Failing At Democracy

Posts in this series.

One of the reasons I read old books is that they help me understand the chaotic events of our current times. In The Public And Its Problems, John Dewey lays out a theory of the democratic state, and as we shall see, we are doing badly at it.

Recall that the public is a group of people who have common interests that need to be addressed, usually arising from the actions of other people. The public empowers certain of its members with the task of representing and protecting those interests. We call the aggregate of those people the state. [1]

The origins of the state.

This description implicitly separates “the state” from specific forms of government. Any reasonably large group of people has some form of government, and the bigger the group the more complex the government. In order for there to be a state, there must be a public.

It may be said that not until recently have publics been conscious that they were publics, so that it is absurd to speak of their organizing themselves to protect and secure their interests. Hence states are a recent development. Chapter 3, The Democratic State, p. 116.

One way to think about this is that the modern self-aware public evolved from prior traditional societies. The serfs in a feudal society generally do not see themselves as participants in government, but as fulfilling pre-ordained social roles.

What is a Democratic State?

Dewey likes this definition:

Democracy is a word of many meanings. … But one of the meanings is distinctly political, for it denotes a mode of government, a specified practice in selecting officials and regulating their conduct as officials. P. 121.

It’s not a soaring aspiration. It’s a functional description of what has to be done. The democratic state needs two things: 1) a system for the public to select its officials; and 2) a system for regulating the conduct of officials.

Selection of officials.

In the US, we elect a small group of officials, and they in turn select others for subsidiary roles. The public, all of us, are responsible for selecting officials who will represent our interests in conflicts with individuals or groups of people, as corporations and militias. The public may fail at its task by selecting people who use their position to enrich themselves and their cronies at the expense of the public or otherwise. Dewey says the crucial step is the selection of the right people. [2]

Regulating the Conduct of Officials.

The US Constitution provides two methods for regulating officials. These are impeachment, in the case of the executive and judicial branches, and expulsion, for the legislative branch. These are supplemented by rules that allow for sanctions short of removal, such as censure, and formal means for investigation through committees. There are statutes and formal regulations that constrain conduct of other officials, and many informal rules, now called norms. These laws and rules provide for sanctions.

The evolution of political democracy.

Political democratic states in Western Europe and North America evolved from older forms of government as the result of many small non-political developments. Dewey emphatically denies that these changes were driven by some overarching cause, such as an innate desire for democracy, or by dramatic changes in philosophical theories.

But theories of the nature of the individual and his rights, of freedom and authority, progress and order, liberty and law, of the common good and a general will, of democracy itself, did not produce the movement. They reflected it in thought; after they emerged, they entered into subsequent strivings and had practical effect. P. 123.

As an example, the ideas of John Locke were one of the theoretical sources for the Founding Fathers. His ideas are grounded in the rising economics of mercantilism, the attenuation of religious hegemony, and rising scientific understanding. He seems to be arguing against earlier thinkers grounded in earlier social, cultural, and intellectual structures. [3] Democracy was not the driving force of any of these changes. It emerged as a solution to the societal problems these non-political changes created.

Dewey doesn’t try to explain the entire evolution. He points to just two factors. First, the changes that led to democracy were driven by a fear of government and a desire to keep it to a minimum. This seems like a plausible reaction to an all-powerful monarchy, as existed in England and France, for example. Earlier governments were tied into other institutions, like the Church, and these too were feared or loathed. These institutions came to be seen as oppressive, not to groups of people but to individuals. There was already a growing tendency to think of the individual as the atomic unit. [4[ For Dewey, individualism was the result. [5]

The second important factor is the rise of science and technology. Over time it created changes in the nature of productive work and increased the range of consumer goods. People of all classes wanted more. The old rules became obstacles, and people began to question these rules and the system that produced them.

The old conception of Natural Law as the source of morality merged with the new idea that laissez-faire economics was a natural law in a synthesis that opposed artificial political laws. This led to the conclusion that government interference in property was bad, if not a moral evil, and the role of government should be little more than to protect property rights and personal integrity.

This is an overly simplified history, even more simplified by me, but it gives an idea of the genesis democracy as Dewey defines it. It leads to the conclusion that government officials are likely to be bad, so we should have short terms and serious control.

Problems arising from large organizations.

In earlier times, people’s primary relationships were face-to-face, family, friends, co-workers, church members, local people. The government was hardly relevant in day-to-day life. Its primary impact was taxes, the occasional war, and a few laws. By the time Dewey is writing, the primary relationships were impersonal, the individual was facing large corporate organizations in many aspects of life, including productive work. The state acted directly acted on individuals, touching their lives in many ways.

Group, or conjoint, action through business entities rivals the government in impact on individuals. Businesses “reach out to grasp the agencies of government;” not out of evil intent necessarily, but because they are the best organized groups of people. Even so, the power of these organizations has been controlled and directed by the state to some extent, and more is possible.


The second impeachment of Trump shows us that as a nation we have done badly at democracy. We elected unfit officials, people who are stupid, venal, conspiracy-ridden, power-maddened or a combination. Unfit legislators have for decades let the executive branch do monstrous things and refused to hold any of them accountable. The unfit people who staff our courts at all levels, but especially the unconstrained ideologues of SCOTUS have stymied legislative power, and have limited accountability of government and business elites with their pronouncements. Prosecutors are at fault as well, because they refuse even to investigate powerful private entities and their executives.

We fail democracy if we do not carry out our responsibility to regulate the conduct of our officials, and continue to select unfit people as our officials.

[1] I discuss these matter in detail in earlier posts, especially … and ….

[2] Dewey discusses different ways in which leaders were selected in earlier times, which I skip. It’s worth noting that we still elect people who met those irrelevant criteria: military and religious leaders, children of officials, charismatic people, and old white men. Pp. 117-9.

[3] I agree with Dewey about this, but it’s very far afield.

[4] Think of Descartes, sunk in self-contemplation. We also see it in Locke.

[5] Individualism lies at the heart of social contract theory and neoliberalism. Dewey rejects social contract theory.

39 replies
  1. Jay says:

    How are we getting from a to b to c? Yes we need to uphold the values of the country. Yes the second impeachment of Trump is a sign a fool was elected. But how is the supreme court guilty?

    You want to say that we need a way to punish false speech. All I can say to that is good luck finding a way to single it out.

    • Terry Mroczek says:

      We already punish false speech. We have truth in lending laws, truth in advertising laws, laws against fraud. We punish people who make false statements in court. Why can’t we have truth in politics laws? If one of the most important things we do is choose who represents us, why not have laws against false representation when it comes to elected officials? In a democracy, it is the most important decision we make. When elected officials lie to us, they are attempting to manipulate voters and take away the voters’ choice. The most egregious would be easy to prove – “I won the election by a landslide.”

  2. Godfree Roberts says:

    Democracy is..a mode of government, a specified practice in selecting officials and regulating their conduct as officials”.

    Confucius would agree 100%. And he tweaked that definition by specifying that officials can only be selected from the smartest 2% of the people and regulating them both morally and practically. It’s worked well for 2200 years, so why change it?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Worked well for 2200 years only if you ignore the frequent corruption. Bureaucracies – Imperial Chinese, Whitehall, the Catholic Church, the Pentagon – work well only when constrained by checks and balances, starting with oversight. That’s one reason Congress’s refusal to hold the executive and other sources of power – Wall Street, billionaires, large corporations – to account is so damaging to civil society.

  3. DTK says:

    Dear Ed,
    Thank you for the piece. “… laissez-faire economics was a natural law…” It is my understanding (from Michael Hudson) that Smith, Ricardo, and Mill regarded a free market as one free -from- monopolies, economic rent, and unearned income.
    Thank You

    • Ed Walker says:

      This is the general idea of a competitive market, which we don’t have in the US. This idea is fundamental to the theory of marginal utility. You can find a mathematization of the idea in William Stanley Jevons’ book The Theory of Political Economy which is available online. Marginal utility is in turn fundamental to mainstream economics. I’ve discuss Jevons book in several posts, some of which might be of interest. You can search on his name. I fear I may have mis-cited his book, though.

  4. d4v1d says:

    Dewey’s assessment describes an unmediated discourse, politician to citizenry. But the intrusion of media creates what is sometimes called a ‘three body problem,’ when an unexpected input to the motion of one can have incalculable effects on the correlative motions of the others, which feeds back as chaos.

    One thing I have become aware of over the years, traveling the US outside my native New England, is that this is not a country with singular history. There are several histories with their own origin stories – which often derive from non-European sources.

  5. Zinsky says:

    I had a social psychology professor in college who was smitten with John Dewey. We read a fair amount of Dewey’s writing and I agreed with almost all of it. Dewey was a very rational, learned and ordered man, as I suspect the author is, as well. The problem is that we live in a very irrational, illiterate and innumerate and disordered society. How we got here could be the subject of many books and PhD dissertations. My own opinion is that the rise of social media and advertising and TV/Internet content has become so corrosive and dehumanizing that rational analysis of political behavior has become impossible. Take FoxNews (please!) – they use sexually attractive females (usually blonde) with long legs and short skirts to attract middle-aged and older men and then spoonfeed them so-called news stories that appeal to their most basal instincts of greed, fear and hatred. Civil unrest stories always depict people of color, even if the footage wasn’t from that event. Minor increases in taxes for public goods like roads and public health are portrayed as “theft” while massive spending on weapons systems like the F-35 that don’t even work are portrayed as patriotic. Small, nebulous entities like Antifa are blown into massive terrorist hives that require secret DOJ capture teams while bearded, smelly fat so-called “militia” dudes like the Michigan Militia storm the Capitol, heavily armed, and not one arrest is made. To summarize, there is too much willful disinformation to allow for any sort of objective accountability.

    In other words, Mr. Dewey’s points about the need for rational voters in a rational society and regulating our leaders are absolutely true and spot-on. But we live in a chaotic, entropic hot mess of a society that defies rational ordering and truly holding adult people accountable for adult behavior. That is our challenge. Thanks for the very thoughtful post!

    • dannyboy says:

      “The problem is that we live in a very irrational, illiterate and innumerate and disordered society…But we live in a chaotic, entropic hot mess of a society that defies rational ordering and truly holding adult people accountable for adult behavior. That is our challenge. ”

      You state the problem well, but your diagnosis seems awfully limited (“My own opinion is that the rise of social media and advertising and TV/Internet content has become so corrosive and dehumanizing that rational analysis of political behavior has become impossible.”)

      You dignose the illness as social media and advertising and TV/Internet content. Others diagnosis the illness as poor education. Still other diagnose the problem as economic.

      If you look carefully at your problem statement as I copied it into the first paragraph of this reply, you will see that the problem is very deep and cancerous. Treating the symptoms of cancer provides no cure.

      • OldTulsaDude says:

        When faith-based belief systems replace evidence-based belief systems there is no recovery. Therein lies the start of the rot.

        • skua says:

          Understanding that ethical values are important, as are humans virtues, that humans can choose between right and wrong, all came from a faith-based system.
          Removing a mythic system that contains the above approach without creating a replacement ethical training system has consequences for a nation.

        • Ed Walker says:

          This is a nice point. Most of us, I’d guess, learn our ethical principles in a religious format, and even if we later lose our faith we retain the ethical structure.

          Even so, we continue to raise children with those values. It isn’t the religion itself that teaches them, it’s the parents, friends and the community. And books. Lots of books.

        • skua says:

          Round here church-going pretty much faded from common life about 40 years ago and, having since learnt of the abuses, I don’t want it back, and I make no claim that it was of a nett benefit to the community.
          However while it was happening people were preparing for and then participating in a weekly community event that, at least nominally, was structured around considering, and developing, virtue. One product of this tradition can be seen in the many letters from the 1800s featuring concerns about living a virtuous life.
          Whereas today many people where I live would not be clear about what virtues are, and (we) spend no time participating in community virtue building/discussion/training. (Leaving “virtue-signalling” attacks for someplace else.) My 2 ten-year-old-ish relatives haven’t even heard of Jesus and would have spent over a thousand times more time watching kid’s cartoons than participating-in/listening-to (however grudgingly) discussions around moral and ethical issues. It seems to me the level of parents, friends, community and books growing virtue will be reducing, furthering the current absence of community dedicated virtue development time. This view gets support from the work of James Flynn (IQ dude) who said something like “It’s not all good news, says Flynn. Our political intelligence is not improving. Studies show that American young people read less history and literature and less material about foreign places. It’s as if they are ahistoric, living in the present.”

        • AgainHead says:

          “Understanding that ethical values are important, as are humans virtues, that humans can choose between right and wrong, all came from a faith-based system.”

          Classic causation fallacy. Just because A caused B does not prove or imply that B can ONLY be caused by A.

          Or are you suggesting that the animal societies (not eusocieties) exhibiting similar organizing values are doing so involving faith-based systems as well? You’ll need to provide some basis if attempting to make that claim. Lacking basis for that, the existence of such organizing values among animals is a fairly resounding disproof that only faith-based systems lead to such organizing values.

          Scarcity is universal. You might want to do some reading on Game Theory, Nash’s (and related) equilibrium, and their relevance in group / governing dynamics.

        • dannyboy says:

          I am a person of deep faith. I am also a man of science.

          I believe that you refer to “faith-based belief systems” you mean ‘delusion’.

      • jonf says:

        I will admit I don’t have the answer. But I have noticed two things. First Trump is said to have lied or made false statements over 30,000 times. That is bound to have an impact on society. It almost invites more lies and actions in accord with it, which brings me to the second thing. We just witnessed 72 million people buy into the last of his lies: that the election was stolen by some mysterious force perhaps part of QAnon. Who knows? Perhaps if he had overturned the election we would have a Queen Ivanka or some such.

  6. Peacerme says:

    Yes. In order for a democracy, children, school and family needs to be a priority. Education and mental health matters!! Genocide of American Indians, slavery, wars all contribute to mental illness. Authoritarian parenting leads to mental illness as it leads to a separation from the self and a compulsion to follow and be protected. It causes an inability to be compassionate and regulate emotions. A large military impacts the mental health of the nation. The degree to which we live in fear affects mental health and authoritarian parenting uses fear, guilt and shame to control. It’s all tied together. A healthy democracy must care for the human brain. Education and mental health for all. What a concept. But it’s likely too late. We have too many wounded with no real help in sight.

    And in that lies the conflict between capitalism and socialism, the individual and the masses. If we do not care for all of us, we cannot trust the voting to be of sound mind.

    After slavery we should have accepted the wounds and acted feverishly to protect the precious minds but it took too long to recognize that authoritarianism hurts the authority as much as it hurts the followers because it damages the brain and renders a decreased ability to discern reality.

    Those among us who see it need to come to the aid of the wounded if we want to save the USA.

  7. Super Nintendo Chalmers says:

    I went to UVM. Dewey, class of 1879, always has been a BFD in Vermont. I had a couple of classes in John Dewey Hall my freshman year.

  8. Pete T says:

    “In the US, we elect a small group of officials, and they in turn select others for subsidiary roles.”

    Except for POTUS and VPOTUS … perhaps decidedly non democratic?


    Quoted text ========================================================================
    Most democratic nations on earth elect their presidents by direct popular vote, but that was never the American system and still is not. We use the so-called “Electoral College” system to choose our president, which today means that 538 Electors drawn from the states and the District of Columbia speak for the rest of us.

    The colloquially-named Electoral College arises from Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3, which state that:

    “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress; but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States shall be appointed an Elector.

    The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

    Under the further original provisions of Article II, Electors cast ballots not for one candidate for president but for two, with the second-place finisher becoming vice-president.


  9. jaango says:

    Congrats to this blog that is Emptywheel for its pre-eminent attention to National Security and Civil Rights, and ever-expanding constituency or the vast array of writers and Commentators, must be acknowledged as the rabble rousing Truth Tellers. As such, there are no Free Riders being permitted.

    And equally important, is the Truth Telling that is provided by Ed Walker, and thus, my Tip of Hat to Ed!

    Now, when I look to the history of our nation, I look forward from my standpoint or purview, that being the Future that will become an Indigenous Democracy, or perhaps, in a more likely in a scenario that is a Progressive-oriented Democracy, that;s emblematic of the Census Bureau of years past and what is coming within the next two (decades) that proves that integration can be delivered via New Ideas. And more on point, with our nation’s 600 multi-billionaires, the next two decades will determine that “death by old age” will become far less effective, as these New Ideas, touted by the Indigenous or from a more apt description, being “progressive” , gives cause to more effective and successful politics.

    Therefore, what’s been “history” and where the philosophy of political economics has resided for all these many years, the “progressive” will have a greater “mark” on our integrated future, as well as the ‘interpretation’ of the European Orientation, as applied to this overall and overt Indigenous Hemisphere, and in particularly, how a progressive democracy, is transferred, accepted, and exported throughout this Hemisphere, for the next several decades.

    Consequently, the Pandemic as well as Trump’s ‘mark’ will be less than determinative when ‘exploring ” the Ideas that come forth. And a small proportion to the animus that is click bait on the Internet, I have been having fun for defining the title of my next book, that being, “Chicanos Talking To Chicanos” while raising the question of “When are the majority of Anglos “going to pull their heads out of their ass?”

  10. Eureka says:

    In related news, DeJoy has more fucking up (is that possible? It’s possible) of USPS scheduled for ~ next week:

    Democrats called to save the Postal Service, but now they’re in power and struggling to help the failing agency
    by Ellie Rushing, Updated: February 10, 2021

    [lede about how all the #SavetheUSPS got the election mail delivered, but the problem is not solved]

    The Postal Service is still failing, with cities including Philadelphia seeing their worst delays yet. But Democrats’ hands are tied when it comes to solutions, and delays may worsen with more operational changes on the horizon.

    […examples of how people including small business owners are suffering; discussion of whether Biden fills vacancies or ousts entire board]

    As soon as next week, DeJoy is expected to roll out new changes, including service cuts, price hikes depending on region and distance, retail-hour reductions, and lower delivery expectations.

    “If we don’t speak up now, this is a doomed institution,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.) [note: also the best old white guy in Congress], who sent a letter to Biden last month demanding he fire the postal board of governors and replace DeJoy. Pascrell said he was meeting with the White House on Tuesday to discuss Postal Service issues, but declined to specify further.

    “We need dramatic change. Not window dressing,” Pascrell said.

    Emphasis added.

    At the end of January, I received the Christmas gift I had ordered for EW (it has some issues — maybe target St. Patty’s instead. Ambitiously, at this rate) along with a card postmarked before Christmas. Then had no mail service for a week. [Any time I speak of the PO problems I am rewarded in jinx, so might as well go hard and knock hard.]

    I’ve said before that it’s these USPS problems give the best taste of banana republicanism (to the most people). It’s a very bad symptom … feels like a back-breaking straw, but also a rallying point.

    • Eureka says:

      It also pisses me off because they’re not only trying to kill the Post Office by, among other things, driving people to (even more) electronic statements and transactions where possible, but also widening the corporate surveillance dragnet and risk of ID theft and burden on information management onto hundreds of millions of individuals in doing so. [And as environmentally damaging as all those server farms are for even a few clicks and streams, I have to wonder how much better ‘paperless’ is for those who have the means or ability to partake. Eh — it all just begets more stuff to keep and lose track of, to (always) corporatist advantage.]

      • bmaz says:

        Yes. Very fair questions. It took a while to manifest itself, but even here there seems to be a real problem from what has always has been standard delivery time.

    • Ed Walker says:

      This is a real problem. USPS service in Chicago is terrible. A package from Portland OR sent priority mail took 10 days. A check we sent to a firm in Chicago was postmarked 1/14 and delivered 2/8. We got two New Yorkers the same day. My bills for co-pays come by mail, and are taking a week.

      That guy should be kicked out, yes, but we need an investigation to see which other USPS officials assisted him. Also, too, a Grand Jury.

      • Eureka says:

        bmaz and Ed: I know, it’s horrible — we could all probably go on about this all day. Besides worrying about all the late things (and did they get stolen or misdelivered, or just ‘new normal’) and being utterly powerless to do anything, don’t even get me started on the problems with forwarded mail. They took my money for a service that turns out is not “universally” available in all locations (the rigamarole to discover this fact is a whole separate story). So the more rural (yet not even rural) place from where I need to get stuff to pay the bills to keep a roof over my elderly Uncle’s head, etc., apparently isn’t included. Then there’s epiphenomenal stress like I had to get a notarized document out before a storm, so subjected myself to a notary’s office that was set up for superspreading — under any other circumstance, I would have scrammed right out of there — then had no mail service for a week anyway. *But worse*, when service resumed I did not get a pile of mail like I expected, just two pieces.

        Investigations and GJ, bring them on. And this is the perfectly illustrative subject which could be used to unite the country, get people to figure out what basic values are important and how the GOP in particular plunders them.

    • Dizz says:

      The USPS is being leveraged by our largest corporate entities to subsidize their profits. Part of the solution to ‘fix’ the USPS will need to deal with this increasing financial drain that USPS cannot control per current regulations.

      The Postal Service is subsidizing Jeff Bezos’ quest to turn Amazon into a delivery machine that competes with UPS and FedEx — but USPS can’t break up with Bezos May 6, 2020, 1:49 PM

      President Donald Trump is right about one thing: The US Postal Service is charging Amazon below-market rates.

      That’s because the retail giant relies on the quasi-governmental agency, which receives no tax money, to build out its own delivery network. In addition to relying on carriers like USPS and UPS to deliver packages, Amazon is its own largest delivery company. Amazon, along with dropping off packages at costumers’ homes, is now able to move a good from its factory overseas to your doorstep through an internal network of ocean freighters, trains, planes, and trucks. This network is not just for Amazon’s internal use. The retailer has developed it to carry non-Amazon packages too. Morgan Stanley recently estimated that Amazon would carry 3.5 billion outside parcels in its network, stealing up to $100 billion in revenue from UPS, FedEx, and USPS
      For Amazon Logistics, just 11% of its packages go to rural homes. Urban (28%) and suburban (61%) areas dominate the package share, Morgan Stanley’s research team said. Amazon can build a dense delivery network thanks to USPS Servicing the densest areas is a way for Amazon to keep costs low. But it threatens to bleed out USPS, which has the legal imperative to serve all US addresses — even the low-margin low-density rural neighborhoods.

    • Dizz says:

      Postmaster general’s new plan for USPS is said to include slower mail and higher prices. A key provision of the postmaster general’s strategy includes banning air travel for all first-class mail at a time when delivery rates are at historic lows. Feb. 12, 2021 at 5:07 p.m.

      DeJoy in an emailed statement declined to discuss his plan, saying it was not finalized. He said Postal Service leaders had discussed the proposal for eight months and that any new operations would retain six- and sometimes seven-day delivery. The board of governors, he said, backs the proposed policies.

      DeJoy and Ron Bloom, the chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, are set to testify Feb. 24 before a House panel on a reform bill and funding request for the agency.

  11. Epicurus says:

    I like this difference from “The major difference between a democracy and a republic is that a republic is a form of government whereas a democracy is an ideology that helps shape how a government is run. Put another way: a republic is the system of government that allows a country to be democratic!” I also like from “While often categorized as a democracy, the United States is more accurately defined as a constitutional federal republic.” We are not a democracy per se.

    In relation to all that I am reminded of the words of a college professor. “Long term governing force and stability come from legitimacy, not legality.” The people being governed in any form have to believe the laws being applied to them are legitimate in their minds in order for the laws to have real power and stabilizing effect. See the Constitutional amendment prohibition on alcohol and its repeal. Our national problem is the major divide in how the people view the legitimacy of the political parties and the direction they would take us, the problem of Federalist Nine and Ten or majority faction. For most people one political party is mostly legitimate and the other is mostly illegitimate. Ed’s observation “We fail democracy if we do not carry out our responsibility to regulate the conduct of our officials, and continue to select unfit people as our officials.” may be true in some form if we are talking about democracy but it falls short first because we are a Republic and second because beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to political parties. As Paul Simon would sing, “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” so regulation and fitness becomes personal and tribal. Madison tried to solve it through a Constitutional template (which he pretty much immediately ignored) but as of the here and now we are more tethered to political parties than we are to Constitutional template fidelity. I would have no idea how to re-engineer that state of being and direction to ultimately create a better Republic and democracy.

    • Ed Walker says:

      I recognize that we are a republic, that is, we exercise our control over officials through other officials. So, two points:

      1. Dewey thinks that we need officials who mostly put the national interest ahead of their own, something I see I didn’t emphasize. I summarize it this way: “The public may fail at its task by selecting people who use their position to enrich themselves and their cronies at the expense of the public or otherwise.”

      My definition of unfit is “people who are stupid, venal, conspiracy-ridden, power-maddened or a combination”. These people are most likely to put their interest or the interests of their donors ahead of the public interest.

      2. You argue that we as a nation are fundamentally divided. I am not sure about that. I don’t think most people are racists, misogynists, xenophobic, homophobic, or any other ic. I’m pretty sure most people want more or less the same things, and that our differences turn on the best ways to achieve those things. I know we have a bunch of -icky people, but they are not a majority. I think polling supports that. I think many of the apparent divisions are driven by creepy politicians and their creepy right-wing donors. As a simple point, ask yourself what exactly Republicans in the national legislature think are actual problems in the US compared with what polling says people think are the real problems.

      I’m mildly optimistic that a legislature that centers the needs of working people will make a big difference.

      • dannyboy says:

        “I’m pretty sure most people want more or less the same things, and that our differences turn on the best ways to achieve those things.”

        Must be nice to assume The Goodness of All People”. Kinda’ like “There were very fine people on both sides”. I guess once you assume that, it’s just a tweak of the government and there we are, voila!

        But what if we find that amaongst us there are Not-So-Good-People? People who are resentful. People who are bitter. People who are violent?

        Does it still follow “that a legislature that centers the needs of working people will make a big difference.”?

        Do you even for a second believe these Not-So-Good-People are just trying to find better government representatives? Or perhaps, instead, that they are looking to be resentful, bitter, and violent.

      • Epicurus says:

        I am not so sure there is a national interest. If there were it would be, for me anyway, an internalization of the Declaration of Independence’s belief that governments are instituted among men to secure (everyone’s endowed and unalienable) rights. I don’t see our national representatives, elected and appointed, internalizing that belief but rather seeking ways to limit those rights. And that limitation process is fully accepted, if not demanded, by the citizens that elect them. That’s an extrapolation from personal experience living in Massachusetts and Florida.

        I think the divisions are deep. Donald Trump and Joe Biden are diametrically opposed foes in their core concepts of what the national interests are and how to attain them. Their 81/74 or so split of the Presidential vote is a national manifestation of that division. Politicians get elected and stay elected because they represent the majority voting view of their (probably gerrymandered) districts. They are who the majority of their voting constituents want them to be. Election is their existential interest. “National interests” don’t come into play until they outweigh local interests, say the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks, and even then not for very long.

        I am influenced by a couple books. One addresses the way people think; the other addresses why people with money are so influential in politics. Both of the underlying theories in those books would argue against the probability of having a legislature centered on the needs of working people.

  12. Dizz says:

    Opinion: Lawyers Enabled Trump’s Worst Abuses. The legal profession must reckon with its complicity in Trump’s attack on democracy. Feb. 12, 2021
    By Sherrilyn A. Ifill. (Ms. Ifill is a lawyer and author. She is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., a civil rights legal organization.)

    But we must have a full accounting and examination of our profession’s role in contributing to the erosion of our democracy. Even now, the outcome of Mr. Trump’s second impeachment trial will depend on the integrity and courage of lawyers, who make up a majority of the United States Senate. As a profession we must confront ourselves if lawyers are to be worthy of the mantle of leadership that is so routinely and unquestioningly conferred upon us, and if we are to protect the rule of law in our democracy.

    While IANAL, I think Ms. Ifill has valid insights. So looking for perspective and other’s informed opinions.

  13. dannyboy says:

    “I’m pretty sure most people want more or less the same things, and that our differences turn on the best ways to achieve those things.”

    Must be nice to assume The Goodness of All People”. Kinda’ like “There were very fine people on both sides”. I guess once you assume that, it’s just a tweak of the government and there we are, voila!

    But what if we find that amaongst us there are Not-So-Good-People? People who are resentful. People who are bitter. People who are violent?

    Does it still follow “that a legislature that centers the needs of working people will make a big difference.”?

    Do you even for a second believe these Not-So-Good-People are just trying to find better government representatives? Or perhaps, instead, that they are looking to be resentful, bitter, and violent.

  14. Bobster33 says:

    The challenge with Dewey is that he fails to account for the evolution/development of humanity.Maslow, Beck and Wilber have written extensively about this phenomenon. Their works describe humans as having levels of development. If you stop your development at level 4 (religious/mythical/pre-rational), you live your life by traditions and authorities. Level 5 is the rational stage. Level 6 is the integrated rational stage, etc.

    Most Republicans stop their development at level 4. For them, truth is based on the confidence of the story teller. Regardless of what you think about Trump, he projects confidence while simultaneously reinforcing the fears of the listener. Level 4 people believe everything he says because level 4 people evaluate Trump based on his confidence projection. Listen to the Daily Show’s interviews with Trump supporters and you will see. Level 4 people make up about 40% of the adult population.

    If you get to level 5 (rational thought), you evaluate Trump based on his words plus his results. Level 5 people have an additional skill set that level 4 people do not have. STEM, art, fashion, dance, music are all Level 5 skills because they involve taking the existing items and rearranging them to make something new. Level 4 people would rather stick tradition rather than try something new.

    If you take Fox News as an example, they use sharp looking confident conservatives to project their views. For liberals, they use less confident, less attractive (and sometimes minorities) to project the less confident view. As a result, the Level 4 people who watch Fox can’t understand why anyone is a liberal. I mean they do not project truth (confidence).

    The keys to a better future are to develop rational thinking in our education system, tax religious institutions, tax the uber rich and to fight like hell to make sure higher levels of development populate our ruling classes.

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