Do we have legitimate governance, with the consent of an informed electorate?
If a voter makes a choice based on a campaign that is based on lies, disinformation, promises that are never meant to be fulfilled, incorrect assumptions and premises, psychological manipulation, intimidation, well-funded mass propaganda and the rest of the entire modern Republican operation — is there a legitimate outcome? Are votes that result from that legitimate votes?
What about a candidate who just lies, saying “what the voters want to hear” with no intention of doing what was implied in the campaign? Are those “legitimate” votes?
A “legitimate” election requires a properly informed electorate given adequate and correct information upon which to make a decision. Trickery, misinformation, lies, misdirection, manipulation, financially outshouting, and all the things we understand as modern “elections” actually mean the results are not legitimate and anti-democratic.
Never mind mass voter suppression, gerrymandering and the other ways our system has become “rigged” against allowing democracy to function. Never mind possible tampering with voting machines. Those things are also for real. But alongside those, this general non-functioning of democracy has become “normalized.” We do not even expect candidates to just tell the truth about issues that are important to us anymore, and when they do they are considered to be “outside the mainstream.”
Look at the extent to which our supposedly democratic system has been de-legitimized. This is not just about Trump, this has become systemic. Saying what is needed just to get votes is a violation of democracy and de-legitimizes the outcome. Tricking people, lying, manipulating, outspending all de-legitimize the outcome.
How can we restore truly functioning, free, informative news media combined with an attentive, educated electorate? How can we restore legitimacy to our entire democratic process? The first step is to call it out, stop accepting it, see it for what it is and say it for what it is.
While I agree that the outcome of last Fall’s POTUS election was deplorable – it was the outcome and those who voted made their choices for their own reasons. . . Some were confused and believed obvious lies were true – some wrote them off as “they all do it” – some were single issue voters and cared nothing about other topics or issues – many were simply fed up with Democratic elites and desperately wanted “anybody else” – or something. . .
Our system is now so full of billionaire money and it’s agendas it is unlikely that ANY candidate can muster the support needed to win. . . Read the recent NATION article by Cockburn to see how feckless and tied to the Elites the Democratic Party is. . .
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Johnson reminds us voter choices are not always legitimate, in the sense voters participate by the precepts of a functional democracy. Such precepts include a rational, fully-informed, public discussion of public policy, in full transparency with public officials.
When, instead, a racist appeals to bigotry and fear, securing votes by the letter of the law, but not the spirit of a factual, rational dialogue with voters, that assaults the essential idea of citizen self-government. Johnson makes the broad, even intuitive point that so many editors– in either despair or complete ignorance– prefer not to touch.
Ultimately, democracy is a social compact based on trust of public officials sworn, for better or worse, to fulfill their duties– including preservation, protection and defense of constitutional government. Such officials are expected to be fair, rational, open, and completely dedicated to the facts as best they can determine them.
In times of acute crisis, citizens must focus on knowing the facts and finding solutions– there is little or no time for ulterior motives and partisan scheming. But when partisanship becomes a collective psychosis (with debilitating ideological filters on reality), even the ability to recognize and deal with crisis is impaired. This best describes ideological opposition to the scientific consensus on global warming– a man-made, urgent crisis which demands a man-made solution most urgently.
Johnson’s point cannot be made often enough– if deceit becomes the common currency, there can be no rational discouse, no compact with public officials. Without that discourse and compact, citizens lose self-government. Deceit is no modern malady, and our only remedy lies in relentlessly exposing the lies and liars for what they are.
We understand the rhetoric of attack and invective, and our media are suffused with it to the point we want only isolation from the lies, and more lies. What we must understand is our duty as conservators of democratic government, constantly to remind everybody else of the truth. To remind others without bitterness, hatred and rancor, but simply, clearly and honestly continue serving the truth as though our lives and future depend on it.