Port: If you want to blame someone, look in the mirror
Rational people are losing on all fronts because what the masses want to believe is a lot more important to them than what is true.
MINOT, N.D. — "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance," famed journalist H.L. Mencken wrote , and while that quote aspires to an elevation of cynicism I'm not ready to ascend, there's truth in it.
As proof, consider that our nation is a mess.
Our infrastructure is crumbling.
Our school officials seemingly spend more time navigating the minefield that is the culture wars than educating our children.
Our power grids, crippled by decades worth of political meddling that has displaced baseload power with unreliable alternatives, are increasingly unreliable even as our utility bills grow.
All of our bills, from rent to clothes to food, are growing. Meanwhile, in government, the word "trillion" was once only used when talking about our accumulated debt, but now it must be deployed, regularly, to describe our annual budget deficit.
Authoritarian China is ascendant, fueled in no small part by American corporations and celebrities so enamored with profiting from the emerging and enormous Middle Kingdom market they're afraid to be critical of literal concentration camps lest the modern Maoists running the Chinese Communist Part cut them off.
The last vestiges of America's credibility as a reliable and trusted world power are currently being smothered to death by the Taliban in Afghanistan while China watches from the sidelines, eager to rush into yet another power vacuum left by American decline.
A terrible airborne virus has plagued our country, along with the rest of the country, for more than a year now, and we're still engaged in a foolish political battle over wearing masks and getting vaccines . At the same time, the news media and the social media giants which facilitate and inform so much of our national debate essentially censored, for months, any hint that COVID-19 may have been the result of a Chinese lab accident, in no small part because they didn't want this reasonable line of thinking to offend the Chinese.
Democracy, meanwhile, is no balm for what ails us.
On the last national election day, our political processes presented Americans with a choice between a braying, orange-tinted, self-dealing charlatan and a geriatric bungler who has a good day if he, when allowed to speak publicly by his handlers, can string multiple coherent statements together in one interview.
Who do we have to blame for the bulk of these problems?
Nobody wants to say that, because blaming the electorate is not a plank in any winning political platform.
Telling the audience banal truths, instead of hyperboles and exaggerations, is not how you get clicks and viewers.
Democracy works when reasonably well-informed people make rational decisions at the ballot box, but can we say that's what is happening?
Are we governed by quality leaders chosen by a tuned-in electorate?
Or are rational people losing on all fronts because what the masses want to believe is a lot more important to them than what is true?
Let's consider the rest of the Mencken quote.
You're probably more familiar with this part.
"No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people," he wrote. "Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby."
The problems I've listed in this column (and a myriad of national and local maladies I haven't mentioned) aren't unacknowledged. Not one of them came as a surprise to you, I'm sure.
Our error is in seeing these things as exclusively top-down problems.
We blame the politicians and the fat cats, the news media and the corporate behemoths, and there's a lot of truth in all that, but we consistently exonerate ourselves from behaving, collectively, like a bunch of children, obsessed with our immediate and petty impulses that drive decisions in the marketplace, and at the ballot box, that, in the aggregate, harm our society.
We have a tendency to believe that the outcomes from the democratic process, from all the nominations and campaigns and votes, are the right decisions, at least in the aggregate.
But what if they're not? What if political majorities in our country are consistently making bad choices? "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise," Winston Churchill told us, except that many of us do.
To our detriment.
In practice, politicians and media pundits and a whole host of other influential people are so focused on pandering to mobile vulgus that they forgo a more important loyalty to truth and reason.
It's popular to say that the politicians aren't listening to us.
That they're not accountable to us.
I'm here to tell you that they are when they shouldn't be, and that's a big part of the problem.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com .