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Election Day is Only 233 Days Away

March 20, 2016

“I have ever observed that a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for it’s (sic) wisdom. This first secretion from them is usually crude and heterogeneous.”

– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Edmund Pendleton, August 26, 1776

Thomas Jefferson and other eighteenth century leaders debated the best structure and process for the country’s post-revolution government. They deliberated the benefits and handicaps of various designs. There was general consensus to avoid another monarchy at all costs; that’s what the war with the British was all about after all. But there was also great skepticism about a pure democracy. Ultimately, they settled on a republican form of government, which features various controls to temper the impact of the peoples’ voice and to protect us from malevolence from the minority and indeed, even the majority.

Two centuries later, their system is under great stress. Republicans in the U.S. Senate won’t hold hearings for a Supreme Court nominee, saying that they must wait until the November election to consider the people’s view. They’ve controlled the House and Senate for eighteen and twelve of the past twenty-two years. They control both houses now. I don’t think they care one bit about what you and I think about a SCOTUS nominee. They certainly aren’t swayed by public opinion of them and of their competence to fulfill their sworn duties.

Congressional approval 2016-03 (2)

The Republicans have held majority positions in both houses of Congress the past two years. This is the average of hundreds of polls taken during that time. The results are similar if you go back a few more years, when Democrats were in charge of the Senate. It hasn’t always been like this. Approvals were as high as 67% in 1985.

The founders’ doubt about American citizens’ participation in the political process is well founded, at least for those of us around for this election cycle. Based on the results of a 2014 University of Pennsylvania survey, one might be concerned about our readiness for voting for public office candidates. This Tuesday, when you’re listening to the yakety-yak about the results of the that day’s primaries on your favorite cable TV station, take a moment to contemplate the survey’s findings:

  1. Only 36% of the participants in the University of Pennsylvania poll could name all three branches of our government;
  2. More disturbing than that, 35% could not name a single branch of our government;
  3. Only 27% knew that it takes two-thirds of both the House and Senate to cancel a presidential veto;
  4. One of five people incorrectly said that a 5-4 SCOTUS ruling is sent back to Congress.

The Federalists were concerned about a path to the White House that had direct line from the voters. They wanted to insert a firewall. James Madison warned against a “pure democracy,” in November 1787, The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection

A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

Alexander Hamilton’s solution to handing over the White House to the wrong person was what we now know as the electoral college.

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

Of course, this system hasn’t always been adequate. We’ll see how it holds up with the least prepared of leading candidates this country has ever supported. Donald Trump sure is popular, however. More than 7.5 million people have declared with their votes that he is the person they want as their president.

If you’re one of those primary voters who’s feeling slighted because of the undue importance big media and big money placed on the results of the early primary states and resent the outcomes they left the rest of us, you may still have a chance to play a role if you live in one of seven so-called “swing states.” If you want an extra amount of attention, quick move to Ohio or Florida, which have forty-seven electoral votes in hand. You’ll get all the pandering you can stomach in either of these two states. Just be careful if you plan on going where Trump and his supporters gather. It’s not safe out there.

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2016 – a year that would make these guys’ heads spin.

 

 

 

 

16 Comments
  1. It is not safe out there…

    Like

  2. It just gets worse and worse. Odd, since as a civilized country, aren’t we supposed to get better and better at this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • clay permalink

      John Quincy Adams stated that when It comes to the American Presidency, Darwin got it exactly backwards.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. To play a bit of devil’s advocate, gridlock within the 3 branches is not a sign of dysfunction, but is a sign of a success Constitution whose checks and balances prevent too much power in one place.As much as I hate a dysfunctional Congress, I will continue to appreciate party division sharing the power because in the current climate, one party rule is a worse scenario.

    Good thoughts, Bruce!

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  4. Excellent article, but I’d like to add a couple of points:

    The so-called “fear of the masses,” which has been a major charge leveled against democracy since its founding, is rather peculiar because pure democracy (i.e. direct democracy) has – to my knowledge – never been implemented on any significant scale. There are no historical precedents which can be used to justify that fear. Ancient Athens, for example, restricted voting to a small minority of its population – specifically, adult males who were property owners and obviously were not slaves. The rabid xenophobia in America today, exemplified by the Donald Trump campaign, represents no more than 40% of the Republican primary electorate and much smaller percentages respectively for the national general electorate and the total of all eligible voters. Furthermore, voter turnout trends have been declining in recent decades and years so much so that it now has dropped well below 60% in presidential elections, well below 40% in midterm elections, and struggles to reach 20% in off-year and local elections. This isn’t pure democracy by any stretch of the imagination.

    Thomas Jefferson spoke at great length about the importance of education in a democratic society. A recent study revealed that Donald Trump supporters are much less educated than the rest of the electorate. I would assert then, that democracy cannot function properly when either the population it serves lacks sufficient education or when that population disengages from civic participation. When both of these conditions are present, democracy is most certainly doomed. What we’re seeing in America today suggests that both conditions are indeed present. But, this wasn’t always the case. The fifty year period between 1930 and 1980, America had the best education system in the world and civic participation was significantly greater. Our representative democracy, despite all its inherent flaws, flourished and so did the nation’s fortunes.

    Democracy didn’t fail us. We failed democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We’re a big country with lots of issues and democracy is definitely being challenged this election. I hope people come out and vote and educate themselves about the candidates and their policies. It’s hard to hear what they are with all the noise these days. I’m staying clear of all rallies. Not safe, indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s incredibly frustrating, Bruce, to watch the Trump phenomena. And even more frustrating to realize that Cruz is considered a viable alternative. I don’t believe (or is that hope) that either candidate will win the general election. As for Republicans in Congress, their behavior is abominable in terms of the Supreme Court nomination. But it seems par for the course. As bad as it seems, I still believe our system of government will weather the storms that are tearing at it now as it has weathered similar plights in the past. –Curt

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  7. I think that what you’re seeing, Bruce, is the classic ‘backlash’. And from here, it seems like a vote of ‘no confidence’ towards the established parties. Part of it might be because the legislature and the courts have forced certain changes on the population without first reaching agreement on the issues. Part of it might be because money is so involved in the political contests. I have read how much money one needs to run for office, and it seems outlandish. Aside from that, I’ve heard many opinions that the politicians are too close to big business. But you know, the pendulum swings one way, and then swings the other way. Looking at the US from the outside, it doesn’t seem nearly as scary as some of my American friends think it is.

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  8. I’m not voting for ANYONE in this lot. It’s a farce and they all suck at the teat of corporate interest anyway. Once again….I am staying local.

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  9. We’re watching it all from over here in the UK in stunned silence. Well, maybe not that silence, but stunned anyway!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I appreciate how you educate us, your devoted followers, Bruce. We’re all so frustrated at our election process right now, but really, I think we’re just frustrated at our candidates, and how it all seems to be going downhill…..

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Since you posted this, the leading R candidates have become even more embarrassing. Talking about penis size and the beauty (or not) of their wives. Appalling!
    I too, thank you for the research you put into your posts, Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think Shimon has raised some good points here – when a sizeable section of a society feels like they are ‘having it tough’ they will jump on the band-wagon of someone ‘different’ who will ‘save’ them and make things better. Money certainly plays a part – here in the UK a limit has been set for any one political party to spend on it’s election budget (although I’m sure it’s open to abuse!). But there is another point I suspect is relevant too – America is such a huge, largely self-contained country that I think many do not see themselves – and how well off they really are – in the context of the wider world. Maybe this is partly due to lack of education, lazy thinking and wanting to be part of the next big thing. They cannot see that they do not need a saviour – least of all one called Trump! But so very frustrating for what is probably the majority of Americans who can’t quite believe what is unfolding (along with the rest of the world). I hope for all our sakes that wisdom will prevail along with a swing to the left at the ballot box.

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  13. For the next 233 days, I will frequently wonder if we wouldn’t be better off this time with the chair in the Oval Office empty, and we could rent the White House out for proms and weddings. As Americans and tax payers, we might hold our own on the expense and it would be less embarrassing. 🙂

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