Do we need a bigger tent? Should we just buy a smaller tent to go along with our current camping gear? I had just finished talking about camping with my daughter this last weekend when I checked CNN.com to read a news story. On the front page of CNN, there it was. A big blue tent from the very retailer we discussed checking out. If you have smart devices in your home, you probably realize they are listening to you. The words you send in emails and messaging conversations are being tracked. Big brother is undoubtedly watching. Let me get back to Big Brother in a second.
Here's a question: What's a politician's job? Is it to answer constituents or is it to act in the best interests of the electorate even if that means losing their support? The problem with "modern democracies" in general and parliamentary-style governments in particular is that they don't allow politicians to do what they believe is right. If the people know what they want and governments are only technocrats executing the vision of a majority of those citizens, why do we need politicians at all? Power to the people? Technology will allow us to poll the majority of the electorate nearly 24 hours a day and therefore allow the people to directly make all the necessary decisions. Governing by committee.
In the past, when many of the world's current countries were founded, framers of constitutions couldn't have envisioned a populace with constant access to their governments. Twenty-four-hour news cycles, direct messaging with politicians through Twitter? These weren't even fathomable a century ago. The electorate is empowered and will hold politicians accountable, right? The recent crisis of confidence in Facebook has illustrated the problem with trusting the electorate to know what they want. Facebook users knew they were giving away data, data that could be used to sell them a tent or a new president. It appears as if this is exactly what happened and many are surprised it happened.
The tent ad I saw on CNN's website was there because the internet knew I needed one. If I didn't know that it knew, I would have thought the ad was serendipitous and went ahead with the purchase. Having said that, I did go with the bigger tent but tell myself, not because they told me to. Who knows if I would have gone ahead with the purchase anyway?
In reality politicians are doing whatever they think is popular. The goals of the vast majority are primarily to get re-elected and in case they can't stay in office, they begin to plan for their private sector future. This is a major problem for the people. The entire U.S. House of Representatives, for example, is up for election every two years. The last six months of these two years is spent campaigning and the time in office before the election is spent raising funds for those six months. The U.S. presidency is only slightly better. The people will forget what I've done in the beginning of my term, as long as I finish off the term strong, is what any first-term U.S. president realistically thinks.
If money is speech, and it technically is according to the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations, foreign governments, and anyone that has an interest in influencing the outcomes of elections will speak their voice in elections for the foreseeable future.
The Chinese government announced Wednesday they would be imposing a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of imported U.S. goods. This was a second round of tariffs imposed on U.S. goods in response to the U.S.'s second round of tariffs unilaterally imposed by the Trump administration. Trump ran on protectionism and now he's delivering. Will protectionist policies be good for U.S. jobs? The data suggests they won't be, but the headlines may move Trump's base to vote. Worst case scenario they backfire and Republicans in states that export to China are confronted with disgruntled, laid-off workers and are voted out of office. Bad for Trump? Probably not. If the economy worsens he can blame it on the newly minted Democratic Senate and House.
Longer terms? Term limits? I'm not sure what the solution is. Politicians need to be given the freedom, within reason, to do what is right with zero incentive to plan for their post-political future while in office. Something needs to change. Barring a major overhaul of the current system, politicians will continue to fool their constituents by telling them what they want to hear like a well-placed ad for a tent and democracies will be worse for it.