For Christmas, give yourself a new brand of representative democracy

Every two years we hear candidates for election argue that incumbent representatives are not accountable to the public; that incumbents make political and public policy decisions that are in opposition to the public interest. We hear arguments that incumbents have served in office too long and that they should be term-limited either by law or by the voters. But instead of change, we usually see voters sending incumbents back to office to continue the supposed damage. Maybe it is time to call the voters’ bluff. Maybe it is time to give the voter more control of the process by implementing a new indirect voting system for national leaders; a voting system where the voter is the troll under the bridge.

In my opinion, a more electorally effective voting system i.e. the troll system creates a concrete connection between state and national elections. An electorally effective voting system would put a U.S. congressman or senator’s electoral fate in the hands of state legislators and vice versa.

Specifically, the system would allow direct elections of state representatives by a state’s citizens, just like the states have today. However, instead of popular vote for representatives to either chamber of the U.S. Congress, state legislators would be responsible for selecting these federal representatives.

And instead of popular or electoral college vote for the president, the Congress would be responsible for nominating from their body candidates for president and vice-president. Preferably, the U.S. House would select the president while the U.S. Senate would select the vice-president who would continue her dual role as president of the senate.

One advantage of this system is that it ties the state and federal levels of representative government. If national representatives and the president fail in their management of the political economy, state representatives who hold the responsibility for vetting national representatives would incur heavy political liability up to and including removal from office. Removal or the threat of removal from state office would translate into lost support for national representatives who may find themselves heading out the door at the end of their terms.

Another potential advantage is a better alignment of political choices with the political values of the electorate. It has been argued and observed by pundits, commenters, and analysts that America is a center-right nation, yet the political noise has emanated from the fringe elements of its two major political parties or that the two major parties represent the more radical voices in the Left and Right of the electorate. Under my proposed system, state legislators may focus their search for national representatives on candidates who best represent a middle of the road, collaborative characteristic of governance and policy making, thus ensuring that national representatives are in line with the political culture of a plurality of the electorate.

Another advantage of the troll system is that it would severely reduce campaign expenses. Most campaign spending would occur on the state level as candidates vie for the state houses out of which national representatives will come. While the political action committee system that owes its success to its flyover view of the electorate would take a hit, the upside is that resources will have to be spent on the ground. Local advertisement as well as old fashioned “knocking on doors” campaigning will gain new life because voters would be able to impart consequences on elected officials more efficiently, with only one visit to the voting booth.

Another advantage to consider is that candidates on the state level may be forced to admit up front what their stances are on national issues thus further tying the consequences of poor national management of the political economy to state politicians. Candidates for state office will have to take a more holistic and cohesive view of the political economy; being more thoughtful of the role their jurisdiction plays in extracting, managing, and distributing resources.

I have merely scratched the surface on alternative views on democracy. An increasing number of commenters have been pondering democracy’s inability to allocate resources, capital, and opportunity to citizens and elected officials can only brush off how complicit they are in the problem but for so long.

The American voter bears significant burden as well. Her burden emanates from an unwillingness to promote evolution of the electoral system. So enamored or frozen by tradition that the voter believes that pursuing improvement of the system of change in leadership by replacing it is somehow heresy. It makes me wonder about a people who go bonkers every July 4th celebrating revolution but are lazy when it comes to electoral evolution, willing instead to suffer through the inequities in the name of tradition.

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Does Facebook’s business model disrupt the political information markets?

Facebook is engaging in a war against misinformation and divisiveness in the United States as perpetrated via social media, according to published reports by Bloomberg and The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Having done a 180 degree turn from its position last year that its platform was not used to cause a disruption of public opinion leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is using artificial intelligence tools to identify inauthentic posts and user behavior.  With teams comprised of data scientists, policy experts, and engineers, Facebook is blocking fake accounts and vetting news stories posted on its site.

Critics doubt that Facebook’s attempts to thwart future social media influence will outweigh its incentives to distribute fictional political stories that keep people glued to Facebook while providing advertisers with millions of pairs of eyeballs.  Facebook, according its 10-K annual report, garners almost of its revenues from advertising.  In 2017, advertising made up 98% of Facebook’s revenues.  According to Facebook’s 10-K, at the top of the list of factors that could adversely impact advertising revenues: decreases in user engagement, including a decline in the time spent using the company’s products.

Having used Facebook for eleven years, I witnessed the increase in the use of the platform as a tool for political engagement.  Facebook has expanded opportunities for voters to vet politicians and their policies.  I have seen a significant number of posts, including memes and video, that got the facts wrong; that showed no knowledge of process, politics, or economics.  Cynicism, fear, passion, inaccuracies, sincerity, patriotism, anarchy, and indifference all run rampant on Facebook.  But do I buy the argument that messages placed on Facebook by Russian agents spread so much misinformation that America became suddenly divided overnight? That “Russian interference led to a Trump victory?

No.  The divisiveness was already there.  Giving a couple hundred million Americans the ability to quickly share their thoughts, accurate or not, on the political news of day simply tore away the scab.

Further evidence of divisiveness in American politics: print, broadcast, and cable media.  American media is meeting the demand of a divided public, with Fox News occupying the Right and MSNBC and CNN serving the frenzied Left.

What Washington may truly be afraid of is that politicians have less control over the channels through which they are vetted.  On the one hand, Jeffrey Rosen, president of the Constitution Center, shared the following with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:

“Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob.  Inflammatory posts based on passion travel farther and than arguments based on reason.  We are living, in short, in a Madisonian nightmare.”

On the other hand, Americans may be taking to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in search of alternative opportunities to criticize the political packages and action plans that politicians offer in exchange for votes and increases in taxes.  The divisiveness may be stemming from an increased lack of enchantment with democracy itself.  After all, according to Professor Yuval Harari, democracies are “blips in history” depending on “unique technological conditions” and losing credibility as democracy faces more questions about its inability to provide for and maintain a middle class.

Democracy is hard up to explain why almost all the nine million jobs created post recovery from the 2007-2009 recession have been “gig work” paying little to no benefits.  Democracy has yet to come up with a solution to a wealth gap that the Left invests time in describing, laying blame at the feet of the rich yet coming up with no solutions for a society that prides itself on equal access to the ballot but still comes up short on adequate access to capital.

To the question whether Facebook’s business model has disrupted the political information markets, I would, for now, answer yes.  Facebook has contributed to bringing unreasonable, uninformed voices into the arena. I for one do not want to be lead or have policy fed by impassioned, unreasonable voices, no matter what part of the spectrum they fall on.  What the political class may have to look at for in the near term is that democracy may be less of a facilitator of a peaceful transfer of power between its factions as the mob continues to peel away the scab.