As we approach what might turn out to be the conclusion of the most recent presidential election, it’s worth pausing for a moment to see what lessons we can take away from the experience. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the security of elections. I’d like to talk instead about the appropriateness of elections.
Without too much exaggeration, what I see is that about half the country has worked to accumulate a significant amount of wealth, and believes it should be able to keep it; and about half the country wants to take that wealth away so that it can be redistributed more ‘fairly’.
When a representative is elected by one of those groups, it’s absurd to say that he can ‘represent’ the other group as well. It’s like saying that a single lawyer can represent both parties in a bitter divorce proceeding.
So when Joe Biden, for example, tries to position himself as ‘a President for all Americans’, he’s being either naïve or disingenuous, as are the people who parrot him.
Government is now commonly understood to be, not a mechanism for protecting rights, but a tool by which the majority can force its preferences on the minority. That is, it is a tool for replacing government by consent with government by majority rule. Which means that the very concept of ‘representative government’ has become an oxymoron.
Frankly, we’d all be better off if we found another term that we can use to discuss what’s actually going on. As Confucius said, the first step towards wisdom is to call things by their right names.
You can’t really say that anyone who gets elected these days represents his entire constituency, from presidents and senators all the way down to city council members and selectmen. The most you can say is that election confers on them the perceived authority to benefit those who agree with them at the expense of those who don’t.
The more precise expression is helpful because it highlights the crucial role of perception. In a country where armed citizens outnumber law enforcement officers by better than 100 to 1, it should be clear that authority is completely a matter of perception. If tens of millions of armed people think you don’t represent them, then you don’t represent them. It’s as simple as that. It was true when Madison published Federalist No. 46, and it’s true now.
Increasingly, people are being put in the position of having to ask themselves why they should pay any more attention to Joe Biden, or Chris Sununu, than they should pay to Justin Trudeau, or Xi Jinping. Sooner or later, a significant number of them will realize that they shouldn’t, and decide that they won’t. And that’s not going to work out well for anyone.
So here are some questions that we need to be considering, and discussing, if we hope to avoid a civil war while there’s still time to do that:
First, why should anyone respect authority that isn’t based on representation?
Second, since elections confer authority that isn’t based on representation, why should anyone feel bound by their results?
Third, as more people realize that elections have become incompatible with the very idea of representative government, what should take their place?