Voting is a right. But should you?

 

Let’s have a discussion. The topic may seem controversial at first glance but one that is worthy of thought. In fact, think of this as a thought experiment; an idea you may not agree with, yet is not without merit.

As I write this America is celebrating Memorial Day. A national holiday that asks us to collectively reflect on the sacrifices made by those who have died serving in our armed forces. Did you know that today less than 1% of Americans serve in the armed forces? This is a stunning number given how many “patriots” we have on social media ready to cry “Treason!” when they see or hear something that causes offense. Given today’s climate you would think half of our country served some time in the armed forces. 9% of our population are veterans. Fewer and fewer people are signing up to serve. I can only hope this trend continues and becomes a driving reason for fewer wars and more diplomacy.

If only 1% is willing to defend our country, what should the other 99% do? What is the least we should be willing to do to serve our nation?

If you had asked me this question an month ago I would have said, Vote. “Voting in elections”, I would have said, “is not only a right, but a duty that every American should exercise”. In the past, I have argued that America should make presidential election day a National Holiday just as they do in other countries. My conviction about voting was strong, and it was my long held belief that those who did not vote were doing the country a disservice and were partially responsible for the D.C swamp that is the American government. But then I heard about Walter Lippmann, and I had to seriously reconsider my opinion.

Most of you know I am a huge, huge fan of podcasts; so much so that I dedicated a past blog to some of my favorites. One that has grown on me is Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know. It started out as a web series that looked at the lighter side of conspiracies, but is now a be-weekly podcast that looks at the darker side of history.

A few weeks ago an episode aired titled Is Democracy Impossible (May 2, 2018) in which the hosts talked about the controversial subject that pushes against democracy. This is how I came to learn about Walter Lippmann.

Lippmann was a newspaper columnist whose influence was felt worldwide. By the time of his retirement Lippmann was the most respected political columnist in the world. Here is a quick political bio on Lippmann.

“While studying at Harvard (B.A., 1909), Lippmann was influenced by the philosophers William James and George Santayana. He helped to found (1914) The New Republic and served as its assistant editor under Herbert David Croly. Through his writings in that liberal weekly and through direct consultation, he influenced Pres. Woodrow Wilson, who is said to have drawn on Lippmann’s ideas for the post-World War I settlement plan (Fourteen Points) and for the concept of the League of Nations. Lippmann was briefly (1917) an assistant to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. Wilson sent him to take part in the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles (1919)”.

Lippmann started out as a champion of voting rights and felt it was a duty of all American citizens. But as time went on, as the world become smaller and global relationships became more complex, and witnessed less than ideal candidates being voted into office Lippmann developed a startling argument; he came to believe that “the general public could no longer judge public issues rationally, since the speed and condensation required in the mass media tend to produce slogans rather than interpretations”.

This is a two-pronged argument. Lippmann believed that the general public was unable to fully comprehend the complex global issues facing the country and that the media was unable or unwilling to educate the public; it was easier to dissect and strip the issues into digestible sound bites. Ouch! That cut may run deep, but can we truly argue against it given our current state of media and collective short attention span?

Lippmann published a book in 1922 titled Public Opinion. In part he argues that: 

A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power…. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

In a nutshell, Lippmann is arguing that the world is now intertwined and complex. Most people are incapable of understanding this complexity and don’t take the time to learn how the actions taken by governments will impact the economic and social fabric of society. It is no longer useful to think we can vote from our conscience, since our conscience may be deluding and keeping us ill-informed. The media feeds on this delusion be spinning casual opinions that do not fully inform us as to what is in our best interest.

Again, it is hard to argue against him. Many Americans no longer balance their own checkbooks and or are deep in debt and can’t understand why. How are they to fully understand what lifting or putting more restrictions on Iran will do to gas prices or cause fuller ripples in the Middle East? How about Trump’s slogan, “America First”? It may sound good to working Americans, (sound bite) but what does it really mean, and how will this attitude reflect on the cost of consumer goods? Do you know? Does the media tell us the truth? And if they do, whose truth are they repeating?

Lippmann didn’t just argue against what we now term “low informed voters”, he was dismayed to see one-issue voters; those who would vote for a candidate based on his or her stand on a certain issue alone. These voters, Lippmann argued often voted against their overall self-interest. A good example of this is when a voter decides on a candidate based on his or her anti-abortion stand. This is hot button issue today that sees mass voting for politicians who want to limit or outright strip away abortion rights on one hand, and on the other, making it hard to get access to birth control, leading to more abortions. Where is the logic is this?

It was in this argument that I stopped mentally arguing against Lippmann’s ideas. I shut my mouth and opened my mind. As the hosts of Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know gave more and more examples of how one-issue voting can cause over-all damage to democracy I started to form a thought experiment; what if only those who are truly informed on all things that mattered voted? Of course the first obvious problem that comes from this thought experiment is figuring out who decides who can vote and do they have democracy’s best interest at heart?

Recently Bill Maher had guest Dambisa Moyo on Real Time with Bill Maher. Moyo is an international economist and author who analyzes the macroeconomy and global affairs. She has witnessed democracy in several forms and is in the same camp as Lippmann. One of her suggestions regarding voting is to test voters, much like the test we give to new citizens. She was criticized for suggesting what seemed like a type of Poll Test. Something the Southern states tried to employ to weed out African American voters. No, I don’t think the answer is to test people; after all voting is a right and we should be able to freely exercise that right without restrictions. But Lippmann and Moyo’s view does beg the question; must you vote? I say no. Not if you vote based on a gut feeling, or one-issue without doing some homework and reflection on what your vote will do for your over-all self-interest as well as the country’s.

If you can’t bring yourself to watch debates, if you can’t take an afternoon or evening to read about candidates and how their views and voting record will effect us all, please stay home. Don’t vote. That is the very least you can do for our country.

Now, it’s your turn to weigh in. Tell me what you think.

Works Cited

New York Times As Fewer Americans Serve, Growing Gap Is Found Between Civilians and Military
https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/25/us/civilian-military-gap-grows-as-fewer-americans-serve

Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, episode Is Democracy Impossible (May 2, 2018)

Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion. 1922 https://wwnorton.com/college/history/america-essential-learning/docs/WLippmann-Public_Opinion-1922.pdf

Walter Lippmann. Britannica.com https://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Lippmann#ref101232

America Fantasyland Part 1

Disneyland, the epitome of the American dream. If you believe hard enough and spend a lot of money, all of your dreams will come true.

Good god. Has it really been just over a year since Donald J Dumbass was elect president? How are you holding up? I haven’t handled it well and it shows. To quote Hamlet, “I have of late lost all my mirth”. I’ve lost the passion to blog, to read, and to some extend I’ve been far to slow to move past the last election.

Looking back to November 8th, 2016, it is clear to me now that I’ve spend the last year going through the five stages of grief. At first I denied it, (oh he’ll never take office-he looks as stunned as the rest of us), then I felt anger, to the point of rage when he was finally sworn in, and then on to a long bout of depression as I watched him make a mockery of the office of the Presidency and everything it stands for. Worse yet, watching as Congress defends his shredding of our Constitution and the principals on which is was written.

The last stage of grief, according to Elisabeth Kubler Ross, is acceptance. No, I am not there yet; I can’t bring myself to say his name and the title President in the same sentence, but I can say I am starting to accept the fact that millions of Americans voted for him. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out why.

Like many of my fellow liberal Americas I know people who did in fact not only vote for him, but did so not out of a sense of irony or sadistic glee, but because they honestly fell for his bullshit. And not just his bullshit, but also the bullshit being flung around by social media and the sharing of said bullshit. No, seriously, how do you fall for a guy who on one hand says, “I’ll hire the smartest people” and on the other says, “I am your voice, I alone can fix it”. Fix what?? The guy filed for bankruptcy four times! How do you lose money owning a casino?? Damn, I may still be in the anger stage. Moving on.

My questions of why expanded beyond wanting to know why so many people I know and respect (and millions I don’t know) fell for his con. But not just his con; cons and hoaxes in general. Truth be told, I’ve been asking myself for quite a while now, “is America becoming dumber”? Long time followers know this is a topic I hit on once in a while. In 2014 I reviewed a book titled “Idiot America” in which I talked about the dumbing down of America. Who knew two years later millions of voters would prove me right?

I made some connections between our decline in good judgment and religious like idolization of all things connect to consumerism that seems to be paving the way for a dumber America. Whether we are talking about materialism (I’ll feel better, look better, be better, if only I had X) or how we greedily consume our news and “information” without an ounce of critical thinking. How did we become the nation whose mantra seems to now be, “It feels right, so it must be true”?

I wish I could say after careful study of our culture I came to a solid answer; that my months in hiding have given me insight to what is wrong with our country, but I have to give credit to a book I recently picked up. Kurt Andersen’s book, “Fantasyland How America Went Haywire” put a lot of things in perspective and helped me connect the dots. I can’t say it’s a great book (although I do recommend it) as Andersen does tend to veers off into weedy thinking, and expresses some personal opinions in order to make a view seem like fact. Ironically this is the very thing his book argues is wrong with America. Yet some of his simplest statements are powerful truths and should be recognized as such.

America was created by people resistant to reality checks and convinced they had special access to the truth, a place founded to enact grand fantasies. (p.72)

Andersen begins his book with the European explores who risked their lives (and reputations) for the promises of golden mountains waiting to be plundered, and the mystical Fountain of Youth. He then quickly moves to the Puritans with their idea of a religious utopia; setting the stage for a history of people who are resistant to reality checks, even as reality hits back. There were not mountains of gold, or flowing waters of eternal youth. There was no religious utopia; instead, to the Puritans utter shock, there were “pagan savages” everywhere they looked.

One would have thought that the Puritans would’ve had the good sense to go home as so many had done when it was discovered there was no easy spoils to be had, but no. They believed they could convert the savages, and when that didn’t work later generations set out to annihilate them, firmly believing it was their God given right to do so.

Andersen’s book pulls the veil off the myth of American exceptionalism and exposes the truth of how we became fantasyland. How today we’d rather listen to our gut or a conspiracist, rather than a medical doctor. How our political views are shaped by labels rather than ideas. Why being offended now allows us the “right” to protest and boycott free speech and opposing views. And so much more.

Andersen may not have gotten everything right; his bias against religion shows loud and clear and clouds some of his thinking about what is found strictly in America and what is not. Yet he gets enough right that his book is a jumping-off point for cultural self-reflection and deep discussion. So much so, that in the coming weeks it will be the focus of my posts. We will look at various stops on our journey to fantasyland. It is my hope that in time we begin to reflect on what came before and how it has shaped our understanding of who we are now and what improvements we can make so that Fantasyland doesn’t turn into Nightmareland.