The Projection Racket, Pt. 2

This is Part 2 of The Projection Racket, a series of notes detailing the civic arguments underlying

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  1. So without having finished reading this whole thing (I took a break to leave this comment, because I suppose I’m a narcissist with a short attention span), I want to point out something that popped in my head after reading first chunk of the essay, the part we’ll call “Yay voting!”.

    People–for reasons that are beyond my understanding–seem to think that we live in a parliamentary system. Vote for a party, get the policy changes that said party is promising. Easy, right? Except that’s not how any of this works. Not even remotely close. President Obama, a man who everyone would pretty much agree was the most liberal president in the modern era, still had ICE detention camps, still deported illegal aliens, didn’t raise taxes on the top income bracket to 50%, didn’t ban fracking, the list goes on and on. A whole lot of progressives were disappointed by his presidency because they thought–again, unsure why–that his election meant that they could have everything they wanted. So now every election is going to be like this. Nobody is enthusiastic about Joe Biden. But he’s a vessel for a party, and the belief is that with him you’ll get a Green New Deal, and a Warren style wealth tax, and and and. Reality will be a harsh mistress for the folks who mistake our system for one more akin to the UK. On the right there are other problems, but they vary from this particular kind of delusion. Or at least they used to. Perhaps the honest Trump voters would, in their more reflective moments* admit that they’re bummed that they didn’t get a wall. But irrespective of party affiliation, the misunderstanding exists and it is a quietly more dangerous force than anyone is willing to acknowledge. It leads to disappointment at the grass roots level, which then leads to anger, which then leads to figures like Trump and Bernie, both of whom attempted to hijack existing party structures in order to gain power. Now that the template exists it’s hard to see how this realignment is undone. Younger voters have been promised quite a bit, and they want it come Hell or high water. They’ve been trained to believe that the simple act of voting will wipe out their student debt and end climate change. When they see their candidate/party win and a year later they’re still cutting checks to Navient how do you think they’re going to feel? Pretty soon President Biden will look a lot like he isn’t in fact a Scotsman at all. Danger ahead, folks.

    *A blessed Yom Kippur to any of you who are observing today. May your name and the names of your families be written in the Book of Life for another year.

  2. Avatar for O.P.A O.P.A says:

    I’m skeptical that expanding the size of the House would be effective. A recent Economist article (The XXL Bundestag) highlighted the problems this is causing in Germany.

    Because of their semi-proportional representation and growing small parties, the number of representatives has increased to the point where governing is becoming unwieldy. There are some early stage plans to restructure.

    More generally: how big can a body become before it can no longer form consensus. Jefferson stressed the need for representation beyond the scope of a town. 6,000+ representatives seems to me that it would require a different structure.

    Personally, I’d rather prefer attempts to pull power back to the local level (county, if not neighborhood), to allow for more accountability and transparency.

    All that said, I still support your policy recommendation. Although it may produce an untenable House structure, it would force a redesign of our system, and that is of course the whole point. And like you say, the CAA has already passed congress, so politically is more feasible.

    Excellent articulation of the problems, and a decent prescription to boot! Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful piece.

  3. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thanks, O.P.A! Really appreciate you reading and giving it some thought. Two points:

    1. Completely agree with the point about local and personal response to move items out of the scope of what others can influence. That's a lot of what we write about, so, to be clear, this is intended to be the "other half"
    2. I'm familiar with Germany's example, which is a good one. The problems are part of what I think we *want* from this. I think it is a jarring, necessary disruption to entrenched interests that is among the few things in our power to achieve without requiring those interests to vote themselves out.
  4. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Yep. Good thoughts. I think that the narrative of “what a Democrat is” or “what a Republican is” are powerful parts of the “yay, voting!” meme. I think that the challenging part of the problem described in the piece is that we want to think of “extreme” in terms of polarization as “extreme” in terms of a left-right axis, when this isn’t really the case. When we understand the “extremes” of our particular form of polarization as the identification of as many points of difference in the narratives of the two parties as possible, we see why it is just as often the TRUE extremes of libertarians or theocrats or hardcore socialists or single-issue-environmentalists, for example, that are left out in the cold by this system as centrists.

    That is part of why I think that this approach has more legs than most give it credit for. The more we think of the Widening Gyre as cutting off oxygen NOT ONLY to a political center but to strongly held views that are off-modal in multiple dimensions, the more we understand the scope of the erosion in our political self-determination, and how many people of very different stripes it affects.

    I am hopeful that emotional response you correctly describe can be marshaled to make the vote a more effective mechanism more directly, but in the end, hope tends to spring eternal. We have a seemingly inexhaustible capacity to believe that the impediments that kept the changes from happening were external in nature, and not the fact that our guy was part of the same structure as everyone else.

  5. Re: #2. 100% agree. Change is the point. Any redesign of the rules that breaks up ossified institutions and forces them to re-optimize is going to at least temporarily force them to attend to peoples’ needs, at least before they figure out how to game it again.

  6. Your amazing analysis of FPTP and WTA gradually producing an entrenched two-party system and thereafter a Widening Gyre has been most enlightening. It’s almost like the successive ratios of any Fibonacci series inevitably converging on phi. If we accept that voting is not just the opiate of the masses, and that voting and representation should be (I think that’s what you’re saying) adjusted these days, why not give every legitimate voter at least one vote and those that pay taxes or contributions to the purse additional votes according to one-extra-vote/$100? This is much more direct than is current and likely more transparent, assuming that extra votes are discoverable.

  7. Avatar for olowe olowe says:

    Thanks for this Rusty, especially for the graphics. Exactly what I was trying to picture in my mind during ET Live! …

    Gun jumping to the next installment, would you include a section on real estate taxation? The NYT Trump tax expose could be a great catalyst for reform (or spark to BITFD if you will). I’m not asking about Ivanka’s consulting income or NYT vendetta or other partisan BS. The reason for my request is I suspect that we may have a window of opportunity to get the people riled up over a topic that would be ignored at any other moment.

    Because it’s Trump vs. NYT, will more eyeballs consume more info about tax policy than ever before? What a great opportunity to review the litany of subsidies afforded asset owners (landlords) at the expense of others! And again thanks to POTUS versus NYT, perhaps more people will make the effort to comprehend the ways, means and extent of such favoritism and BITFD?!

  8. Thanks again for this series. Some random thoughts.

    1. I’m sure barbecues and Thanksgiving are different now. I wonder if wedding planners are now suggesting red and blue table seating charts? Center, where art thou?
    2. I’d like to see elected officials in Nascar designed uniforms during work hours. That way we can see who sponsors them on a day to day basis It’s perfect donor transparency. Center, where art thou?
    3. How did we get here? Gradually, then suddenly? Flash mobbing the House sounds about right. Center, where art thou?
  9. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Right? Increasingly I think we’d need to expand the jumpsuit patches from corporate logos to the seals of various foreign governments.

    And yes, I think gradually and then suddenly is right, as it usually is. The competition game defections by both parties were pre-Trump, but they had the more gradual feel. Left packing universities and media outlets for years, among many other things. Right gerrymandering districts, injecting conservative politics into most protestant churches and going nuclear on justices, among many other things. Ben and I disagree slightly on this, but I see Trumpism as more of a catalyst from the gradually to suddenly than as the primary source.

  10. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I’m all for transparency, and I appreciate the underlying point that influence peddling for cash is sort of already happening. But this is one of those cases where I still think I’ll take sort of over literally. :slight_smile: I think we can make the vote less of a pure feel-good exercise by removing as many structural abstractions in the electoral system as possible. After that, I do think that the next best answer is moving the primary nexus of government to a more local level, but that’s a policy argument to be had among citizens (with one vote each, I think).

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