Because it pays. “

What if being disloyal pays more?

But what if in the real world the opposite were true? What if we discovered that betraying one’s supporters in fact benefits the elected leader more? Then what? Well, then the smart thing to do would be to betray. Because –you see– being disloyal pays more than being loyal.

Welcome to our unhinged world in which some do not even try to provide a genuine moral foundation for what they deem to be clever political behavior.




Politics Is About Clever Manipulation

WASHINGTON – Presumptive 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is in the news. Various articles report on her artful maneuvers to position herself as the strongest Democrat for 2016, while carefully calibrating her support for the now unpopular Obama administration in which she served for four years as Secretary of State.

Crafting the message according to polls

And so we are told about clever innuendos, about subtle distinctions and other ways in which Clinton distances herself from Obama, without however appearing openly disloyal.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, here is how you get elected. With the invaluable help of your pollsters and focus groups specialists, you craft the message so that it will match what people want to hear, therefore assuring maximum impact on potential Democratic primary voters.

Welcome to American politics. The open secret is that Mrs. Clinton, and anybody else running for office, for that matter, will say almost anything, as long as she believes that this or that “message” will help her get elected.

Manipulation

But, if this is so, we also admit that most if not all the people running for office are not in the business of proposing political programs. No. They are in the business of clever manipulation. They do their best to cynically exploit the hopes, fears and expectations of the voters constructing messages that respond to them, in order to get more votes.

We all know this. However, nobody says anything about the fact that we have accepted as “normal” a completely perverted political process. No TV talk show host would say to any candidate, in his/her face, that their position on this or that is patently insincere, and therefore not believable.

Politics is about getting elected

Think about it. We openly accept the fact that politics is not about having ideas and crafting them into a political program. No. None of that. Politics is about getting elected. Therefore, in order to get elected, it is perfectly logical that candidates will fine tune their message to what their pollsters say that people want to hear. Which is to say that it is perfectly normal to lie about what you believe, as long as the “message” gains traction with key voters. True, voters are gullible. They can be persuaded and manipulated.

Insincerity is the norm

Still, we do pay a price for having accepted this perversion as the normal way of conducting our politics. Sure enough, at the end of this ghastly process, someone does indeed “win”. However, by accepting that in politics insincerity is the norm, we have debased the integrity and credibility of our system.

Credibility of our institutions?

The strength of the American republic rests entirely on the credibility of its institutions. And this is largely predicated on the moral integrity of the people running for office.

If we think that a vibrant democracy can thrive while we entrust its institutions to cynical manipulators, we are really fooling ourselves.