Sunday, October 9, 2016

The will of the majority

A discussion on Facebook has stimulated this blog - the discussion ensued after I posted this old George Carlin video.  It seems pretty prescient concerning the current election situation, as the Trump "campaign" is encountering more and more manifestations of Trump's sleazy behavior, massive mendacity, and bizzare public claims.  It's difficult to know just what he does believe and what is just empty rhetoric.  Carlin's premise is that the public (or at least the majority of voters - that caveat will be unspoken but implicit in subsequent references to "the public") is responsible for the politicians.  If we don't like the politicians, it seems the public is responsible for the politicians we have.  Ergo, we have the voting members of the GOP to thank/blame for Trump.

The founders of our nation were very much aware of the potential tyranny of the majority.  If most of the people wanted to persecute a minority (say, Muslims), or establish a state religion (say, Christianity), they are prevented from doing so through the safeguards of the Bill of Rights.  Other aspects of the USA's Constitution limit the potential for abuses of the majority, including the electoral college and the balance of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.  Although supportive of representative democracy, the founders feared what the USA could become if the majority will was completely unfettered.  What has been happening since the Constitution was adopted is a gradual drift toward frustration with those safeguards.  People want their government to grant them what they want, even though what they seek may be bad for the nation, or will inflict harm on minorities.  This is an inevitable conflict in representative democracies.  The best path, it seems, is to remain in a state of approximate balance between the public's will and a government that declines to follow the will of the majority at all.  The secret to a successful democracy is not majority rule, but rather the protection of minority rights and doing what works best for nation as a whole (not pandering to special interests!).  As time has passed, the majority of our voters seem unable to bring themselves to vote against the very people who are ravaging the public, slowly undermining the bill of rights, pushing religion into government, and creating massive income inequality through welfare for the rich.

In other words, the majority seems determined to vote against their own best interests. This is where the people's will has taken us since the late 18th century, with anti-politics joining with a growing mood of anti-science/anti-intellectualism and a commitment to willful ignorance. This is what has become "representative" and has given rise to Trump as the human embodiment of a form of populism that involves narcissistic bigotry and a drift toward fascism in the USA. Trump has ridden the vote of the majority of GOP members to the nomination despite the GOP leadership's opposition, and is now at the very brink of the Presidency. 
The rise of Trump to the GOP nomination has been an amazing journey for America.  His popularity is widely attributed to the fact that he "speaks his mind" (including a large number of outright lies and many completely bizarre bigoted statements) and is not a career politician.  His supporters seem not to care at all about his actual words.  Instead, he's mostly just a symbol for their frustration with a system that seems unresponsive to their perceived needs.  They're unswayed by his gaffes and outrageous claims.

The current election has given us candidates from the two major parties that are widely despised by majorities within their counterpart segments of the population.  Of course, the choice between them presumably will be made by the American voting public.  Anyone choosing not to vote will avoid any responsibility for the election of either candidate, but will have chosen not to exercise a responsibility to the nation to have a role in its governance.  Some will vote for alternative party candidates that, at the present time in our history, have little chance of winning any national elections.  Such votes are not "wasted" - the value of voting is not determined by the outcome of the election - they can affect the outcome, as history has shown us.  Nevertheless, the majority of the public has adopted the 2-party system and evidently isn't inclined to depart from that choice in significant numbers, no matter how bad the candidates might be.

Hatred for politicians by the public is intense, which ironically is a sort of self-hate (a concept George Carlin was using in his comedy piece), because it's by the will of the voting public that those politicians remain in office!  Politician approval ratings are at rock bottom, but we keep electing the same people to office over and over.  The rise of Trump can be seen as a sort of "populism" - defines populism this way:  "populism is a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite."  [The nation's founders were not all populists!]  Another populist candidate was Bernie Sanders, but he and Trump are very far apart on the political spectrum.  Bernie has since endorsed Hillary Clinton, whereas most mainline GOP politicians are now scurrying to disavow Trump.  Trump is what he's always been, but he created massive angst for the GOP faithful prior to the Republican National Convention and they're now regretting their attempts to close ranks behind him after he won the nomination.  I guess they hoped they could "control" him and winning the election was the crucial thing - history suggests that demagogues are not easy to control.  That nomination was decided against the wishes of the GOP insiders, for the simple reason that in Republican primaries, the will of the majority was to support Trump.  Well, the GOP majority got what they wanted.  Time will tell what they decide about the wisdom of their support for Trump.


tornado.specialist said...

Chuck: Just two brief statements on an otherwise reasonable essay (regardless of some other opinions I have that are beside the point)...

1. The "best interests" argument is presumptuous. a) How do we know what are Trump voters' "best interests"? A claim to know seems to be a rather paternalistic and patronizing statement. [Disclosure: I am not a Trump voter either.] b) Voting in one's own "best interest" is inherently a selfish act. Voting ideally should be done altruistically, in the best interest of the country, state, or locality; that Venn diagram may not overlap completely with self-interest.

2. A factual correction: Trump did not win the "votes of the majority of GOP members". Instead it was a plurality, and only a plurality of those who voted. See,_2016#/media/File:2016_Republican_Party_presidential_primaries_popular_vote.svg

===== Roger Edwards =====

Chuck Doswell said...


You've made this technical argument many times recently. I don't disagree that voting in your own self-interest *could* be considered "selfish" but I maintain that NOT doing so can turn out very badly for such a voter. There are many in the political spectrum who vote for things outside of their self-interest, when what they vote for also is in fact harmful to many others beside themselves. I would vote for issues and politicians that I believe are good for the nation even when doing so might not be entirely favorable to me (e.g., higher taxes). For instance, I support the principle that it's good for some part of my taxes to be allocated to help the disadvantaged, rather than supporting unwinnable wars on foreign soil. I wouldn't vote for a politician committed to "trickle down" economics - many people suffering from privations attributable to such failed economic policies are, nevertheless, bamboozled into voting for the very people causing them to suffer.