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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Democracy and Demagogues


      Given good information, individuals will make good decisions. I have talked with many people that have one year personal plans, some even have five year plans. These are plans for personal health, or plans for financial retirement decades into the future. Signing a thirty year mortgage is a very long term decision. We all make solid rational decisions based on good information, usually pondered over a long time period. This individual behavior can dominate group decisions. The general population can reach a good rational decision when enough people have good, factual information.

      We are proud of our democratic heritage, we point to the ancient Greeks as the founders of the democratic tradition. The Battle of Thermopylae, the famous story of the 300 Spartans holding off the Persians. This was followed by the Battle of Marathon when the Greeks saved western civilization from almost certain Persian rule. These battles proved that Democracy could outperform tyrannical government on the battle field. This same point was proven again in World War 2, then reinforced by the long, slow Cold War struggle.

      Democracy cannot be killed by any direct external force, a successful adversary will have to induce suicide. Our political parties are willing advocates of the suicide plan, and our politicians are the front line practitioners of the American suicide pact.

      The Greeks foresaw this problem, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all hostile to democracy. Their basic objection to popular rule was they felt it was unstable and worst of all, it could fall prey to demagogues. The unscrupulous individual who gains power by appealing to the emotions and prejudices of the mob.

      Abraham Lincoln also understood this, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

      The problem is demagogues are committed to irrational decisions, and implementing self-destructive polices. Demagogues gaining power by the emotional manipulation of prejudices, demagogues using false data and lies to win the popular election. Emotional appeals that can win elections and sale news print, the media has a financial incentive to repeat the lies and misinformation.

      The thoughtful and best educated members of the media and our political institutions are aware of all this, but they are trapped by their need to win elections and sell newspapers. They have convinced themselves that Democracy is too strong to die by its own hand.

      In our immigration “debate”, we hear of ISIS terrorist flooding our border along with MS13 gangs, drugs cartels and Ebola diseased children. There is little, or no, reporting of actual facts, no discussion of the real economic impact from immigration, no review of the historical results from immigration. Instead the “debate” is entirely dominated by emotional appeals and prejudices.

      Demagoguery wins elections. Demagoguery wins reelection. Demagoguery is a successful business model for talking heads, some make $20 million per year. Demagoguery delivers short term personal advantage at the cost of long term national success.

      How do we bring factual data and rational debate back to our elections? The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the first amendment finds that political speech is free from the constraints placed on used car salesmen. Lies are legal. Lying is a constitutionally protected free speech. So we don’t have any legal route to truth.

      The system is not capable of fixing itself. The system is focused on short term results only, long term concerns are not on the table.

      The only hope is that I fix this mess. It is up to you and me. We must demand civility in public discourse, we must demand honesty from political advertisement, and we must call out the demagogues. With fact based information we will reach good decisions, we will develop sane policies and return America to first place.

      I just watched President Obama present his case for our military intervention in the Middle East. It is thoughtful, rational and fact based. The right went nuts and the left yawned. Being rational, fact based and thoughtful is boring. Off with their heads! That is the message I want to hear. I want video of little girls being murdered, then respond with “bomb em’ back to the Stone Age”. We will look for sanity over a stack of dead bodies!

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