Professor Shawn Rosenberg claims: “People are too stupid for self-rule”
Virtual Reality2 Marc Keyser, author and host
Today’s guest is considered one of the lions of the profession, 68-year-old professor at UC Irvine, Shawn Rosenberg. Unfortunately, he could not be here in the studio. The following dialogue is based on an article that appeared in Politico
Rosenberg claims that human brains are not built for self-rule. Democracy can’t work because the masses are too dumb to do Democracy. We are too stupid to govern ourselves.
Rosenberg: I’m challenging a core assumption about America and the West. Democracy is devouring itself, and it won’t last.
Keyser: You assume America is democracy; when in fact America is not a democracy. America is a republic.
America has a representative government. Once elected the President and Congress rule over the People, most often, with absolute authority in usually in the best interests of the rich and powerful who make the contributions that put them in office. There is precious little that is democratic about being represented by politicians who are as a matter of course bribed and beholden to special interests.
In a republic, citizens vote for representatives who govern in the name of the People. The president and Congress make the decisions; they tax and spend our money without our consent. They routinely rule in favor of the rich who contribute to their campaigns. Some politicians are honorable men and women, but most are in office to do the will of their big donors and fleece the masses in exchange for campaign contributions.
In a Direct Democracy, citizens vote directly on major issues. Voters participate in national referendums and give their consent before elected officials can tax and spend. The function of the President and Congress is to implement the decisions made by The People. The People are self-governing. Taxpayers are the decision makers; they hold the supreme power in the government.
Today with smartphone technology, it is possible for millions of people to vote by phone and have the results of a nationwide referendum in hours. People can vote by smartphone the way they shop and bank by smartphone. People can access information about the issues by phone, participate in online public debates by phone, and vote by phone.
Democracy is not “devouring itself”. Representative governments are rotten with corruption, which presents us with the opportunity to transition our government into Direct Democracy based on self-representation. We can transform the old, dying Republic into a new Direct Democracy.
Rosenberg: As much as President Donald Trump’s liberal critics might want to lay America’s ills at his door, Rosenberg says the president is not the cause of democracy’s fall—even if Trump’s successful anti-immigrant populist campaign may have been a symptom of democracy’s decline. We’re to blame. As in “we the people”.
Keyser: Russian dictator Vladimir Putin installed Trump as President so Trump could destroy America with his criminality and chaos and strengthen Russia on the world stage. Trump is overthrowing our government from within and fomenting a race war… much the way Hitler did in Germany.
Our institutions have not been effective in stopping Trump from dismantling the government and turning America into a dictatorship.
Rosenberg: Democracy is hard work. And as society’s “elites”—experts and public figures who help those around them navigate the heavy responsibilities that come with self-rule—have increasingly been sidelined, citizens have proved ill equipped cognitively and emotionally to run a well-functioning democracy. As a consequence, the center has collapsed and millions of frustrated and angst-filled voters have turned in desperation to right-wing populists.
Keyser: The center is collapsing like a widening gyre and millions of frustrated, angst-filled voters have turned in desperation to Trump.
Trump voters are having a come to Trump moment- in part- out of disgust for the corruption in our government… a sentiment shared by most Americans. Only Trump’s supporters have chosen the swamp monster to fill the swamp. Trump supporters are, for the most part, racists with a radical faction of Nazis and White Nationalists who want to overthrow the government and replace it with a dictatorship.
Rosenberg: I predict that in well-established democracies like the United States, democratic governance will continue its inexorable decline and will eventually fail.
Keyser: America is a well establish Republic, a representative government that is old and consumed with corruption declining into a dictatorship.
Trump is destroying our government from within fomenting a civil war. America is burning, and we are inside the building with the doors locked.
In order to save the nation from a Trump dictatorship of chaos, civil war and bankruptcy, we must become a Direct Democracy where people represent themselves, where People vote by smartphone and the results are tabulated within hours. We must have the national initiative and recall where the People vote directly on major issues. People vote and give their consent before the government can tax and spend their money. Elected officials are public servants in office to implement the decisions made by the People.
In a Direct Democracy, President Trump, for example, would most assuredly face a recall election. With a vote of 50% plus one, he could be removed from office forthwith along with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Being represented by elected officials who are taking obscene amounts of dark money and running the government to benefit the donor class predisposes/encourages Trump supporters to remain ill informed, socially irresponsible, divorced from reality, and- as you put it- stupid.
Under our current form of government, the most people can do is vote for representatives who make the decisions for them. The problem is people do not make the decisions; and therefore, they do not feel responsible for the decisions made for them or the consequences of those decisions.
People are not incentivized to be informed or make informed decision because they don’t make decisions, and their opinions don’t really matter. Their reasoning is often divorced from reality, and their moral conscience disengaged because they don’t feel morally responsible for what their leaders do.
When President Trump puts children in cages at the border, most Americans do not know much about it or feel responsible for this act of cruelty. We don’t feel responsible for the immigrants at the border who die in custody because of the lack of emergency medical treatment.
We don’t feel responsible for what President Trump is doing in our name with our tax dollars because there appears to be precious little that we can do to hold him and his regime accountable.
Rosenberg: it’s possible that democracy’s nearing the end. And it’s not just populist rabble-rousers who are saying this. I am daring to actually predict the end of democracy as we know it. My theory is that over the next few decades, the number of large Western-style democracies around the globe will continue to shrink, and those that remain will become shells of themselves taking democracy’s place.
Keyser: Representative governments are collapsing into dictatorships not because of the People, but because of the corruption. Representative government is inherently corrupt. Representatives must take campaign contributions and bribes in order to run for office in exchange for legislative favors. They represent best the special interests that pay them the most. Members of Congress made millions of dollars giving trillion-dollar tax cut to billionaires and their mega-rich corporations.
Far too many Representatives are in the business of selling legislative favors to the highest bidder for legislative favors. Generally speaking, most politicans do not represent their constitutes, the People, or the common good. They represent the rich and the mega-rich corporations. Their ultimate goal is to move more and more the nation’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands.
Senate leader Mitch McConnell is the best example of the worst of the worst. He is an obstructionist blocking all meaning full legislation, paralyzing the government while giving billionaires and mega rich corporation a trillion-dollar tax cut and stacking our courts with partisan hacks. Trump and Moscow Mitch are destroying the government from within.
Rosenberg: right-wing populist governments offer voters simple answers to complicated questions.
And therein lies the rub. Democracy is hard work and requires a lot from those who participate in it. It requires people to respect those with different views from theirs and people who don’t look like them. It asks citizens to be able to sift through large amounts of information and process the good from the bad, the true from the false. It requires thoughtfulness, discipline and logic.
Keyser: Trump is nothing if not simplistic.
People can work hard and be thoughtful, discipled and logical to no avail. The masses who are represented have no effective way of holding their representatives accountable.
Informed and misinformed citizens are disenfranchise alike. The People are the exploited equally because they are not active participants in the decision making. The masses are simply out of the loop. Under the Constitution, We the People are the supreme power in our government with no recourse, no effective means to exercise that power.
Rosenberg: Unfortunately, evolution did not favor the exercise of these qualities in the context of a modern mass democracy. I can cite reams of psychological research. The fact is most human beings don’t think straight. Biases of various kinds skew our brains at the most fundamental level. For example, racism is easily triggered unconsciously in whites by a picture of a black man wearing a hoodie. We discount evidence when it doesn’t square up with our goals while we embrace information that confirms our biases. Sometimes hearing we’re wrong makes us double down. And so on and so forth.
Keyser: Take Taxation. Our brains can come un-skewed at the most fundamental level when People vote directly on important issues starting with taxes.
In the Direct Democracy, People sign a petition online to qualify for a referendum, and it goes on the ballot.
Do you want raise taxes on corporations? Yes No
Do you want to lower payroll taxes for workers? Yes No
We have a graduated income tax system in which those who make more should pay more in taxes. The extremely wealthy have been bribing representatives to shift the tax burden onto workers for about 200 years. With Trump’s Tax, 70 of the richest corporations now pay zero federal taxes.
Think hard when you vote on taxes, because if you work for a living, you are paying taxes for the richest 1%… That is why they’re so rich.
This is a money issue. This is not a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal issue. This is a question of who’s going to pay the taxes. Are 90% of the people going to continue to pay the taxes that the richest 10% should be paying? Or are people going to vote to give the rich the opportunity to pay their share of the tax burden?
Another money issue:
Do you want to eliminate tax breaks for big oil companies to reduce global warming? Yes No
Do you want tax subsides for the solar industry to save the planet and provide good-paying jobs? Yes No
People tend to think and think very differently when the have skin in the game, when they are voting on government taxation and spending, and they’re making the decisions that matter. Being stupid can cost you money. Voters who vote to raise taxes on the rich and lower taxes on workers just got smarter by 10 IQ points… and they have more money to live on.
Rosenberg: Our brains are proving fatal to modern democracy. Humans just aren’t built for it.
Keyser: Our brains don’t work, and our social conscience is atrophied because we are disenfranchised and powerless in the current system of representative government. Why bother to think if your thoughts/opinions don’t matter? Why put a drain your brain, when you are powerless to alter the decisions made by those in power? You can sign an on-line petition and/or demonstrate in the streets; however, you are not likely to have much influence over those in power.
Rosenberg: People have been saying for two millennia that democracy is unworkable, going back to Plato.
Keyser: … Plato didn’t have a smartphone. Direct Democracy was not an option. People in power have been lying about the fact that we were promised a Democracy when the nation was founded and for two millennia we have been left with a Republic that has run long past its expiration date. The big lie is the Republic (representative government) is the same as Democracy (self-government). Just because the lie has been repeated for two millennia does not make it true.
Voter participation is in most elections is abysmal; however, in a Direct Democracy voter participation may run at historically high levels… because who wants all those “other idiots” voting and perhaps taking away your healthcare insurance or giving more tax breaks to the rich at your expense?
In a Direct Democracy, People vote by smartphone and have the results of a nationwide referendum and/or recall in a matter of hours. Citizens vote and give their consent before the government taxes and spends their money.
One would assume that the voters will eliminate campaign contributions in elections because the majority of voters are not the ones bribing candidates who sell them out.
There would be public financing of elections, and it would most likely be illegal to spend money on any candidate or referendum. Issues would be discussed, debated on social media where everyone can participate on a level playing field.
The people use their smartphones to access information and to vote directly on the issue. There is no dark money spent on disinformation campaigns… big ad campaigns are likely to become a thing of the past.
Rosenberg: The Founding Fathers were sufficiently worried that they left only one half of one branch of the federal government in the hands of the people. And yet for two centuries democracy in America more or less proceeded apace without blowing itself up.
Keyser: No branch of government is “in the hands of the people”. The House of Representatives is not “in the hands of the people”, any more than the Senate, the presidency or the courts are in the hands of the people. Politicians are in the hands of the special interests putting up the money to put them in office and enrich them. The Republic is in the hands of donor class.
The government is filled with the cancer of corrupt; the government has become the Enemy of the People. The question is will we let Trump and Moscow Mitch turn our government into a dictatorship, or will we transition into a Direct Democracy?
Democracy is possible now that we have smartphone technology. The masses of people can use their smartphones to debate the issues, vote with their smartphones and have the results of a nationwide referendum within hours. If we can bank by phone and shop by phone, why can’t we vote by phone?
Rosenberg: back in the 1980s I conducted a study that disturbingly showed that many voters select candidates on the basis of their looks, predicting the end of democracy now.
Keyser: The masses have been programed, brainwashed into mistakenly calling representative government democracy. Because people vote for representatives does not make the government a democracy. If your vote is meaningless in most instances, then voting for candidates based on their looks or their favorite pet makes little difference.
When voters can chose between one politician or the other to tax and spend, it usually doesn’t make that much difference. Except now we have Trump in the White House and Moscow McConnell controlling the Senate… so this time our vote really does matter.
Rosenberg: The reason for right-wing populists’ recent success is that “elites” are losing control of the institutions that have traditionally saved people from their most undemocratic impulses. When people are left to make political decisions on their own they drift toward the simple solutions right-wing populists worldwide offer: a deadly mix of xenophobia, racism and authoritarianism.
Keyser: The reason for Trump’s success among right-wing-racists is he keeps it simple and racist. The elites support Trump for the trillion-dollar tax cut.
Rosenberg: The elites are the people holding power at the top of the economic, political and intellectual pyramid who have “the motivation to support democratic culture and institutions and the power to do so effectively.” In their roles as senators, journalists, professors, judges and government administrators, to name a few, the elites have traditionally held sway over public discourse and U.S. institutions—and have in that role helped the populace understand the importance democratic values.
Keyser: The elites holding power at the top of the economic, political and intellectual pyramid have “the motivation to support democratic culture and institutions … as long as the government never becomes an actual democracy. The last thing the rich and powerful elites want is for the “little people” to invert the pyramid and vote. They don’t want the mob in the streets to actually vote on taxation and government spending… because it’s obvious that ordinary people will likely vote to tax the hell out of the rich and put an end to these pork barrel government hand outs to mega rich corporations.
What the donor class does is make the contributions to buy the politician and control the government for the good of rich at the expense of the People in the name of Democracy.
Rosenberg: But today that is changing. Thanks to social media and new technologies, anyone with access to the Internet can publish a blog and garner attention for their cause—even if it’s rooted in conspiracy and is based on a false claim, like the lie that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from the basement of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor, which ended in a shooting.
Keyser: You write a blog and you post on the Internet and the Koch brothers spend millions of dollars buying off Congress to get a trillion-dollar tax cut… most of which goes to billionaires and mega rich corporations like the Koch Brothers.
In a Direct Democracy, when the People vote on the tax code, they can believe the trickle-down theory of how the rich should not pay taxes because giving them millions of dollars helps create jobs and the money trickles down to the workers and the poor. Or the People can get smart.
The 90% are likely to vote to raise taxes on the richest 10% of the elites and lower their own taxes. This way the overwhelming majority of ordinary people have more money to put food on the table and the government has the money to provide health care coverage for everyone, schools, affordable college education, roads and bridges, and solar energy, etc.
Rosenberg: While the elites formerly might have successfully squashed conspiracy theories and called out populists for their inconsistencies, today fewer and fewer citizens take the elites seriously.
Keyser: Anyone who does not take the remaining Koch brother seriously is a fool. The elites love conspiracy theories that misdirect attention from the way they rig the system to rob the masses blind.
Rosenberg: Now that people get their news from social media rather than from established newspapers or the old three TV news networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), fake news proliferates. It’s surmised that 10 million people saw on Facebook the false claim that Pope Francis came out in favor of Trump’s election in 2016. Living in a news bubble of their own making many undoubtedly believed it. (This was the most-shared news story on Facebook in the three months leading up to the 2016 election, researchers report.)
Keyser: Trump voters don’t have to be reasonable, logical, or factual. However, when citizens vote on the tax laws, it’s a question of economic self-interest, and we can assume that most voters are self-centered enough to vote to raise taxes on the rich so they can lower taxes on themselves… even though they might be Trump supporters.
Rosenberg: The irony is that more democracy—ushered in by social media and the Internet, where information flows more freely than ever before—is what has unmoored our politics and is leading us towards authoritarianism.
Keyser: The rotting corpse of the Republic has attracted vultures like Donald Trump and Moscow Mitch.
Smartphones and social media have paved the way for Direct Democracy. Millions of people can debate the issues on social media in a way never possible before. The Internet is all inclusive. Everyone can share their opinions… however ill formed the may… or may not be.
The Internet and telecommunication technology opens the door to Direct Democracy. We the People can use smartphones to vote directly on major issues. We have the means to become a self-governing people. We can vote and give our consent before our representatives tax and spend our money, and we can recall elected official like President Trump and Senate majority leader Moscow Mitch for high crimes and misdemeanors with a popular vote of 50% plus 1. We can have the result in matter of hours and have Trump and Moscow Mitch removed from office the same day.
One problem is social media is anonymous. People are free to incite violence, to make death threats, instigate terrorism, spread conspiracy theories, and promote a neo-Nazi, White Nationalist overthrow of the government under the cover of anonymity. This must change.
Rosenberg: elites have traditionally prevented society from becoming a totally unfettered democracy; their “oligarchic ‘democratic’ authority” or “democratic control” has until now kept the authoritarian impulses of the populace in check.
Keyser: A representative government can never be a Democracy. You’re twisting things around. People want Democracy; we have just never had one. People just don’t know the difference between being represented and self-representation because we have never had government where the People vote and give their consent before elected official can tax and spend.
The 1% with their mega-rich corporations control the representatives and centralize the wealth. In the Republic, special interests bribe elected officials for legislative favors. The super-rich, the captains of corporations have the best representation money can buy. They are the shadow government behind our government.
The billionaires and the mega-rich corporations live off society like giant money sucking leeches. The rich get richer bribing Congress so they don’t have to pay taxes; and they exploit the masses who are forced to pay taxes for them. The rich and powerful exploit the masses then call us stupid for being victimized.
The founding fathers established a republic and labeled it a democracy. Lincoln called it government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, a noble sentiment, which is something America has never been.
America has always been a government of the rich and powerful, by the rich and powerful, and for the rich and powerful. Representative government is inherently corrupt because representatives are bought and paid for by special interests. The rich and powerful elite own the politicians. Now the Republic is degenerating into a dictatorship under Donald Trump.
Telecommunication technology opens the door to Direct Democracy. We the People can use our smartphones to vote directly on major issues. We have the means to become a self-governing people. We can vote and give our consent before our representatives tax and spend our money, and we can recall elected official like President Trump and Senate majority leader Moscow Mitch with a popular vote of 50% plus 1. We can have the result in matter of hours and have them removed from office the same day.
Rosenberg: Compared with the harsh demands made by democracy, which requires a tolerance for compromise and diversity, right-wing populism is like cotton candy. Whereas democracy requires us to accept the fact that we have to share our country with people who think and look differently than we do, right-wing populism offers a quick sugar high. Forget political correctness. You can feel exactly the way you really want about people who belong to other tribes.
Keyser: In a Direct Democracy there is no cotton candy. The people vote directly on the issues. Citizens have the responsibility to be informed and vote on issues that matter. We all benefit from the good decisions; and we all suffer from the bad decisions… but the decisions are ours to make. People have every reason to be informed about issues they can vote on and decisions they can make… especially when it comes to taxes and government spending.
You can feel any the way you want about people who belong to other tribes. But in a Direct Democracy your “tribe” shifts according the issues. You could, for example, vote to stop immigration, and eliminate the immigrant work force that provides America with the highest quality and lowest cost for food in the world; but when it comes time to vote, you might care more about not having to pay $10 for a head of lettuce than racial prejudice. You might overcome your racism for the sake of being able to afford to put food on the table.
Rosenberg: And unlike democracy, which makes many demands, the populists make just one. They insist that people be loyal. Loyalty entails surrendering to the populist nationalist vision. But this is less a burden than an advantage. It’s easier to pledge allegiance to an authoritarian leader than to do the hard work of thinking for yourself demanded by democracy.
Keyser: Trump supporters are loyal… just not loyal to America. Trump’s ardent supporters are mostly White Nationalists loyal to the idea of White Privilege. They want Trump to overthrow the government and establish a White Nation where they are special. Their goal is to purge the non-white population (along with anyone who disagrees with them…Jews, Democrats, Liberals, and fake news). The more extreme Trump followers include groups like the Christian Identity Movement that preach that all non-whites have to be exterminated to usher in the new Heavenly Kingdom on earth. True believers want a Trump dictatorship; they want to overthrow the government by force if necessary… and that is not just a difference of politics… that is treason.
Rosenberg: In sum, the majority of Americans are generally unable to understand or value democratic culture, institutions, practices or citizenship in the manner required. To the degree to which they are required to do so, they will interpret what is demanded of them in distorting and inadequate ways. As a result, they will interact and communicate in ways that undermine the functioning of democratic institutions and the meaning of democratic practices and values.
Keyser: Why should the majority of Americans value democratic culture, institutions, and practices that are undemocratic and have failed to protect the majority of people from economic exploitation and Donald Trump? Why value a government controlled by the rich and run for the rich at the expense of the rest of society that is being taken over by Trump and racists followers.
This isn’t a moment for optimism. What is happening around the world shows that the far-right, White Nationalist Nazis are on the march. And when it comes to the U.S., the problem is Trump has an army of armed, home-grown terrorists. His MAGA White Nationalist Nazis are threatening a race war in the streets and the violent overthrow of the government.
What can Resistance Fighters do?
We can invade Bank of America/Merrill Lynch by phone. Call 800-732-9194, crash their phones, obstruct business until it triggers a run on the bank and crashes their stock. Break up Bank of America and force Congress to impeach Trump… or suffer a meltdown on Wall Street.
We can put business as usual on hold at Bank of America and convince the Wall Street elite to convince the politicians in Congress they own to amend the Constitution and transform America into a Direct Democracy lest we give them a stock market meltdown and cost them enough money to give them sticker shock.
Marc Keyser is a writer and activist who has pioneered the use of the cellphone as an instrument of mass protest. The opinions expressed here are his own.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.