Founding Fathers Feared Pure Democracy

The Founding Fathers were not enthusiastic about pure democracy.  In his excellent book, The Quartet, historian Joseph Ellis describes James Madison’s views on a democracy that represented the direct choices of “the people.” 

“Madison’s experience at both the state and the federal level had convinced him that “the people” was not some benevolent, harmonious collective but rather a smoldering and ever-shifting gathering of factions or interest groups committed to provincial perspectives and vulnerable to demagogues with partisan agendas. The question, then, was how to reconcile the creedal conviction about popular sovereignty with the highly combustible, inherently swoonish character of democracy. Perhaps the most succinct way to put the question was this: How could a republic bottomed on the principle of popular sovereignty be structured in such a way to manage the inevitable excesses of democracy and best serve the long-term public interest? 

“Madison’s one-word answer was “filtration.” He probably got the idea from David Hume’s Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth (1754), an uncharacteristically utopian essay in which Hume imagined how to construct the ideal republican government from scratch. Ordinary voters would elect local representatives, who would elect the next tier of representatives, and so on up the political ladder in a process of refinement that left the leaders at the top connected only distantly with the original electorate and therefore free to make decisions that might be unpopular. A republic under this filtration scheme was a political framework with a democratic base and a hierarchical superstructure that allowed what Madison described as “the purest and noblest characters” to function as public servants rather than popular politicians.”

Originally there was no direct election of Senators, and Presidents were (and are) elected by the electoral college.  In 1913 the 17th Amendment changed the process to allow for direct election of Senators.  Prior to the 17th Amendment, Senators were elected by state legislatures.  Madison’s idea was that there would be different levels of voting.  “The people” would vote for the lowest level of legislators, hopefully electing the highest quality men (no women) that they knew.  That level would elect the next level, again hopefully electing the best people they knew, and so on.  Political parties and the primary system have perverted the system the founders envisaged.  The electoral college still exists, but in today’s world, few people know the candidates running to be members of the electoral college.  In general, they are party hacks, not outstanding members of the community as the founders intended. 

The Constitution gave to the states the right to determine who could vote in elections.  Most states originally limited the right to vote to property-owning or tax-paying white males.  Over the years, more and more classes of people have been granted the right to vote, so that elections are now pretty much the voice of “the people, ” which Madison feared would lead to the election of demagogues and other poor leaders. 

The current Democratic party believes strongly in the principle of “one person, one vote,” which would have been anathema to the Founding Fathers.  They saw this as bringing in uneducated, uninformed rabble who would be subject to dangerous, unscrupulous political influences.  They wanted a system that would elect the most qualified, principled men to political office. 

The electoral college was an effort to do this.  It was partly a compromise between those who wanted a strong national government and those who wanted to reserve more power to the states.  This compromise led to electing two senators for each state (to reserve power to the state governments) but electing representatives based on population (giving more power to the central government).  The electoral college incorporates both of these elements, giving smaller states proportionately more voting power.  Many of the 18th century Americans working on the Constitution would have liked the US to look more like the current European Union, where states party retain their sovereignty, or to form smaller confederacies of similar states, such as a Southern confederacy made up of slave-holding southern states, a New England confederacy, and a confederacy of industrial states.  Our system is clearly more centralized than the European Union, but is still a compromise, a compromise that has held for over 200 years.  However, there have been five elections in which the person elected President did not receive the greatest number of votes: 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.  The country has survived these votes, although not without controversy.  The push-pull of states rights versus a strong national government still exists, but compromise appears increasingly difficult. 

Brazil Investigates Petrobras

Bloomberg reports that Brazilian President Bolsonaro said that Brazil will investigate Petrobras’ gas pricing policy.  Investors are worried that the government may force Petrobras to lose money in order to further the government’s fight against inflation in Brazil.   

Tucker Carlson and Immigration

The three-part hatchet job done on Tucker Carlson by the New York Times shows how worried they are about him.  Carlson’s defense of Vladimir Putin and the January 6 attack on the Capitol are wrong and baseless, but some of his other targets are legitimate, particularly immigration. 

As a former consular officer who issued visas for two years in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I think the immigration system is broken.  In two years, I issued only one visa to a person who filed for asylum after he arrived in the US.  It was a bad case; I never should have issued the visa, but I issued it at the request of an American missionary who said he wanted to send this man to the States to tell his supporters what good work he was doing in Brazil.  This case generated more legal questions and paperwork than any other visa I issued during my assignment in Brazil.   Knowing how much time and effort this one case consumed, I can’t image how much the thousands of applications filed on our southern border must require.  The system is overwhelmed and broken. 

Even forty years ago in Brazil, I was upset that if I refused a visa to a Brazilian because I thought he would work illegally, it probably meant he would not be able to go to the US, but if a Mexican was refused a visa he would just walk across the border.  It did not seem fair.  Now there are many Brazilians, Africans, Arabs and others who just walk across the border, although they have to travel much farther to walk the last few hundred yards. 

The US should admit immigrants, but it should decide which immigrants to admit.  When I issued visas, some of the tests for a visa were whether the immigrant would go on welfare after arriving, whether he would displace an American worker, whether he was healthy or had any contagious disease, for example.  It sounds like the last test is the only one still applied, and when Title 42 no longer applies, that test will disappear, too.  Basically, the US has no immigration requirements; it’s an open border.  With unemployment at 3%, foreign workers will not likely displace Americans, but how much longer will full employment last?  How many new arrivals will receive some sort of public assistance within a year or two of their arrival? 

This may be the immigration system that Americans want, but no one has voted for it either at the polls or in Congress.  I don’t know whether this is the immigration system that the Democratic Party wants, or whether they have just acquiesced in what the immigrants have forced on them.  I tend to think that Tucker Carlson is right, that this is what the Democrats want, because most of these immigrants will vote Democratic as soon as they are able to vote.  But this is not a fair representation of all Hispanic voters, because many Hispanics came to the US legally and at least some must resent the fact that the new arrivals did not, and have been shown extreme favoritism by the American government.  So, all Hispanics may not vote as a block, but newly arrived Hispanics will vote as a Democratic block.  You don’t have to be a racist white nationalist to believe that immigration is a problem, as the New York Times article claims. 

The Times’ series on Tucker Carlson fails to recognize that immigration is a serious problem that the American government has failed to deal with.  Carlson is justified in saying that will affect the future of the United States.  The Times calls this a racist viewpoint, but the Times calls everything racist.  It has its prejudices and refuses to look beyond them.  The Times gushes over how wonderful a Somali community is that lives a few miles from Mr. Carlson’s house in Maine but fails to note how the arrival of Somalis in Minneapolis has transformed that city from NPR’s characterization of it as a Norwegian community where “every child is above average” into a hell-hole of violence and death.  The Times is as blind and bigoted as Mr. Carlson. 

But I can’t buy Mr. Carlson’s views on the January 6 attempted coup or on Vladimir Putin.  The Times quotes him as asking why we hate Putin when Putin never called Carlson a racist or threatened to fire him.  Of course, we hate Putin because he has killed thousands of innocent civilians, many women and children, even if he never did those other little things Carlson mentioned. 

For me there is no question that January 6 was an abomination.  It was an attempted coup.  The election was legal, but it was not without problems.  Many of the states where the vote was most in question changed the way they voted shortly before the election, in almost every case to make it easier to vote absentee, which favored the Democrats.  However, these changes were made legally, often justified by the Covid pandemic, and the votes were counted accurately.  The election was legal, but I would say that it was not exactly fair.  I believe that absentee voting should be the exception and not the rule, but I recognize that this may be a minority opinion among the American people. 

I’m sure that there are other issues Mr. Carlson has raised that I may or may not agree with.  I favor a school curriculum that pretty much sticks to the “three r’s,” reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, not so much sex or politicizing, for example. 

Anything the Times disagrees with, they tend to call “white nationalism” or “white supremacy,” or some other pejorative term.  The Times fails to recognize that many of these ideas they attack made the United States the most successful, freeist, prosperous country in the world during the 20th century.  If results matter, these ideas should not be trashed because they were not 100% successful.  Maybe everybody was not totally successful or free or prosperous, but if you lived in the US, you probably had a better chance of doing so than if you lived anywhere else.  These virtues should not be discarded. 

Carlson apparently decided early on that Donald Trump the man was unreliable, but Trump the political movement had legs.  Trump was a terrible President, and an even worse human being.  But Trump did see some things that were seriously wrong with the US, like immigration, although he, like his predecessors, failed to fix them.  He probably should go to jail for his financial shenanigans, but he was falsely accused by the Steele dossier, partially funded by the Democratic Party, of being a Russian pawn. 

While I disagree with a lot of things Mr. Carlson says on his program, I also disagree with a lot of things in the New York Times article.  In his heart, Carlson may be racist, but the things he says about immigration problems are not racist; they are real.  The New York Times failure to recognize that is a blot on the fairness of the Time’s reporting.  The Times has sold its soul to the Democratic Party.  If you want truth, look somewhere else.