The Future of Democratic Values

Hey, did you know we are having an election here in the United States? I think I saw it mentioned on TV. Whatever your preferences may be, everyone eligible should try to get out and vote.

This election has, without a doubt, been somewhat unique. I’m cautiously optimistic that Hillary Clinton will win, that we will celebrate the election of the first female President in the history of the republic, and that she will do a relatively good job — although as a good Bayesian I know that empirical predictions are never certain, and in an atmosphere like this uncertainty runs relatively high.

Even if Clinton wins and the U.S. avoids complete embarrassment, I’m still very worried about what this election has revealed about the state of the country. No matter who our next President might be, there are real reasons to be concerned that the U.S. is veering away from some of the foundational principles that are necessary to a functioning democracy. That may sound alarmist, but I don’t think it’s unwarranted. Historically, democracies don’t always last forever; we’d be foolish to think that it can’t happen here.

This isn’t a worry about the specific horrible wrongness of Donald Trump — it’s a worry about the forces that propelled him to the nomination of one of our two major political parties, and the fires he so willingly stoked along the way. Just as a quick and hopelessly incomplete recap:

  • Trump built his early political notoriety via “birtherism,” explicitly working to undermine the legitimacy of our elected President.
  • He has continually vilified immigrants and foreigners generally, promoting an us-against-them mentality between people of different races and ethnicities.
  • He has pledged to violate the Constitutional principle of freedom of religion, from banning Muslims from entering the country to tracking ones that are here.
  • His campaign, and the Republican party more generally, has openly engaged in suppressing the vote from groups unlikely to support him. (“‘We have three major voter suppression operations underway,’ says a senior [Trump] official.”)
  • He has glorified violence against protesters who disagree with him.
  • He has lied at an unprecedented, astonishing rate, secure in the knowledge that his statements will be taken as true by a large fraction of his intended audience.
  • He has presented himself as a uniquely powerful strongman who can solve problems through his personal force of will, and spoke admiringly of dictators from Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-un to Saddam Hussein.
  • He has vowed that if he wins the election, he will seek vengeance on those who opposed him, including throwing his opponent into prison.
  • He has repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election outcome, implying that he would refuse to accept the result if he lost.
  • He has pointed fingers at a shadowy global conspiracy in charge of world finance, often with explicitly anti-Semitic overtones.
  • Several Republican politicians have broached the prospect of refusing to confirm any Supreme Court nominees from a Democratic President.
  • A government agency, the FBI, has interfered in a Presidential election.
  • Republicans have accused Democratic officeholders of being traitors.
  • A number of Trump supporters have spoken of the prospect of violent resistance if Clinton is elected.

This is not a list of “why Donald Trump is a bad person who is disastrously unqualified for the Presidency”; that would be much longer. Rather, I wanted to highlight features of the campaign that are specifically attacks on (small-“d”) democratic norms and values. The assumptions, often unspoken, by which legitimate political opponents have generally agreed to operate by over the course of the last two centuries and more. Not all of them, of course; there are glaring exceptions, authoritarians who have run roughshod over one or more of these norms in the name of personal glory. History generally looks down upon them, and we consider ourselves fortunate that they didn’t have greater success. But fortune can run out.

The most worrisome aspect of the situation is the very real prospect that these attacks on the foundations of liberal democracy will not simply disappear once Donald Trump rides off into the gold-plated sunset; that they will be seized upon and deployed by other politicians who couldn’t help but notice Trump’s success. If that’s the case, we will have a real reason to be concerned that American democracy will stop working, perhaps sooner rather than later. I don’t think it’s likely that such a disastrous scenario would come to pass, but one has to balance the small likelihood against the devastating consequences — and right now the probability seems closer to 0.05 than to 10-5.

Democracy is a curious and fragile thing. It’s not just “majority rules”; crucial to the project are the ideas that (1) minority rights are still respected, and (2) in return, losing minorities respect electoral outcomes. It’s the second of these that is under siege at the moment. Since the time of the Federalist Papers, it’s been understood that democracy is an attempt to provide common self-rule for people who don’t agree on everything, but who at least share the common values of democracy itself. Having strong, even extremely passionate, political disagreements is inevitable in a democratic system. The question is whether we cast those with whom we disagree as enemies, traitors, and cheaters who must be opposed in every measure at every turn; or as partners in a grand project with whom we can fiercely disagree and yet still work with.

I don’t claim to have a complete understanding of how we got to this precarious point, though there are a number of factors that certainly have contributed. Arguments have raged over whether Trump’s support among the less well-off should be attributed to the economic anxieties of a class that sees their way of life eroding, or whether we should point the finger at racist and nativist sentiments that have been so ostentatiously on display at his rallies and on the internet. The answer is surely some combination of both; the economic anxieties are very real, and in many cases that anxiety has been channeled into distrust and outright hatred for people with different skin colors or nationalities. A lot of the blame for that channeling has to lie with the politicians who find “stroking resentment” to be a cheap and effective road to electoral success; it’s an old, familiar strategy.

But there are other causes, which can arguably be traced to specifics of our system of government. A politician whose goal is “attain and preserve political power” might have a very different game-theoretic calculation of how to behave while campaigning and in office than one whose goal is “make the country and the world a better place.” It’s not that hard, from a somewhat Darwinian point of view, to see how the former type might prosper in the struggle for political survival. Suppose you propose a certain system for dealing with health-care costs. But then your political opponent begins advocating an essentially similar system. Do you congratulate them on finally seeing the light, or change your mind about the system because it gives you a convenient issue with which to criticize your opponent?

My personal suspicion — quickly acknowledging that there are people out there who are much more expert than I am on these matters — is that the Trump phenomenon is a logical outgrowth of the Tea Party movement. When Barack Obama came into office in 2009, the economy was in shambles, and the government had to navigate a tricky course of promoting job growth, rescuing the financial system and industry, and not blowing the federal deficit too high. Seeking a weapon with which to oppose the newly-elected Democratic administration, Republican officials seized on simmering resentments about taxation and government interference, and flamed them into a full-scale “movement.” Hard-core Tea Partiers, however, went well beyond boilerplate Republican platform items about cutting taxes, and pushed hard on a politics of resentment, often to extremes. One of the arrows in the movement’s quiver was to mount primary campaigns against Republican officeholders who were deemed insufficiently committed to the cause. This had the effect of shifting the GOP uniformly away from the political center, and placed a very high emphasis on obstructing anything remotely associated with the Democratic party. Many in the Republican establishment didn’t subscribe to Tea Party extremism themselves; they just wanted to fire people up to get their votes. They didn’t imagine that those same people would prevent good establishment soldiers like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio from being nominated, in favor of an anti-establishment buffoon with zero loyalty to the party apparatus. It’s often hard to put the genie back into the bottle.

What they don’t tell you in school is that democracy is really hard. Voting is easy; the difficult part is to accept the outcome and work with your opponents for the common good. To think of those with whom you disagree as honest people with different opinions, rather than corrupt hell-beasts who should be thrown in jail. Our psychology tempts us into less lofty ways of thinking. In The Big Picture I talked about a concept in social psychology called the “Pyramid of Choice.” Two people with almost exactly the same views and preferences face a close decision, and the two of them end up choosing different alternatives. Over time, our brains work to justify these decisions; we forget it was a close call, and convince ourselves that the choice we made was the obviously correct one from the start. By this process, the two people who started out from nearly identical beliefs are driven ever further apart. You can see how this plays out in political contexts. People get nudged toward one side of the spectrum or the other, start thinking about all the reasons why it’s correct, listening to news that confirms their beliefs, and prop up their self-esteem by looking at their opponents as haters and losers. Tribal identity is a hell of a drug.

Democratic values, including most especially the ability to disagree without demonizing, are certainly not dead yet. Here’s an example of such values in action, when Barack Obama chides his own audience for behaving disrespectfully toward a protester:

Nor are such values confined to the Democratic side of our two-party system. Everyone remembers John McCain, politely disagreeing with his own supporters who wanted to paint Obama as a frightening foreigner:

We can disagree with each other and still work together. It’s happened, with some bumps in the road, for more than two centuries now. But it’s far from certain that we will continue to succeed.

This entry was posted in Humanity, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to The Future of Democratic Values

  1. a stray cat says:

    Sean’s analysis is indeed far from complete. The country has been veering away from an actual democracy for much longer than this election. A democracy cannot function without fair mechanisms and an informed populace, but money interests have taken control of both parties (the Republican party moreso), as well as mainstream media organizations, resulting in what would be more accurately described as an effective oligarchy than a democracy.

    One can talk about the many contributors – the two party stranglehold, corporate media which is largely bought out by the major parties, the electoral college and primary processes, effectively unlimited ability to donate to campaigns- but I think this 2014 Princeton study made it most clear. It looked at how much influence different groups in the US had on policy.

    From the abstract:
    Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

    Later on:
    When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

    The politics we have is a sideshow as far as most Americans are concerned, largely empty campaigning and posturing to maintain power and service the wealthy with little or not actual interest in representing the majority of people aside from suppressing them. Without any effective power, they are suffering. There is an increase in wealth inequality and poverty in the US, as well as other signs of deteriorating circumstances such as rising household debt, exploding student loans, and stagnant or declining wages. While this is not explicitly known to most, there is a vague awareness of it which breeds resentment.

    Historically, these trends essentially have continued, slower or faster, whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in office. And although such trends are generally not reported, people in declining economic circumstances feel the difference in their lives. Particularly for those on the growing bottom, it leads to a rage and resentment which has been manifested in the yearning for revolution by Sanders or Occupy Wallstreet, or redirected and scapegoated in the increasing racism and xenophobia fanned by the Tea Party and Trump.

    This election has also demonstrated how undemocratic our systems already are, how much power the establishment and moneyed interests have, and just how much deception is seen as normal by those in power. Wikileaks have provided a clear window into the Clinton campaign and the DNC, showing how she is corrupted by money interests, how blatantly the DNC held the scales against any other primary challengers, and just how blurry between the line between the campaign, government, and corporate media have become, though such a window was hardly necessary. There are significant dangers to democracy there which Sean missed. HRC is the epitome of the establishment, symbolizing the norms people hate. She is seen as many as a tool of the establishment and rich at the expense of the rest. This is a large, often ignored part of why a fascist idiot is so close to the White House, because people hope he will shake up the establishment and bring real change.

    I feel Sean is focusing too much on the aesthetics of the election and missing the deeper issues.

  2. John,L. Lee says:

    Having had access to many confidential and secret documents while serving in the US Army in the 1960’s as well as having access to Nuclear Weapons. I worked the Nike Hercules and the SADM Special Atomic Demolition Munition, or Man Carried Nuke, a W54 nuclear artillery round. I found that a very large percentage of so called Classified Documents were nothing but CRAP! People were classifying everything but their lunch menus and the color of their underwear. I spent many a day standing out in the snow burning classified docs in a 55 gallon drum fire.

  3. Bruce Monson says:

    Excellent post, as always! Throughout this horrific election cycle (even by our typically horrific standards) I have found myself hoping for the multiverse to be true and somehow leaving this reality for something else. But as much as I think the Republican party brought-on the rise of someone like Trump through their McConnellOGUE obstructionist policy over the last eight years, I also feel the extreme Hitler-like Fascist invective that spews from Trumps very being (is there any doubt what he would do with absolute power?) is the wake-up call that might actually bring the parties together, at least long enough to circle the wagons.

    Like others I also don’t think we have a real democracy and haven’t for many years. We live under a corporate aristocracy.

  4. David Park says:

    Sean, you are living in a bubble of privilege. You may not think so, but you are.

    Do you really believe that unemployment is under 5%?

    Do you really believe that inflation is under 2%.

    Do you really think that we have had a strong economic recovery since 2008. According to David Stockman the mean household income is down 20% since 2000.

    I wouldn’t vote for either of these candidates. Trump does not seem to be well informed or very reasonable. But your list of faults contain a fair amount of smears. For example you say he urges his supporters to engage in violence. But there are videos on the internet of interviews with political operatives hired by the DNC to hire people to deliberately provoke violence at Trump rallies.

    Do you have nothing to say concerning Clinton’s video with her cheerful statement: “We came, we saw, he died”? He died just after a large knife was rammed up his rectum. Would this be an example of the liberal democratic values you espouse. Clinton was a significant organizer of the “no fly zone” on Libya. Nato ended up killing 40,000 people and leaving the country in ruins. Do you think that we had nothing to do with the carnage in Syria? Or the oil (democratic?) kingdoms around the Persian Gulf who contributed near $100 million to the Clinton Foundation? And do you think that Foundation is pure as the driven snow and gives no significant financial benefit to the Clinton’s?

    And what do you think of Madeleine Albright’s statement on television saying that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children from our sanctions and economic blockade (according to a UN report) was worth it? Was it worth it Sean?

    Reagan may have called the Soviet Union the “evil empire”, but no American President ever directly insulted a Soviet leader. So how good is Clinton at diplomacy when she calls Putin the New Hitler? Are you aware at all of how many Russians died fighting Hitler and what a terrible and vicious insult that is? Do you actually know much about Putin at all, Sean?

  5. Observer1951 says:

    Hi Sean
    As a Brit the USA election result is up to you guys but could I just say I do wish you would stick to science and keep your political opinions to yourself. The next president should be the best person for the job, nothing to do with sex or colour. As an observer from across the pond I do have to say Obama was a disaster, a man who acheived nothing except lower his golf handicap

  6. Barry Curran says:

    What might mitigate many of our divisions would be somehow to efface from the national, and deeply rooted cultural psyche, is our constant historically based unremitting competitveness and infintile binary thinking: winners and losers; “good guys and bad guys”, tweeted “likes and dislikes”, my side or yours; East Coast or West Coast and so on. We need some more Bayesian “nands” rather than either/ors thrown into the mix.Viable communities and civility can´t be easily built where its members envision themselves in such simplistic contexts and it´s not all that easy either even when they don´t. But it would be a place to begin. Few of the divisions mentioned, and what we´ve wittnessed during this tawdry election, can ever come close to being be solved until there is serious wealth redisribution through graduated taxation; truely equal opportunity in education; pay equality and free childcare for working and non working women and a cap on the size of families to bring down the overall population over the next two generations.In a future already scripted for resource scarcity be it water, arable land or energy, cooperation, common purpose and communality, and not ingrained competitiveness can be the only way forward towards any return to civility.

  7. Chris P. Bacon says:

    A Stray Cat’s comment above has hit the nail squarely on the head. I would urge everyone to read his/her comment with an open, unbiased mind.

  8. A.B. says:

    Dear Mr. Carroll,
    A proper long reply to your post – point by point, will take me a day to write, and I’m sure you have more productive ways to spend your time than to read essays about politics. My opposing view is formed of my life experience, being someone who, contrary to all the other bloggers here and yourself, survived Totalitarian Dictatorship behind The Iron Curtain (now that’s “Legacy” – Good old Ronny Reagan and The Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher!) and consequently has the added perspective of appreciating Democracy more acutely than someone who was fortunate enough to have been born in the free world and doesn’t know anything different. While I am not really surprised to find out that politically you gravitate towards the Left hemisphere (2 clues: being a scientist/academic and living in the State so aptly represented by the one and only Nancy Pelosi…), I wonder whether you would dispute the following facts: Fact #1 – Today the World is infinitely more dangerous and unstable than 8 years ago, and Secretary Clinton bears responsibility to a degree. Fact #2 – The Clinton family is BY FAR the most corrupt political entity in the history of the U.S. (IMHO to reward & encourage that would be a big mistake). Fact #3 – Democracy DEPENDS on a thriving FREE media, and that – sadly, is NOT the case in the U.S. anymore. When reporters/journalists and whole news agencies start to take their cues from the DNC, things are already skewed, spoiled and corrupted. The general public is usually not aware, until they find themselves in a politically correct social order (where free speech is bound to offend someone), where they’ve lost freedoms and liberties that they had before, but by then it’s too late.
    Thankfully, there is a sizable number of Americans who are aware of what’s been cooking, politically, and where the country is headed, and they support Mr. Trump – a flawed individual, but very successful businessman and an energetic patriot who doesn’t obey Political correctness, who destroyed his (and his family’s) very nice lifestyle in order to do this and spent millions of his own (EARNED!) money to go out and try to right some big wrongs for his beloved country. I, for one, could see how he is their Champion!

  9. Neil says:

    Trump has simply brought out into the open the racism, xenophobia and misogyny that has always been there in a segment of the population, the segment that supports him. Perhaps that is a good thing, rather than pretending. With their true beliefs fully exposed, rather than hidden under the veil of “conservatism” or “traditional values”, perhaps we can start the difficult job of changing the minds of some of these people.

  10. arch1 says:

    Wonderful list, to which I would add that the most fervent Trump-ites seem to fully subscribe to the notion that there’s little reason to care how the people and governments of other nations perceive their cause and candidate. As if (they seem to think) *that* could be of any value or consequence.

    On the off chance you’re a Trump-ite who finds yourself reacting strongly to the above paragraph, I urge you to read a much better paragraph – the one in the Declaration referencing a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” – and ask yourself whether that could be more than a nice turn of phrase and a quaint anachronism.

  11. Lee Guthrie Quantum Springs says:

    @ Andrew G Van Sant –
    Anybody that has worked on a government project with a security clearance of any kind is required to certify, by their signature, that all of the statements and conditions are true. At the start of their employment, they are presented with a massive amounts of required reading and training. Many of the technical doc. would take days or weeks to read and even longer to fully understand , everyone signs them saying that they have fully read and understand the doc. All are criminal and all violated federal law because everybody knows they did not read all of the docs. or understood them completely.

  12. Andrew M says:

    Thank you Professor Carroll for speaking up on this important issue.

  13. Francis Lane says:

    If you are truly a scientist, then you will try to understand your own and other’s reasons for supporting or opposing a candidate, and recognize how your own psychology affects your choice, and try to remove that factor from your reasoning and face the bare distasteful truth: Political parties are organized with one purpose in mind: Political power, and that purpose is refined and distilled the higher up the political food chain you go. As such, political parties by their very nature, threaten democracy. That is precisely the problem that the founding fathers tried to solve when they wrote the constitution. Lawyers by their nature defend their clients in any way possible and in so doing, threaten justice. Its the jury that reduces that threat, just as the voter reduces the threat of the political parties, and any voter who acts like a sports fan, selectively accepting or rejecting facts and rooting for the home team, is a threat to democracy.

    Both sides will say or do whatever it takes, legal or unprosecutably illegal, to convince you that they are the good guys, the others are the bad guys and to vote for them. Politicians who are crippled by a sense of “fair play” never reach the upper level of the political food-chain. It’s the theory of political evolution. Die-hard non-introspective supporters of either side are not objective, and they are the meat-and-potatos of political parties. As scientists we must try to avoid that like the plague, and as human beings, its damn near impossible, but we can at least give it a shot. This election cycle is rife with hatred on both sides. If the reasons for the hatred of the people who agree with you is totally obvious to you and the hatred of those you disagree with is unfathomable, or seen as deeply evil, then you are blind. If you don’t read both CNN and Breitbart with equal objective curiousity, you are blinding yourself.

    In 1905, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, wife of Czar Nicholas II, noted the “unfathomable hatred” of the people elected to the first Duma, a half-hearted attempt by the Czar to get advice from the people. She was shot dead 12 years later because of her inability to fathom that hatred. That’s our future if we misunderstand or don’t fathom the hatred on both sides. And trust me, its not racism, sexism, homophobia on the right, and its not an urge to destroy capitalism and democracy and establish a communist dictatorship on the left. But one or the other of those will happen if we don’t truly fathom the hatred on both sides, and our own hatreds as well.

    The problem with understanding another person’s hatred is that most people confuse understanding with empathy. They think the only way one can understand another’s hatred is to share it. As scientists we are especially equipped to give lie to that. Be thankful that those who pursue serial killers, for example, don’t fall into this trap. We are scientists, we seek understanding, and we are human, we seek validation for our emotions and to make the two coexist is almost impossible, but at least we should aim for it, and Dr. Carroll, I don’t see you aiming for it.

    Since I am criticizing the points of Dr. Carrol, who is a Clinton supporter, I will sound like a Trump supporter and anyone who uncritically shares his views won’t ever past this point in the post. When I criticize Trump supporters, I can hear the mental doors closing as I am branded a Clinton supporter.

    The bottom line is, as Michael Moore, Bernie Sanders, and Noam Chomsky have stated, Trump supporters have every right to be angry and we MUST understand the source of this anger. To write them off as a basket of deplorables is dangerously wrong.

    The |”Iron Law of Oligarchy” is unfortunately in full swing, (see and American citizens are being laid off or denied jobs which are then filled by immigrants. This is not just something I have read, it is something I have seen, over and over. The reason they are filled by illegal immigrants is because they can be paid less than the minimum wage under the table, and they are unable to complain about it to authorities, much less vote. Companies that are prosecuted for hiring illegal aliens are almost uniformly run by people who are not contributing to the Democratic party. Meanwhile border patrol agents have been punished for not “standing down” in the face of illegal immigrants crossing the border.

    Legal immigrants are subject to more severe punishment for not pleasing their employers (deportation) and understandably, they are much more driven to please their employers than a citizen. They can be hired for less. Furthermore they cannot vote.

    Many companies have or intend to become rich using this cheap, constrained labor, and it is no suprise that they favor Clinton in this regard. When citizens who are laid off or denied jobs because of this damaged system hear Trump railing against immigrants and immigration, they support him. When the left lumps them in in with racists, sexists, and homophobes, the anger of the majority who are not only increases. Also, many mistakenly fall for this crap and see themselves as being faced with a choice of being an employed racist or an unemployed liberal. They understandably choose the former. The corrupt system is creating racists, it created Trump.

    Is Trump a racist? Probably not. Like any politician, he was an opportunistic businessman, now an opportunistic politician, and personal racism on his part is counter-productive, but it can be a useful tool. The list of his anti-racist behavior is almost as long as the list of his racist statements.

    Is Clinton a feminist? Probably not, otherwise she would be uncomfortable with importing people who believe in anti-feminist Sharia law, not to mention her defense of Bill’s behavior. She is a political opportunist, adherence to feminism is counter-productive, but it can be a useful tool. The list of her anti-feminist behavior is almost as long as the list of her feminist statments.

    The bottom line is: Behave like a scientist, gather information with curiosity but without bias. When you experience joy or anger at a fact, be very, very suspicious. If Breitbart and CNN agree on a fact, its likely a fact. If one or the other makes a statement, and the other does not respond, it’s likely a fact. If they offer opinions on the meaning of a fact, ignore it. Form a model of how things work, and then insert your value system to arrive at a plan of action. In the face of new facts, be ready, willing, and able to tear down your model and start from scratch. Kahan is a serious investigator of the sources of political opinion, and is worth a look (See

  14. Simon Packer says:

    Democracy can go unstable due to the paradox ‘we are voting you in to make decisions we wouldn’t vote for’ and the corollary from the point of view of the elected. Witness Brexit. The people in power don’t really want it, and can’t carry it out with personal conviction or passion, just dutiful reluctance (all these high level descriptors overlaying physics….). Meanwhile the world watches a nation divided and lacking clear direction, not something historically associated with the UK. And something potentially dangerous in times where the C in C aspect becomes important; sudden threats to security.

    However democracy is usually the best compromise in this world for secular government. But it’s success is down in large part obviously to the characters in leadership, also the precise constitution, and the nature of the times and challenges.

    As a Christian I’d vote Trump mostly on stated basic moral values adopted, plus the fact that he seems simple and transparent, if not necessarily totally sincere on the faith issue. He lacks depth of guile to me. That’s a virtue.

  15. Richard Gaylord says:

    “as a good Bayesian I know that empirical predictions are never certain.” it doesn’t require one to be Bayesian to understand that empirical predictions are not certain (unless they’re being made by a person who already knows the what’s going to happen).

  16. Richard Gaylord says:

    “He has pointed fingers at a shadowy global conspiracy in charge of world finance, often with explicitly anti-Semitic overtones.”. i have looked at the ads (e.g. showing a 6 tip star on top of money) that have been said to be antisemitic and i see no evidence of it . unless you are a jew who has experienced anti-semitism first-hand( as i have throughout my life and as my forebearers did when they were placed in ghettos and sent to the ovens), you should stop declaring a statement as being anti-semitic because you simply don’t know what constitutes anti-semitism. the same goes for supposedly anti-black, anti-indian, anti-islamic, etc comments. only members of an offended group are competent to judge such things.

  17. MC says:

    I agree with Gad Saad on this one. I hope my fear of islamisation is unfounded, but I can’t unsee the amount of violence and backwardness of countries with growing islamism. Not only the lack of scientific progress from these cultures, but the very attack on scientific understanding goes above all else for me. We’ll see what the future brings, but I fear Clinton will help set the world back even further than Trump will. Trump we as a people can handle, Clinton we cannot.

  18. Jason Richardson says:

    thank you for posting this Sean. I am constantly amazed by the inability of politicians who are more concerned with their own political careers than with what is good (not necessarily best) for the nation. It is really summed up in the similarities of the Romney health care plan and the Affordable Healthcare Act. They are structurally very similar, yet one party completely ignores this because the AHA was created by the party across the isle. They even go so far as to undermine it to ensure that it doesn’t work to its full potential and then cry foul as it stumbles along.

  19. Steve Ruis says:

    “Somewhat unique”? Not uniquer? Dr. Carroll you have a reputation of being a public educator extraordinare which should include an emphasis on clarity, which you have … in general. Every political campaign is unique so uniqueness is not a criterion we need apply to this one. This one has been, what? Strange, embarrassing, frustrating, threatening, infuriating …. there are all kinds of good descriptors available to us. We need not “qualify an absolute” though to describe it.

  20. Moe says:


    I really enjoy both your blog, books, and scientific works.

    However, these types of posts make me seriously doubt that you understand physics. But then I remember that in a different world you might really get it, and say so.

    That’s all.

  21. mark cettie says:

    “…disagree without demonizing…”
    I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, your post and the comments are the ironic proof of that which you rail against. OK, you didn’t rail. More of a thoughtful hypothesis.
    Look specifically at how you have characterized Trump: “horrible wrongness”; “a bad person who is disastrously unqualified”.
    And how many comments did it take before the ‘Trump is Hitler’ meme reared its ugly head.
    I honestly am stupefied how commentary like this can be interpreted by anybody as doing no more than preaching to the choir, as anybody holding a different viewpoint would have reasonably been offended, if they wouldn’t have dismissed it out of hand and stopped reading with the early assertions. In other words, what audience were you trying to reach? Please answer before reading on.
    I’m thinking that the audience you were trying to reach was simply the like-minded. So, congratulations. You’re message resonated throughout the echo chamber. But, if you were trying to reach literally ANYBODY else, this academic would have to be graded an ‘F’.
    I’m being a little harsh, so, I apologize. I think you are one of the bright minds in the world today, and I get sincerely disappointed when I watch you willingly bathe in political tribalism. Speaking of tribalism…

    You’re right. “Tribal identity is a hell of a drug.” It’s obvious you’re not only speaking from experience, but you’re also not in recovery, yet.
    I like the core message, which I believe to be is that there are fundamental values of democracy that are being deteriorated, threatened and exposed by this election cycle and that we shouldn’t take democracy for granted. Unfortunately, I feel that you just unwittingly contributed to the very thing that you decry.
    What I believe would be more constructive, as is always the case, would be to root out, identify and eliminate in yourself and your tribe that which your claim excoriates in the ‘opposition’. Your post is an example of being hoisted by your own petard. Except your point isn’t a petard. It’s core message is important to consider – but WITHOUT the tribalism. Also, Trump and the Trumpsters should not ever be classified as the opposition. When we do this, we set up a debate – full of entrenchment and hardening – instead of a dialectic -a mutual pursuit of the optimum.

  22. Jerry Mahoney says:

    What alarms me is the rapidly accelerating entropy of the political system that this election campaign as enabled/exposed. And the chaos: people responding less than rationally to the entropy, in fact, counting on chaos.

    My gut says Americans are going to decide “not so fast”, but as Daniel Kahneman pointed out, intuition is not really reliable.

    George Carlin: “In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.”

  23. Barry Curran says:

    All the fuss over Hillary´s emails has been a pile of high grade nonsense. As anyone who´s had a security clearence knows they over classify; most of the information that comes across one´s desk is probably, in one way or another, to be found already somewhere else in the public domain be it in scientific or scholarly journals, public documents or testimony, or simply “back in the day”, the newspaper. I had to sign off that I couldn´t reveal how much, or in my case how little, I was making even from my wife. Please tell me what self respecting married woman ( let alone any sinister foreign power) doesn´t know or can´t figure out how much her husband is depositing in their joint account at the end of the month?

  24. BobC says:

    I was going to post my own experiences asking friends and acquaintances to describe the other candidate’s platform and positions, and the abject failure that arose 90+% of the time.

    But having voted, at this moment I’m beyond fascinated by the paper referenced in this Tweet by Sean:

    Can’t wait for the blogosphere’s reaction and the follow-up papers!

  25. Howard Hunter says:

    Mr. Lichtenstein: Maybe being a career politician is not what works best. Maybe citizens would prefer to keep more of the money they earn, rather than handing it over to career politicians whose paycheck and power depends directly upon the taxes they collect. What if Trump and his supporters are in fact mostly not misogynists, racists, or xenophobes but simply believe the rule of law is important for a successful civilization. A half full glass is a better way to live, especially if we’re all just collections of atoms bouncing off each other.