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It’s election season, so let the academics share their beefs about U.S. democracy

Election season is upon us yet again, so that means it’s time (and apologies to Thomas Sowell) for the anointed to tell the benighted how the American system of government in reality is pretty lousy.

These types of articles always appear either when Republicans have a substantial degree of power, or something is happening that is intensely political — in this case, the indictments of our 45th president coinciding with his 2024 GOP front-runner status.

In the middle of the 2016 campaign, Vox.com published “American democracy is doomed” in which Matty Iglesias noted that during the George W. Bush terms “there was a very serious discussion in an editorial meeting about the fact that the United States was now exhibiting 11 of the 13 telltale signs of a fascist dictatorship.”

In December of 2019 The Atlantic published “Too Much Democracy is Bad for Democracy.” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put out “Profound Rebuilding Needed to Shore Up U.S. Democracy” the day after January 6, 2021.

And “Republicans are pushing American democracy to its breaking point” came from Al Jazeera a bit earlier this year.

Here at The College Fix we saw “Biden DOE official: Democracy is based on white supremacy,” a former CNN talking head telling an audience that journalists’ bias is just being “pro-democracy,” and a Harvard professor claiming the GOP has put American democracy in an “existential crisis.”

Speaking of the Ivy League, Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently had a piece in The New York Times which originally was titled “Elections are bad for democracy,” but later was altered to “The Worst People Run for Office. It’s Time for a Better Way.” Go figure.

Grant (pictured), a psychology professor whose research interests include “generosity and helping, job design and meaningful work” and “originality and non-conformity,” says a lottery among those interested in holding office would be better than holding an election.

MORE: School board guru: Democracy is great … until it makes decisions I don’t like

After all, he says, the Greeks — the creators of democracy — did it. (Wait, the Greeks? How did the Times allow this bit of white supremacy to sneak into its op-ed pages?)

Grant says research shows leaders selected in this manner are more responsible than those who actively seek office, most of whom suffer from narcissism and psychopathy: “When you know you’re picked at random, you don’t experience enough power to be corrupted by it. Instead, you feel a heightened sense of responsibility: I did nothing to earn this, so I need to make sure I represent the group well” (emphasis in the original).

(Naturally, Grant uses right-wingers to make his point about conceited, corrupted politicians.)

Well, the Founding Fathers did say that our form of government cannot exist without morality and virtue, did they not?

Grant also proposes that those participating in the lottery pass a civics test akin to that of immigrants wanting to become U.S. citizens.

The potential for fraud and abuse in such a system notwithstanding, if potential office holders in a lottery allegedly are more responsible and must pass a civics test, allow me to make a counter-proposal that would offer even more responsible leadership: that of libertarian author Robert Heinlein in “Starship Troopers.”

In this system, in order to vote a person must complete a term of military service. Once this term is complete, one is deemed a “citizen.” All of those in the active service must fight, whether you’re a general or a private. There are no armchair officers here.

And by military, I mean a military like the U.S. used to have. Not the eye-rolling one we have now where future armed forces leaders are trained to fight climate change and a top general is overly concerned about white supremacy.

Heinlein’s rationale is this: By serving a term — by being willing to lay one’s life on the line for others — a person demonstrates the value of the whole body politic. And the only right not granted to those who choose not to serve … is the franchise.

If I had to choose between Grant and Heinlein, I’ll take latter every time. It’s much better than leaving governance to literal chance.

MORE: Libertarian sci-fi author predicted current progressive-induced cultural failures over 60 years ago

IMAGES: Jelena Aloskina/Shutterstock; U. Pennsylvania

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.