Bruce Springsteen’s Playlist for the DT Era
“I don’t know if our democracy could stand another four years of his custodianship.”
by David Brooks
Contributing writer at The Atlantic and columnist for The New York Times.
This is a moment of tumult, anger, hope, and social change. At moments such as this, songwriters and musicians have a power to name things and help us make sense of events—artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monáe, Tom Morello, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.
It’s been 20 years since Springsteen wrote “American Skin (41 Shots),” a powerful song about the police killing of a black man. I thought it might be a good idea to check in with Bruce, to get his reflections on this moment and on music in this moment. Here’s a slightly edited transcript of our conversation, which took place on June 9.
“…at the heart of our racial problems is fear. Hate comes later. Fear is instantaneous. So in “American Skin,” I think what moves you is the mother’s fear for her son and the rules that she has to lay down so he can be safe. It’s simply heartbreaking to watch a young child be schooled in this way.
The Democrats haven’t really made the preservation of the middle and working class enough of a priority. And they’ve been stymied in bringing more change by the Republican Party. In the age of Roosevelt, Republicans represented business; Democrats represented labor. And when I was a kid, the first and only political question ever asked in my house was “Mom, what are we, Democrats or Republicans?” And she answered, “We are Democrats because they’re for the working people.”
Woody Guthrie- This Land Is Your Land
Remembering What America Might Have Been
‘What has died since the coronavirus began cutting its global swath is the notion — central to our collective identity — of American exceptionalism. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic, “Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state.” The epidemic, he said, has reduced us to “a beggar nation in utter chaos.”
This phenomenon is more than the natural extension of our earlier sense that the federal government no longer functions on behalf of us all. The virus as metaphor couldn’t be more apt (sorry Susa Sontag), for it undermined the dearly held notion that the United States occupies a special, deity-endowed place in the world as a beacon to all others.
That idea of specialness, historically appropriated by religious, not political, entities, was first applied to the United States with intentional irony by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century. (It was inevitably tied, as I learned in grade school, to the concept of Manifest Destiny, which to a sixth-grader explained God’s plan that white Europeans “discover” a “New World,” usurp the land, perpetrate genocide on its inhabitants, enslave peoples from an entirely different continent and lay waste its natural riches to provide goods and commodities for the Motherland.)
Credit the internet with leading us to finally understand how fragile the concept of citizenship really is, and how even leaders with good intentions are threatened by a consumerist conspiracy to turn the world into one big Amazon shopping basket. We have borne out what so impressed Tocqueville more than a century ago: Not American idealism; on the contrary, what struck him was our obsession with accumulation of wealth as the sole factor giving meaning to life.
[Jeremy Gerard is a widely published critic and reporter on culture, politics and human-rights issues. He has been a staff writer at Bloomberg News, New York magazine and the New York Times.]
The light on the hill has faded. We were never Camelot. And there is no air.
From Father Richard Rohr, Barbara Holmes, and Bill McKibbon:
Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of the story of creation. —Barbara Holmes
Creation is the first Bible, as I (and others) like to say , and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written. Natural things like animals, plants, rocks, and clouds give glory to God just by being themselves, just what God created them to be. It is only we humans who have been given the free will to choose not to be what God created us to be. Surprisingly, the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben finds hope in this unique freedom. He writes:
The most curious of all . . . lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint.
We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.
So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. . . .
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide. . . .
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.
How is a huge part of the world organised under a system that has different meanings country-to-country, and could even mean something different to you, and the person standing behind you in the line to vote?
How do we know democracy is broken if we don’t know what it is?
by Patrick Chalmers.
“To my mind, there seems no better starting point for understanding politics than to grapple with the word “democracy”. What does it mean and how should it work?
The word is easy enough to define. It comes from the Greek for people (demos) and power (kratos), translating as people power, or government by the people. Most of us know democracy as something like that. But things quickly get more complicated when we ask what exactly that means in everyday life.
‘…there’s ubuntu, Watch South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist Desmond Mpilo Tutu describe ubuntu in this video clip.the Nguni language word for a humanist philosophy and way of living from southern Africa. It’s most often translated as “I am, because you are”, a profoundly political concept which evokes the connectedness that exists, or should exist, between all people and the planet – a manifesto for inclusive government.’
The distorting – if not corrupting – influence of money helps to explain why elected representatives rarely reflect the societies they are meant to represent but rather their richer members. Consider the representation of women in government. Though their share of seats in legislatures worldwide is growing, they still represent fewer than a quarter of deputies. The same goes for minorities – whatever they may be, wherever they may be. So while, for example, western countries are becoming more ethnically, racially and religiously diverse, their legislators generally haven’t kept pace with these changes. If the current US presidential race is anything to go by, the face of democracy is still pale, male and stale. In parts of the world where people of colour are the majority, male and stale usually covers it.”
As the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension so that, released, it travels farther. For there is nowhere to remain.
Concentrate on seeing all the beauty your soul can absorb but turn away from what is ugly and vile and degrading. The higher your sights, the better your spirits. Everything we do requires us to reveal our inner longings. Identify them clearly and make productive use of them.
There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which men are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions. We have more power at our disposal today that we have ever had, and yet we are the more alienated and estranged from the inner ground of meaning and love than we have ever been. -Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
A Democratic Pledge
I would like to
- become more selective in what I watch and read
- become more critically aware of the messages I receive
- find new sources information about the things I care about most
- participate in local media
- create interactions in my community
Living Democracy is emerging within the human services, focusing not solely on individual self-reliance but also on the capacities of people to work together for mutual healing and problem solving. Society’s obligation to help support citizens with specific needs does not have to mean top-down governmental control; self-help and society’s help are mutually enhancing and mutually beneficial.
Towards a Moral Revolution
Moral reckonings are being driven to the surface of our life together: What are politics for? What is an economy for? Jacqueline Novogratz says the simplistic ways we take up such questions — if we take them up at all — is inadequate. Novogratz is an innovator in creative, human-centered capitalism. She has described her recent book, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, as a love letter to the next generation.
‘I think, in this moment of such peril & possibility, we really could build a world like the world has never seen before. If there was ever a decade to do it, it’s this decade. I want future generations to say, “Look how hard they tried,” not “Look at how blind they were.”’
My name is Patrick and I’m politically illiterate. You are too.
Talking politics often feels like a personal health hazard. Unless we can learn to understand our own roles in a dysfunctional system, there’s no chance of fixing it. Come learn with me.
“Let’s start with the term “politics”. I like the definitions of British political theorist Bernard Crick, who asserts thatInstead, Crick identifies three parts in politics: deciding who gets what, when and how; the exercise of power; and ensuring the welfare of whole communities.
On to “political illiteracy”. By this, in my case, I mean the flawed state of my political knowledge and the political behaviours which are its consequence. My definition of illiteracy, in other words, is not just about how I think politically; it’s about what I do and how I act in everyday life.
I was shocked. I wondered: how could world-leading “democracies” dodge the climate question at no political cost?
Too often, talking politics – whether it’s elections, or ending poverty, climate crisis, or a hundred other things besides – feels like a personal health hazard. Do you know that feeling?
In this series for The Correspondent, I will question the causes of our shared political illiteracy and explore potential remedies. Is better literacy in fact learnable? How might it transform the way we talk and do politics? That doing part will mean trying to plug the gaps in both our knowledge and our emotional skills.
On my office wall is a calligraphy that reads: “Peace in oneself, peace in the world”.
Until we can better understand how politics works, including our own parts in its dysfunction, there’s no chance fixing it. No one escapes here – not from its causes, nor its effects – though many suffer more than others.”
Patrick Chalmers is a journalist and film maker focused on making political structures truly democratic. He worked at Reuters for 11 years then wrote Fraudcast News (2012). He directs All Hands On, a short-documentary series on ordinary people doing radical democracy.
One thing leads to another.
-Judge J. Edward Lumbard
America is not some finished work or failed project but an ongoing experiment.
If parts of the machine are broken, then the responsibility of citizens is to fix the machine, not throw it away.
Our imperfections can, and out to, draw us together in humility, realism, patience, and determination.
No one has a monopoly on wisdom or is free from error. Everyone benefits from understanding other points of view.
The foundational virtue of democracy is trust, not trust in one’s own rectitude or opinion, but rust in the capacity of collective deliberation to move us forward.
To often we define our real national challenges–climate change, immigration, health care, guns–in a way that guarantees division into warring camps.
Instead we should be asking one another: What could “better” look like?
Our Founders thought in centuries.
Abraham Lincoln warned that the greater danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”
-James Mattis, a former secretary of defense who served for more than four decades as a Marine infantry officer.
“Sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”
If we want our democracy to succeed, indeed, if we want the idea of democracy to regain respect in an age when dissatisfaction with democracies is rising, we’ll need to understand the many ways in which today’s [various] platforms create conditions that may be hostile to democracy’s success. And then we’ll have to take decisive action to improve.
-Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt and technoethicist Tobias Rose-Stockwell
He said he would destroy the institutions, and he is.
“Democracy dies in darkness.”
“Post-truth is pre-fascism.”
“The United States is so powerful that the only country capable of destroying her might be the United States herself, which means that the ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the country along. That way, America’s ugliest partisan tendencies could emerge unimpeded by the unifying effects of war.”
-Sebastian Junger, On Homecoming and Belonging
Trump seeks to bend the executive branch as part of impeachment vendetta
“I’ve never seen so many prosecutors, including those who aren’t political or those who haven’t been following this situation closely, go to red alert so quickly,” said Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in the Obama administration. “The reason is this: If a president can meddle in a criminal case to help a friend, then there’s nothing that keeps him from meddling to harm someone he thinks is his enemy. That means that a president is fully above the law in the most dangerous kind of way. This is how democracies die.”
“Now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency. The pearl-clutchers better get used to it.” – Former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon
November 10, 2016:
Autocracy: Rules for Survival
“Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you. We have lost. We have lost, and this is the last day of my political career, so I will say what must be said. We are standing at the edge of the abyss. Our political system, our society, our country itself are in greater danger than at any time in the last century and a half. The president-elect has made his intentions clear, and it would be immoral to pretend otherwise. We must band together right now to defend the laws, the institutions, and the ideals on which our country is based.”
That, or something like that, is what Hillary Clinton should have said on Wednesday. Instead, she said, resignedly,
We must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle [that] we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.
Hours later, President Barack Obama was even more conciliatory:
We are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country. The peaceful transition of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world….We have to remember that we’re actually all on one team.
The second falsehood is the pretense that America is starting from scratch and its president-elect is a tabula rasa. Or we are: “we owe him an open mind.” It was as though Donald Trump had not, in the course of his campaign, promised to deport US citizens, promised to create a system of surveillance targeted specifically at Muslim Americans, promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico, advocated war crimes, endorsed torture, and repeatedly threatened to jail Hillary Clinton herself. It was as though those statements and many more could be written off as so much campaign hyperbole and now that the campaign was over, Trump would be eager to become a regular, rule-abiding politician of the pre-Trump era.
Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly—I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement.” Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should—both in the Russian case, and in the American one. For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him—from the president, who met with him at the White House on Thursday, to the leaders of the Republican Party, who are discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions.
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.
Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions than Germany did in the 1930s, or Russia does today. Both Clinton and Obama in their speeches stressed the importance and strength of these institutions. The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them—including the ones enshrined in law—depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.
Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote. That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be.
“The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.
On Tyranny is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.”
“The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better. Democracy”
“A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”
“Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.”
“The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”
“More than half a century ago, the classic novels of totalitarianism warned of the domination of screens, the suppression of books, the narrowing of vocabularies, and the associated difficulties of thought. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, firemen find and burn books while most citizens watch interactive television. In George Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949, books are banned and television is two-way, allowing the government to observe citizens at all times. In 1984, the language of visual media is highly constrained, to starve the public of the concepts needed to think about the present, remember the past, and consider the future. One of the regime’s projects is to limit the language further by eliminating ever more words with each edition of the official dictionary.”
“You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case.”
“It’s not too late,” Jimmy Stewart pleaded with Congress, rasping, exhausted, in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in 1939. “Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light.” It wasn’t too late. It’s still not too late.
New Dealers were trying to save the economy; they ended up saving democracy. They built a new America; they told a new American story. On New Deal projects, people from different parts of the country labored side by side, constructing roads and bridges and dams, everything from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Hoover Dam, joining together in a common endeavor, shoulder to the wheel, hand to the forge. Many of those public-works projects, like better transportation and better electrification, also brought far-flung communities, down to the littlest town or the remotest farm, into a national culture, one enriched with new funds for the arts, theatre, music, and storytelling. With radio, more than with any other technology of communication, before or since, Americans gained a sense of their shared suffering, and shared ideals: they listened to one another’s voices.
This didn’t happen by accident. Writers and actors and directors and broadcasters made it happen. They dedicated themselves to using the medium to bring people together. Beginning in 1938, for instance, F.D.R.’s Works Progress Administration produced a twenty-six-week radio-drama series for CBS called “Americans All, Immigrants All,” written by Gilbert Seldes, the former editor of The Dial. “What brought people to this country from the four corners of the earth?” a pamphlet distributed to schoolteachers explaining the series asked. “What gifts did they bear? What were their problems? What problems remain unsolved?” The finale celebrated the American experiment: “The story of magnificent adventure! The record of an unparalleled event in the history of mankind!”
The year 1935 happened to mark the centennial of the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” an occasion that elicited still more lectures from European intellectuals coming to the United States to remark on its system of government and the character of its people, close on Tocqueville’s heels.
The endless train of academics were also called upon to contribute to the nation’s growing number of periodicals. In 1937, The New Republic, arguing that “at no time since the rise of political democracy have its tenets been so seriously challenged as they are today,” ran a series on “The Future of Democracy,” featuring pieces by the likes of Bertrand Russell and John Dewey. “Do you think that political democracy is now on the wane?” the editors asked each writer. The series’ lead contributor, the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, took issue with the question, as philosophers, thankfully, do. “I call this kind of question ‘meteorological,’ ” he grumbled. “It is like asking, ‘Do you think that it is going to rain today? Had I better take my umbrella?’ ” The trouble, Croce explained, is that political problems are not external forces beyond our control; they are forces within our control. “We need solely to make up our own minds and to act.”
Don’t ask whether you need an umbrella. Go outside and stop the rain.
Here are some of the sorts of people who went out and stopped the rain in the nineteen-thirties: schoolteachers, city councillors, librarians, poets, union organizers, artists, precinct workers, soldiers, civil-rights activists, and investigative reporters. They knew what they were prepared to defend and they defended it, even though they also knew that they risked attack from both the left and the right. Charles Beard (Mary Ritter’s husband) spoke out against the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day, when he smeared scholars and teachers as Communists. “The people who are doing the most damage to American democracy are men like Charles A. Beard,” said a historian at Trinity College in Hartford, speaking at a high school on the subject of “Democracy and the Future,” and warning against reading Beard’s books—at a time when Nazis in Germany and Austria were burning “un-German” books in public squares. That did not exactly happen here, but in the nineteen-thirties four of five American superintendents of schools recommended assigning only those U.S. history textbooks which “omit any facts likely to arouse in the minds of the students question or doubt concerning the justice of our social order and government.”
The federal government stopped funding the forum program in 1941. Americans would take up their debate about the future of democracy, in a different form, only after the defeat of the Axis. For now, there was a war to fight. And there were still essays to publish, if not about the future, then about the present. In 1943, E. B. White got a letter in the mail, from the Writers’ War Board, asking him to write a statement about “The Meaning of Democracy.” He was a little weary of these pieces, but he knew how much they mattered. He wrote back, “Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.” It meant something once. And, the thing is, it still does. ♦
DT is the third president in our nation’s history to be impeached. [Articles I & II]
Photograph by James Marabello / Alamy
By Jill Lepore
The Impeachment Hearings and the Coming Storm
The madness of the moment lies in looking at how this came to pass, at how many people had to give up on the idea of democracy for things to come to this.
The madness lies in looking, honestly, at how this came to pass, at how many people had to give up on the idea of democracy for things to come to this. The sadness lies in the recognizing of the unlikelihood of anything getting much better anytime soon, what with the slush and the sleet and the coming storm. A farmer walks across a field, bracing against the wind. Hardness is what’s required to get through a political winter: determination, forbearance, sacrifice, not bitterness but a certain sternness.
“Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'”
Edward R. Murrow
March 9th, 1954, CBS
The media has been dancing around this issue, for obvious reasons, far too long.
Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen delivered a blistering speech against social media and internet companies on Thursday evening and accused of them spreading “hate, conspiracies and lies.” Speaking at the Anti-Defamation League’s Never is Now summit in New York, Cohen specifically pointed the finger at Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube and accused the companies of pushing “absurdities to billions of people.” He called for a “fundamental rethink of social media.”
During his speech, Cohen rebutted points made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg when the CEO spoke about free speech to Georgetown University in October. “First, Zuckerberg tried to portray this whole issue as ‘choices around free expression’. That is ludicrous. This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet.
Here is the full transcript, from his prepared remarks:
In a speech last night at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen attacked Facebook and other social media platforms for enabling the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation.
The speech was striking in its sincerity – Baron Cohen appeared as himself, rather than “in character” as one of his satirical personas – and its blistering tone.
Describing Facebook as “the greatest propaganda machine in history”, Baron Cohen argued that the company, which does not vet political ads for truthfulness, would have allowed Hitler to run propaganda on its platform.
Here is the full transcript, from his prepared remarks:
Conflict is attention. Attention is influence.
The Dark Psychology of Social Networks
Why it feels like everything is going haywire
By Jonathan Haidt & Tobias Rose-Stockwell
For example, in “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison wrote about his fear of the power of “faction,” by which he meant strong partisanship or group interest that “inflamed [men] with mutual animosity” and made them forget about the common good. He thought that the vastness of the United States might offer some protection from the ravages of factionalism, because it would be hard for anyone to spread outrage over such a large distance. Madison presumed that factious or divisive leaders “may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States.” The Constitution included mechanisms to slow things down, let passions cool, and encourage reflection and deliberation.
Madison’s design has proved durable. But what would happen to American democracy if, one day in the early 21st century, a technology appeared that—over the course of a decade—changed several fundamental parameters of social and political life? What if this technology greatly increased the amount of “mutual animosity” and the speed at which outrage spread? Might we witness the political equivalent of buildings collapsing, birds falling from the sky, and the Earth moving closer to the sun?
Facebook’s early mission was “to make the world more open and connected”—and in the first days of social media, many people assumed that a huge global increase in connectivity would be good for democracy. As social media has aged, however, optimism has faded and the list of known or suspected harms has grown: Online political discussions (often among anonymous strangers) are experienced as angrier and less civil than those in real life; networks of partisans co-create worldviews that can become more and more extreme; disinformation campaigns flourish; violent ideologies lure recruits.
Social media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into Madison’s nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant while their public sociometer displays how far their creations have traveled.
From the December 2019 issue.
'Morality, if it is to remain or become morality, must be perpetually examined, cracked, changed, made new...not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.' -James Baldwin
Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
By Andrew Marantz
Forget the decline of gatekeepers. Imagine a world bereft of gates and uncrossable lines, with no discernible rules.
All this is what Marantz calls “American Berserk,” and the damage has been severe on a worldwide scale. Marantz is right to worry. As I have written in my Opinion columns for this newspaper, I have seen firsthand how social media sites amplify villainous voices and weaponize them, too — and it’s not clear they can be controlled. The optimism of social media’s creators has been overshadowed by the cynicism of the vicious propaganda spewed on their platforms.
In a recent column for The Times, titled “Free Speech Is Killing Us,” Marantz sounded the alarm. “Having spent the past few years embedding as a reporter with the trolls and bigots and propagandists who are experts at converting fanatical memes into national policy, I no longer have any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood,” he wrote. “The question is where this leaves us. Noxious speech is causing tangible harm. Yet this fact implies a question so uncomfortable that many of us go to great lengths to avoid asking it. Namely, what should we — the government, private companies or individual citizens — be doing about it?”
Unfortunately, he has no real answers, except that all things eventually fall apart. Perhaps the jig is up, as the big platforms and the regulators who worry about what they have wrought begin to crack down on the system they’ve established. “The ranking algorithms on social media laid out clear incentives: provoke as many activating emotions as possible; lie, spin, dog-whistle; drop red pill after red pill; step up to the line repeatedly, in creative new ways.”
Democracy is supposed to be a system of ruling ‘by the people, for the people’, but representative democracy (democracy as it is practised in most of the west) actively and repeatedly keeps ‘the people’ out of the decision-making process.
Journalist Patrick Chalmers, an expert on political structures, looks to Athens – the birthplace of this modern, failing system – to find a better solution in citizens’ assemblies.
An Athenian remedy: the rise, fall and possible rebirth of democracy
Aside from clashes between police and protestors, Athenians that summer held people’s assemblies, mass gatherings of strangers talking together in public spaces. These assemblies were what first brought Sagris to Syntagma Square with her mother Tatiana Skanatovits, an actress and assembly organiser. Daily meetings in front of parliament saw people tell their stories of crisis, debate alternatives, and decide on assembly actions.
The economic crisis triggered a well-documented political crisis, the irony of which is not lost on those from the country that gave the world democracy
“If we are talking about democracy, I believe that right now I’m not living in a democratic regime, so I don’t see why I should participate in a process like this,” he said the day before the ballot. “It hurts me deep in the soul to say that, but after 30 years I will not vote.”
For Aristotle, whether states were oligarchic or democratic was deeply ingrained in their ways of working – the politics of structure itself. He believed that cities that chose their office holders, jurors and judges by lottery were democratic and that those using elections were oligarchic – that’s Greek for government of, by, and for the few.
Citizens’ assemblies are happening everywhere from Australia to Canada, Bolivia to France.
The need to build trust and broad interest are also key. After decades of political apathy and the erosion of trust in elected representatives, citizens need faith in their own capacity to shape policy. And that of their peers. Knowing what examples of self-governance have worked, and how, certainly helps.
You have been told . . . what is good
And what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
“It has always been much easier (because it has always seemed much safer) to give a name to the evil without than to locate the terror within.”
“We ought to try, by the example of our own lives, to prove that life is love and wonder and that that nation is doomed which penalizes those of its citizens who recognize and rejoice in this fact.”
Timeliness from Baldwin, born on this day in 1924.
“I can conceive of no better service,” Walt Whitman wrote, “than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.” Nearly a century later, James Baldwin (August 2, 1924–December 1, 1987) — another poet laureate of the human spirit — embodied this ethos in one of his shortest, most searing, and timeliest essays.
“We are living through the most crucial moment of our history, the moment which will result in a new life for us, or a new death… a new vision of America, a vision which will allow us to face, and begin to change, the facts of American life… This seems a grim view to take of our situation, but it is scarcely grimmer than the facts. Our honesty and our courage in facing these facts is all that can save us from disaster. And one of these facts is that there has always been a segment of American life, and a powerful segment, too, which equated virtue with mindlessness… It always reminds me of a vast and totally untrustworthy bomb shelter in which groups of frightened people endlessly convince one another of its impregnability, while the real world outside — by which, again, I mean the facts of our private and public lives — calmly and inexorably prepares their destruction.”
“We must dare to take another view of majority rule… taking it upon ourselves to become the majority by changing the moral climate. For it is upon this majority that the life of any nation really depends.”
The humanitarian crisis is in the White House.
DT’s Second Term
So far, much of the concern about the long-term effects of DT’s presidency has centered on his antidemocratic tendencies. But even if we take those off the table—even if we assume that Trump continues to be hemmed in by other parts of the government and by outside institutions, and that he governs no more effectively than he has until now—the impact of a second term would be more lasting than that of the first.
Three areas—climate change, the risk of a renewed global arms race, and control of the Supreme Court—illustrate the historic significance of the 2020 election. The first two problems will become much harder to address as time goes on. The third one stands to remake our constitutional democracy and undermine the capacity for future change.
In short, the biggest difference between electing Trump in 2016 and reelecting DT in 2020 would be irreversibility.
Democracy is always a gamble, but ordinarily the stakes involve short-term wins and losses. Much more hangs in the balance next year.
The choice Americans face in 2020 is one we will not get to make again. What remains to be seen is whether voters will grasp the stakes before them. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s emails absorbed more media and public attention than any other issue. In 2018, DT tried to focus attention on a ragtag caravan of a few thousand Central Americans approaching the southern border. That effort failed, but the master of distraction will be back at it next year. If we cannot focus on what matters, we may sleepwalk into a truly perilous future.
“Humanity has come to a fork in the road. There is a way marked Love and there is a way marked Fear, each path leading tumor of the same…in our finest hours, America has stood for what humanity at our best aspires to be. We have sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, but today, in our time, it is ours to decide our path as we move forward. lady Liberty’s torch is in our hands, but only we can determine whether it burns within our hearts.”
-Marianne Williamson, A Politics of Love
Marianne spoke in Las Vegas last night. I recommend beginning at 50:15 for her introduction video. Forward to 1:20:00 for her Q&A to hear the depth of her issues, wisdom, compassion, and her connection with “We the People.” (1:24:00 is beautiful.)
“A truth teller, a seeker, a mother, and a learned woman in this scary and strange new world, her voice is at once strong medicine for our roundedness, warmth, insistence, good humor, and a little light to see by.”
-Author Anne Lamott
Author. Lecturer. Activist. Democratic Presidential Candidate.
‘My campaign for the presidency is dedicated to this search, for wisdom of the heart is too often absent from the political sphere.
Together we can reclaim both our democratic principles and the angels of our better selves, expressed not just in our personal lives but on acts of citizenship as well.
Politics should not be a pursuit disconnected from the heart; it should be, as everything should be, an expression of the heart. Where fear has been harnessed for political purposes, let’s now harness the power of love.
It is time to let go of an old and tired political conversation, and forge a new, whole-person, heart-centered political dynamic.’
From Marianne on Saturday, April 27th: “We’re under 8,000 left to go! So we’re totally getting there. Please do everything you can to get even the smallest donations to get us onto the DNC debate stage.”
[Only$1-$5 donations needed for a singular/unique donation.]
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas.
propaganda bears the same relation to education as to business or political. It may be abused. It may be used to over-advertise an institution and to create in the public mind artificial values. There can be no absolute guarantee against its misuse.
a presidential candidate may be ‘drafted in response to ‘overwhelming popular demand,’ but it is well known that his name may be decided upon by half a dozen men sitting around a table in a hotel room.
governments, whether they are monarchical, constitutional, democratic or communist, depend upon acquiescent public opinion for the success of their effort and, in fact, government is government only by virtue of public acquiescence.
a civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.
nowadays the successors of the rulers, those whose position or ability gives them power, can no longer do what they want without the approval of the masses, they find in propaganda a tool which is increasingly powerful in gaining that approval.
democracy is administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses.
an entire part, a platform, an international policy is sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of personality.
“Edward Bernay’s honest and practical manual provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial-state capitalist democracies.” -Noam Chomsky
We must. Democracy, we’ve learned, is fragile. Together we rise to protect it.
Cover to cover The Atlantic’s October issue is essential reading from some of the most varied minds in our country today. They were invited to explore the premise of democracy’s demise. Topics include autocracy, tribalism, James Madison’s ‘Madisonian mob factions’, tyranny, and America’s courts by writers Anne Applebaum, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Jeff Rosen, David Frum, Amy Chua, and others. The links are pinned below.
A note from The Atlantic:
Though these ills can be seen most plainly in the style and behavior of a growing number of political leaders worldwide, their sources run deeper than that. The aim of this package is to diagnose their serenity and root causes.
Some of these causes are universal; some are unique to the United States. The essays are grouped to reflect this distinction, and then to consider solutions.
Sprinkled throughout are brief warnings about risks to democracy from The Atlantic’s archives–some prescient, some misplaced, and many all too relevant today.
These are some of the headlines, stories, and links.
Losing the Democratic Habit
Americans once learned self-governance by practicing it constantly–in lodge halls, neighborhood associations, and labor unions. As participation in these institutions had dwindled, so had public faith in democracy. To restore it, we must return democratic practices to everyday life.
The Threat of Tribalism
Amy Chua & Red Rubenfeld
The constitution once united a diverse country under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another–and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.
Madison vs. The Mob
The founders designed a government that would be insulted from the heat of popular sentiment, but they didn’t anticipate the unbridled passions of the digital age. Here’s how the constitutional order can survive.
America’s Courts Can’t Ignore the World
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
The U.S. Constitution is an American document. And American law should look exclusively to American precedents. Right? Not so, a supreme Court Justice says. That approach sounds good in theory, but the laws of other countries have a bearing on our own–and the highest court in the land needs to take heed.
Building an Autocracy
Will American democracy survive DT? And will the midterms matter?
Link to The Atlantic October issue:
“Keep encouraging friends and co-workers to register and vote. We need to remind the world, the politicians and ourselves that this democracy is supported by its citizens. Big turnout please. Both parties! Massive Turnout”
Plutotic oligarchy organized as a republic…only democratic in theory if the people vote…and they typically don’t. In 2016? Turnout was the lowest in two decades…55.7% voted…48% (Hillary) To 46% (DT). The Electoral College, 538 members, elected the 45th president, a majority of 270 votes, in December of 2016.
DT received 304 electoral votes, Clinton, 227, while Colin Powell won 3 and John Kasich, Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Faith Spotted Eagle each received 1.
So, in essence 304 people elected our current president.
“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” -Thomas Jefferson
The Moral Basics of Democracy, by Eleanor Roosevelt
With the threat of the Third Reich looming, Eleanor Roosevelt employs the history of human rights to establish the idea that at the core of democracy is a spiritual responsibility to other citizens. Roosevelt then calls on all Americans, especially the youth, to prioritize the well-being of others and have faith that their fellow citizens will protect them in return. She defines this trust between people as a trait of true democracy.
Roosevelt advances an optimistic model for the democracy of the future, and although we’ve taken some steps in the direction of her vision, it’s still a long way from reality. The issues first addressed in this 1940 essay—namely financial inequality and racial discrimination—are sadly still relevant today, as bigotry continues to undermine our national unity.
Her first publication as first lady, The Moral Basis of Democracy is an honest and heartfelt call for all Americans to choose love and faith over hatred and fear. Roosevelt takes an inspiring stance in defense of democracy, progress, and morality; the wisdom imparted here is timeless, and a must-read for every American.
“Dear God, Please bless our country at this difficult time. Protect and bless our democracy, Deliver us to a better place, And guide us to the Light That will lead us through this storm.”
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
“Democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.”
-President Barack Obama