I’ve been thinking a lot about this red and blue mentality about politics. I can recall how things looked before the midterm elections. When I surveyed Twitter, Facebook and Google+, I saw a fairly consistent message. “Vote Blue”. “Vote Red”. Voting for a particular color, across the board seems more like a game of capture the flag than an honest discussion of public policy choices.
I have seen many people voicing support for candidates that they identify with. Many people identify with Trump, Hillary, Bernie Sanders, and their respective acolytes or followers. Yet, lost in all the claims of support, was the public policy choices offered by their respective candidates. It seems that for a long time, identity has been more important than policy.
This is what I wrote in response to one person urging her followers to vote red:
Identity politics is for zombies.
— ScottCDunn (@ScottCDunn) October 23, 2018
Zombies? What are campaign finance laws for? I recall that for a time, the average person watched 6 hours of TV every day. According to the New York Times, the average as of 2016 was about 5 hours of live TV per person per day. I find that somehow, abhorrent. I already sit for 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day working. I can’t imagine sitting for 6 hours to watch TV, for even after watching TV for an hour, life beckons at my door. If I’m going to sit, I’d rather be writing while I sit.
Still, most campaign finance money is spent on advertising in support of the cause. And much of that is for TV. Maybe things have changed, and I hope they do. But I have to wonder how people allow their vote to be influenced by short 30-second ads. Don’t they do any research?
Then there is the Christian Right. I find that whole concept fascinating, and one of the best articles I’ve seen in a long time on the Christian Right was written by Berny Belvedere and is called, “The Trampling March Of Christian Political Power”. Mr. Belvedere offers a critical analysis of how Christians tend to vote in step with charismatic leaders in and out of the pulpit. In particular, he notes how Trump has played to that audience to his advantage, and I have to admit that is kind of scary.
Mr. Belvedere rightly questions whether or not members of the flock, as it were, are making independent assessments of policy choices offered by charismatic leaders. He even questions whether or not there are conflicts of interest between those same charismatic leaders and the policy choices they proffer. His article is a sobering read, a call for more independent and critical assessments of the policy choices supported by a group of Americans who seem to be voting more for the person than the merits of the policy choices those same leaders offer.
One of my favorite studies of electoral politics is “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page. I offered the same in debate in social media and my opponent shot it down with 3 other studies critical of the Gilens and Page study. At least it seemed that way.
The gist of the Gilens and Page study is that the policy choices of the rich get more support in Congress than those of the average American. To put it in the words of my opponent, what Gilens and Page missed is that the middle class tends to agree with the upper class in the policy choices supported and implemented by the upper class.
So, did the middle class “agree” with upper class, or was the middle class conditioned to agree with the upper class? I think it’s possible that between TV, school and church, the middle class has been conditioned to agree with the upper class, if the critics of Gilens and Page are correct.
As a side note, even esteemed Harvard Professor Larry Lessig has cited Gilens and Page in one or more of his videos on YouTube. As a professor at an Ivy League college, it would seem reasonable to think that Lessig has reviewed the criticism of one of the largest longitudinal studies ever done on public policy choices, how they’re supported, and their outcomes.
One thing we can say about public choices and outcomes over the last forty years is this: The rules for income distribution in the United States have a very strong bias to distributing the income upwards. I offer two sources of information to support this idea. First, there is this video,
which does a very good job of providing scale and context to just how extreme income inequality has been. Based on my searches in the recent past while researching this article, income inequality continues unabated while consolidation of wealth accelerates at a frightening pace. I am fairly convinced that political polarization in this country increases with income inequality.
If the middle class agrees with the upper class on so many issues, as the critics of Gilens and Page contend, then I doubt very much they intended for such extreme inequality as a matter of public policy outcomes. I just don’t think this level of income inequality we see today in America is what most people have in mind when they vote.
How did we get here? I think the article from the following link provides a telling story in economics, but I suspect also, across a broad swath educational policy:
The short story is that once the wealthy found their power with money, they sought to protect their wealth by getting hold of education policy and ensuring that the great majority of unwashed people only learned what the wealthy wanted them to learn. But for the rich kids, well, they get to attend better schools that teach all the facts of economics. Or maybe not. Maybe rich and poor kids alike today are being taught that this is how economics works and that it has nothing to do with public policy decisions. If the middle class agrees with the upper class, this might explain why.
Considering the policy outcomes we have witnessed, that being primarily one of extreme wealth inequality, I think a compelling argument can be made that the middle class has been “duped” into agreeing with the top 1%. Our planet is polluted and will remain so for our lifetimes. Was that a policy outcome supported by the middle class? Our health care is expensive and requires twice as much in GDP as every other developed country. I don’t think the middle class wants expensive health care. Could it be that we have in America, a middle class of zombies who just weren’t thinking when they voted for the last 40 years?
And considering how our society seems routinely conditioned to worship the wealthy like royalty, including charismatic religious leaders, it would seem then, that many people have allowed themselves to be influenced by charismatic leaders in their electoral decisions, only to find betrayal by those they admire the most. Remember, those charismatic leaders are only human, and they are subject to conflicts of interest, just like anybody else.
Our leaders are saying something to the effect of, “Look, I have more zombies in support of my identity than that other guy, so you should support me, regardless of the public policy outcomes.” Remember, vote blue or vote red. Vote for Hillary, or Trump, there are no other choices. Thinking about public policy outcomes is not as important as identifying with that charismatic leader.
Throughout the primaries and the general election of 2016, there were only two persons who said that there shall be no other reforms before campaign finance reform: Bernie Sanders and Larry Lessig. I think those two men understand that there are zombies in American politics probably better than anyone with one glaring exception: Donald Trump. Bernie said that campaign finance reform must come first on national TV in a debate with Hillary Clinton. Larry has made the same point numerous times in his videos on YouTube.
I don’t expect Donald or Hillary to admit that they are appealing to zombies. You won’t hear this from the pastor at the megachurches, either. God knows they don’t want to wake a sleeping giant.