How We Beat the Right At Its Own Game
Just Like the Russians, Republicans are not 10 Feet Tall
Our most recent intelligence analysis indicates that the U.S. system of representative democracy is dead. That system, in theory and design, was characterized by citizens who voted for candidates of their choice who, upon winning elected office, mediated the desires and interests of their voters and created laws and policy that sought the greatest good for their voters, albeit with due consideration given to the nation’s other voters via collaboration, cooperation and compromise with those voters’ representatives. The basic idea was that these statesmen (they were all men in the 18th Century) would be better able to provide due consideration to a variety of domestic and international interests that unfolded over multiple timeframes.
Flaws were baked into American democracy from the beginning. When the Constitution was written, it was commonly thought that the average citizen was insufficiently educated, and lacked the proper comportment and character development, to represent his (voters were all white men then) own interests effectively.
Black people – free as well as enslaved, and women, were excluded from consideration entirely.
The structure of the Senate and the Electoral College were the results of political compromise known even at the time to be sub-optimal – the hope was that they would either be changed when it was politically expedient, or that the statesmen would balance out the design flaws with their character and political skill. The issues noted above were indeed problematic, but this one was the fatal flaw.
The purported superiority of democracy over competitor systems was based on the foundational principle that power corrupts, so that a series of checks, balances and correctives had to be engineered into the system lest it degrade to more primitive forms of governance.
To prevent such degradation, democracy must be designed as a type of societal perpetual motion machine – a concept much in vogue at the nation’s founding -- because when a political system’s motion stops, it does not degrade to a lesser type of democracy like a cart with only three wheels that still rolls on. Rather, it is more like a waterwheel that is either continuously turning and thereby doing what it was designed to do, or not turning, requiring its “customers” to find an alternative. Thus, we reject out of hand the argument that America is slipping into a system best characterized as “managed democracy.” A nation either has a democratic system or it does not. We believe that the term is self-contradictory – it really is just a euphemism for a failed democracy whose citizens can’t admit the truth.
Some of the evidence and indicators for our conclusion include: the limited influence individual voters have over law and policy in general, and the disconnect between lobbyists/interest groups and voters (all mass-based groups taken together simply do not add up, in aggregate, to good representatives of the citizenry as a whole. Business-oriented groups do even worse, with a modest negative over-all correlation of -.10), Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page);, the non-existent power voters have in non-competitive districts and states in particular ("Eighty-three percent of the 435 House races were won by landslides. Nearly 90 percent of incumbents were re-elected by margins of at least 20 percent," Dr. Rueter notes. "In 14 states, every race was won by a landslide margin of at least 20 percent. Only four states recorded no landslide victories. State legislative races were even less competitive. Nationwide, 40 percent of the more than 7,000 races were uncontested, November 4, 2005, Greencastle, Ind., Ted Rueter, assistant professor of political science, in an op-ed published in Indiana's Bloomington Herald-Times); the massive influence of money and ideology on elected officials (Two TX Billionaires Own the State); the impunity enjoyed by the powerful (No Trump Administration officials have yet been charged with the January, 6, 2020 coup); the incredibly inequitable health, wealth and justice outcomes, and the negative psychological impacts of the current system on agency, optimism and hope.
We recently completed a system analysis using the POSIWID “Purpose of a System is What it Does” methodology, which confirms our intelligence analysis. “The purpose of a system is what it does (POSIWID) is a systems thinking heuristic coined by Stafford Beer, who observed that there is “no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.” The term is widely used by systems theorists, and is generally invoked to counter the notion that the purpose of a system can be read from the intentions of those who design, operate, or promote it,” Wikipedia.
Viewed from this systems perspective, we conclude that the purpose of American representative democracy is not that which was outlined in the opening paragraph – because if it were then those objectives would have been routinely and regularly achieved. Instead, the system routinely generates deleterious outcomes such as those just noted, so that it must indeed have another purpose entirely. To put a fine point on it, the purpose of the American political system is thus: to enable the elite to extract wealth from the economy at the expense of the majority; to allow the powerful to operate with impunity; to ensure that justice is rationed proportionally according to wealth; to protect intergenerational wealth while constraining upward mobility; and to ensure that the majority of citizens have limited expectations, experience sub-optimal health, and feel a sense of permanent hopelessness.
These two analyses thus form the basis for our conclusion that the system of representative democracy is dead. In retrospect, it may in fact have been stillborn but taken 230+ years for us to give up on CPR and make a formal declaration of death. If so, it would be only one of a number of American myths dying a painful death over the past sixty years.
So going back sixty years, were the hippies right when they declared: “it’s the system, man.” Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we are often unwitting victims of a collective force that is difficult to detect and counter. But no in the sense that there is a vast conspiracy “out there” that impacts us but that we do not affect. Our system of governance is indeed dominated by the rich and powerful – and the vicious cycles they deliberately accelerate to their own ends. But each of us is a part of that system – our actions and, indeed, our very existence as citizens – impact the system profoundly.
How do we know we’re right in our analyses and not biased? Well, let’s turn the circumstances around and see if the analysis still fits. Posit that the current system works exactly as it does now with one change. That change is that instead of privileging the right and Republicans, the system privileges liberals and progressives and their desired societal outcomes were increasingly achieved via the same power and money dynamics. We argue that such a system would still be corrupt, non-democratic and indeed, un-American! Interestingly, because the current system is deliberately rendered opaque by Republicans and Democrats, Republicans can actually effectively articulate to their base that our fanciful scenario is reality.
The good news is that we now know enough about systems to stop fearing them and start engineering them to better effect.
We can reverse the vicious cycles and beat the right at its own game with a system design of our own. Such would include most notably a Movement, establishing Justice as an ideality or “north star” of the system, purposefully and statutorily replacing representative democracy with participative democracy, deploying a long-term Strategy whose objective is power and influence instead of fundraising, the demonstration of a Will to Win, mobilization of the majority of citizens who already favor a new system, and concerted action. We have outlined a full program for such systems change in a recent article (How We Win). The bad news in the good news is that we’ve modeled this as a 75-year sustained effort that has yet to start. But we see no alternative except political euthanasia.
Should we hope that the right will wise up and realize that its policies are killing the goose that laid the golden egg? To realize, belatedly, that what drives Americans to produce at world class levels, that what attracts the best and brightest from across the globe to America to study and start new enterprises, that what has started to unlock the power of its women, is the myth of democracy that we’ve never quite lived up to?
Of course not. There is simply too much money and power to be had in the US for authoritarian control types to leave well enough alone. Left to their own, they will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, but they’ll be buffered from that downward curve for several generations.
Why do they do this? The Republican Ecosystem – consisting of a Movement – ideology – coercion – elite rule – scarcity mentality – elite impunity - has to operate in the manner it does because of the system dynamics that they don’t totally control but must exploit. Interestingly, the Republican ecosystem actually operates according to communist system principles, and the right’s projection of communist intentions onto the left is just the biggest of their many projections and hypocrisies.
Don’t be fooled by the press and Republican propaganda. The right is moving away from Trump, finally, because he needlessly exposed the rot in the system. He was/is jeopardizing what they were getting anyway -- and the right elite has determined that at this point, he is all downside, and that they can get the upside from anybody they nominate for President. They are not moving away from him because they’ve suddenly come to their senses, realized they’ve overreached, seek consensus with Democrats, or feel the need to attract “swing voters.” We forecast a dial back of elite support for Trump himself, but a continuation of Trumpism and everything else noted here.
What is amazing to us is that liberals and progressives are trying so hard to prop up/return to a system that never did work very well for the majority of us, and is now increasingly only profiting the right and the elite. This makes sense for the Democratic Party – they benefit both from the system and its obscuration – but not for us as citizens. Only participative democracy will bring the Democratic party back in line with the needs of American citizens, thus, we should expect them to fight its adoption mightily.