Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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Press Talk: Democracy class is in session

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Good morning, class. My name is Professor Brancaccio and thank you for signing up for Political Science 202, where we will discuss all things democracy. Hopefully you’ve all prepped by reading the pre-class assignments.

And if you did, you know today’s topic is something that’s been in the news ever since former President Donald Trump refused to admit he lost the last presidential race: Is democracy in danger? Who’d like to begin? Yes, Danni?

Professor, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and I was wondering if we could alter today’s discussion. What if we explored … Democracy is the danger?

Wait? What? I take it this class is going to be a handful. OK, help me understand. Anyone have any thoughts on Danni’s off-course adventure? Yes, Remington?

I think Danni might be onto something, professor. I’ve read quite a bit about the early formation of our government. And our Founding Fathers were actually very frightened about democracy.

Thank you, Remington. There is merit in your point. Who else? Hannah?

Truth is professor, when this country first formed not many founders were big fans of democracy. James Madison, who eventually became our fourth president, wrote that democracy was susceptible to demagogues, people with sinister designs. He went on to say democracy too easily could lead to mob rule.

Mob rule? Well, we all know how dangerous that could be. Yes, Fernando?

As Hannah was speaking I was thinking about how our country was set up. And it certainly wasn’t really set up as a democracy. Clearly we don’t directly elect our president. The Electoral College gave states the weight of selecting the president. And how many of us even remember it wasn’t that long ago when senators weren’t elected by a vote of the people? States used to choose senators up until 1913. U.S. federal judges also aren’t elected. Sounds like the founders were trying to stay as far away from democracy as they could.

That is true, Fernando. So why do we think that is? What’s wrong with democracy? Steven?

Well, Madison made the point that we were trying to avoid mob rule. But I suspect underlying the mob rule issue was a truism that still exists today: People are mostly stupid. So if you leave decisions in stupid people’s hands, you get bad results.

Excuse me, Steven. Is that what you meant to say?

Well, that might be a bit harsh professor, but think about it. Sure, we have a bunch of bright people in the country. But look how many people believe Trump when he says the election was stolen from him. He’s an obvious snake oil salesman yet half the people in the country believe him and support him. How else can you explain it?

Thanks, Steven. So we’ve established the creators of our country felt democracy was dangerous, we really didn’t give many voting privileges to citizens at the beginning, and that was mainly because they felt they couldn’t trust the common man to make good decisions. Can we bring this back to today? Any examples of democracy being dangerous today? Lizzie?

Look at social media. Lots of us would argue that modern democracy can be found in social media. For example, when the internet became a thing for newspapers they quickly allowed readers to comment on the stories they posted. But when you think about it, it quickly devolved into mob rule. Newspapers at first tried to moderate comments but they couldn’t be brought under control. Finally, many newspapers simply shut them down.

And look at what Elon Musk is doing since he bought Twitter. He’s trying to simply say there should be few rules when it comes to saying things and discussing things on Twitter. And guess what? That will simply lead to mob rule. Musk doesn’t understand pure free speech, pure democracy will lead to fewer people taking part in the discussion.

OK, class we’re almost out of time. Anyone want to try to wrap this up? Jimmy?

At its core, democracy can be ugly, especially when you consider so many of us are susceptible to charlatans. And politicians will be politicians. We need to quit blaming them and begin focusing on those who elect bad people. Hopefully by putting checks and balances in place we have a chance of beating back those who want to take away our way of life.

Equally important, we need to get rid of the concept that we should elect people “just like us.” Most all of us are terribly flawed. We’re not critical thinkers. We shouldn’t want people leading who are just like us. We should want people who are better than us, smarter than us.

And, yeah, don’t do stupid stuff.

Excellent point! Class dismissed. Jimmy, ring the bell.

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