Bob Schwartz

Tag: govenment

Max Boot: Are we becoming too stupid to govern ourselves?

 

“Democracy remains the best form of government if only because all the alternatives are worse. But the resurgence of irrationality at a time when people should really know better is testing the faith that I have always had in government of, by and for the people. Could we reach some critical mass of collective madness where democracy no longer functions? Maybe we already have.”
Max Boot

In an era of unlimited writing heads and talking heads, Max Boot stands out as a public intellectual. Born in Moscow, educated at Berkeley and Yale, celebrated writer and analyst, former opinion editor of the Wall Street Journal, world-class expert on global affairs and national security. And once a conservative Republican, until he left the party, and wrote The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right (2018), a book described as a “devastating dissection of conservatism’s degeneracy in America”.

Max Boot is a now a columnist for the Washington Post, and today published a column specifically about the anti-vaccination movement, but more generally about growing irrationality among a segment of the American electorate. He asks a question that may be on the mind of many observers, but for media seems insulting or extreme to ask: Are we becoming too stupid to govern ourselves?:

The case for democracy is that voters in the aggregate will make better decisions than a lone monarch or dictator would. But does majority rule still work when so many people believe so many things that simply aren’t so?

Many people, of course, have always been irrational. In the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as 60,000 people were executed in Europe as suspected witches. But it would be nice to think that centuries of advances in science and education have made people less prey to phantasms and falsehoods. I suppose it’s progress that the “witch hunts” today are strictly metaphorical.

But the Internet hasn’t delivered on exaggerated expectations that it would spur universal enlightenment. “We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace,” the Internet evangelist John Perry Barlow vowed in a 1996 declaration. You don’t hear that kind of techno-utopianism anymore, and for good reason.

It’s true that the Internet has put a lot of information online. Anyone anywhere — as long as you live in a country that does not censor the Internet — can now read this newspaper. But like diners passing up a healthy salad for an artery-clogging cheeseburger, many information consumers are instead digesting junk news. One study of the 2016 election found that the 20 top false articles combined on Facebook were shared, reacted to or commented on more widely than the 20 top mainstream news articles combined….

Can it get any crazier? Actually, yes. Researchers at Texas Tech University found an increasing number of people have been convinced that the Earth is flat by YouTube videos with titles such as “200 proofs Earth is not a spinning ball.” So a belief that should have disappeared 500 years ago has been given fresh life on the Internet. This isn’t the Information Age. It’s the Misinformation Age. There is a seemingly endless supply of suckers online — and just as many grifters and cranks eager to dupe them.

Granted, Flat Earthers remain a tiny minority. They aren’t taking over the country. But do you know who has taken over? The 38 percent of respondents who in a Washington Post-ABC News survey said President Trump is “honest and trustworthy.” Yes, this is the same president whose 10,000th falsehood was recently recorded by the Post Fact Checker. Whether you support Trump or not, his dishonesty should not be a matter of dispute. But roughly 40 percent of voters seem to have suspended their critical faculties to get on the Trump train.

Irrationality may be more prevalent in the party of climate denial, but it isn’t limited to Republicans. One of the leading anti-vaxxers is Democratic scion Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and liberal actress Gwyneth Paltrow has made a fortune peddling “jade eggs for vaginas, $30 sex ‘dust,’ and body stickers that ‘promote healing’ ” despite scientific exposés showing that these New Age tchotchkes don’t work. Quack remedies retain their allure even in an age of gene therapy.

Democracy remains the best form of government if only because all the alternatives are worse. But the resurgence of irrationality at a time when people should really know better is testing the faith that I have always had in government of, by and for the people. Could we reach some critical mass of collective madness where democracy no longer functions? Maybe we already have.

The Hopeful But Limited Relief of Having the New Kavanaugh Investigation

It is good news that there will be a new FBI investigation in the Brett Kavanaugh matter. Any movement towards a return to free, open and lawful democracy is welcome.

But before we pop champagne and release balloons, a reality check. Here are some ways the investigation could have little effect on the outcome—in fact, will be designed to have little effect, besides providing cover for vulnerable and/or spineless Republicans.

1. It is a limited investigation. We don’t know the scope, which is being directed by Trump. It could be as narrow as the single incident alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, the incident that was the subject of Thursday’s hearing. This could mean simply talking to her, to Brett Kavanaugh, and to the few people who were there—only one of whom, Mark Judge, is an eyewitness.

Judge has already said that as an effect of his chronic alcoholic blackouts, going back to high school, he has no memory, one way or the other, of the incident. There is no reason he won’t say the same thing to the FBI.

The investigation could be broader. It could include other allegations that have been made. It could include everything that Ford and Kavanaugh testified to during the hearing. It could thus involve Kavanaugh’s claims about his benign behavior, claims that have been refuted by a number of people who knew him in high school and college. It could include all this, but almost certainly will not.

2. Trump controls the report of the investigation. Trump ordered the investigation. His order presumably included a specific scope of investigation for the FBI to follow. Just as importantly, the report of the investigation will go directly to Trump, who can decide how much of the investigation report can be shared and who it can be shared with.

The worst case, which would not be surprising, is that no copies of the report will be distributed. Instead, senators will be allowed to review the report in the White House. They may be allowed to take notes.

All of this—any presidential redaction and any restricted distribution—are part of the desire by some for this investigation to be “confidential”…

3. The investigation is, in some unspecified way, supposed to be “confidential”. Judge has said he wants whatever he says to be confidential. Kavanaugh has indicated he expects it to be confidential. It is unclear what this means functionally. But it is easy to see the case that would be made:

The only reason we are doing this investigation is to further inform the senators responsible for deciding on confirmation. Others, whether other members of Congress or citizens in general, may be curious, but they have no compelling reason to see the detailed report, given that it contains sensitive information.

If that reasoning sounds extreme, that is, extremely suspect, it is. But if you need a basis for it, just look at the “investigation” that went into Kavanaugh in the first place, and look at the history of the Trump administration. No twisted attempt at hiding the truth is too absurd.