I’ve blogged before about Ross Perot’s McLuhan-ish dream circa 1969: an electronic town hall in which interactive television and computer punch cards would allow the masses, rather than elected officials, to decide key American policies. His technologically friendly version of direct democracy hasn’t made a dent in the decades since, despite quantum leaps in hardware and software, even today when we all potentially hold a voting booth in our pockets. That’s probably for the best.
No, representative democracy did not keep us from Brexit or Trump, but our reality would probably be worse if we turned the vote into The Voice, permitting the populace instant gratification (without much consideration) in choosing our path forward.
In his provocative post “How Trump and Bannon Could Automate Populism,” John Robb argues for direct democracy at the party level if not the national one, believing immediate interactions between the electorate and representatives will serve as a salve. I’m not so sure. For instance, the GOP is already fully aware that its bloc doesn’t want Obamacare repealed yet it hasn’t be that knowledge but rather dysfunction that’s so far prevented the tearing of that social safety net. It may be that our system is too corrupted at present for apps to make much of a difference. There are many critical questions about our politics, but I don’t know that technology is the correct answer to any of them.
We live in a world where we can get nearly everything instantly.
Instant information. Instant entertainment. Instant communications. Instant transactions.
Simply and rightly, we have come to expect our decisions to yield instant results from the systems that serve us.
Well, that’s true for every system except our political system.
We’re only allowed to interact with our political system, in a meaningful way, only once every two years and only then by filling out a multiple choice quiz in an election booth.
That’s akin to an Internet that only available for a couple of hours every two years at 1,200 baud.
It’s crazy in this day and age. Worse, there’s increasing evidence it is driving us crazy. We are filling the time in between these electoral events with around the clock political warfare. A ceaseless drumbeat of outrage and conspiracy, amplified by the online echo chambers we spend our time in.
Fortunately, I don’t believe this disconnect will last long. A form of direct democracy is coming. One that lets people directly influence the decisions of the people they send to Washington.
A form of interactive democracy that doesn’t require any changes to the constitution since it works at the party level and not the national.
When it does, it’s going to hit us fast, taking off like wildfire since it fulfills a fundamental need that the current system does not provide.•
Tags: John Robb