Monday, November 7, 2016

Entrenchment versus democracy

[I am currently in a mad rush to try to get as much down as possible before the election. I am, as a result, relying heavily on my phone's dictation app which frankly is not that good. Be on the lookout for homonyms and I would appreciate it if you would cut me some slack on the prose.]

I'll come back and fill in some of the details later, but just as a quick outline...

Imagine that, Without loss of generality, you are a Randian conservative in 1980. (There are other Republican-affiliated persuasions that would work here, but let's just stick with this one for now.) You have recently had some awfully good political breaks -- favorable demographic trends, bad news for the Democrats on the foreign and domestic fronts, a major rift in their party a few years earlier, and a fantastically charismatic GOP leader -- but you are not at all optimistic about the popularity of your positions in the long term. For example, you suspect that once people have tried a generous social safety net, they will not do you want to go back.

To put it bluntly, you do not believe in a democratic process where the best ideas, after a period of open and vigorous debate, will win over the majority of the population. How do you take advantage of your current position of dominance and popularity to subvert that process?

Here's a brief an incomplete list of the measures you might take:

Campaign funding
1. Maximize your present and long-term funding advantage. (See the K Street Project.)
2. Remove rules limiting the impact of money on campaigns.

Voter suppression
Make it more and more difficult for people who are likely to vote for the opposing party to exercise their constitutional rights.

Focus on strategically important offices and elections, such as controlling the state houses in years divisible by 10.

Make big plays for single issue voters

Defund and delegitimize established sources of trustworthy, high-quality information and analysis (see "the war on data").

Co-opt and intimidate the mainstream press.

Create a media bubble for the party's base.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I am inclined to believe that we are coming to the end of this social engineering experiment, but it is worth noting that it worked disturbingly well for decades.

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