Lost Republic

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But I was right in thinking that there was a deeper story to be found far from the lights and the cameras. I heard a country screaming—at itself, at shadows, at enemies domestic and foreign. Could Bernie go all the way? That magical night, with Nevada and Michigan still ahead of us, anything seemed possible.

But what I remember even more vividly than that moment of wild hope was the sensation of looking across the packed gym and being astonished at how many of us there were—and realizing that everyone else was just as surprised.

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Though it being New Hampshire and a Sanders rally, the crowd was overwhelmingly white. Socialism is no longer toxic; indeed, polls show that, among younger Americans, most think it sounds like a pretty good idea. Yet there are also many signs of rebirth. With Trump and Mike Pence in the White House, and a conservative majority on the Court, decisions that once seemed like settled law—same-sex marriage, legal abortion, the right to join a union; indeed, the very right to citizenship itself for all born inside this country—may now come under attack. These are all fights we cannot afford to lose.

There are some in immediate peril who need our help, our energy, and our solidarity. There are others—many, many others—who are already fighting, but who may not see how their battle fits into a bigger picture.

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The United States may be a continental power and a global empire, but it is not an island, isolated from the currents of world politics. The first is to stay close to the grass roots. The second is that history is essential—not just the first draft of history provided by journalism, but the awareness of possibility that only history can provide. Each of these earlier achievements—these lost republics—was only partially successful.

If we are to complete the work, or even to advance it, we need to remind ourselves both of what we once accomplished—and of the reasons why previous efforts fell short. But discerning readers will also detect sympathy for another ideal, almost equally discredited, namely populism. For starters, there may be more instructive points of comparison besides stereotypes of Gilded Age venality. For example, a mere generation ago Congress was drowning in corruption, as a series of scandals came to light one after another. Most notably was the House banking scandal, in which members were found to have been habitually abusing their member bank accounts.

Most of these instances can be blamed on the curious practices of the House Bank itself, which issued neither account statements nor overdraft notices.

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Nonetheless, the scandal led to six criminal convictions of members and an additional 22 official sanctions by the House Ethics Committee. Notice that, although most of the abuse was later found to have been legal, it nonetheless fomented the public perception at the time that Congress was rife with corruption. Yet the effect was to agitate rather than deter voters.

In George F. Like Lessig, Will argued that the type of corruption he observed was new. It was different in detectable ways from earlier, merely venal types of corruption. Even so, both books provided the analysis to support what popular majorities in their respective times believed to be a silver-bullet solution to heal the diseased body politic. Congressional term limitation was the panacea of the s.

Still a generation before the House Bank scandal, the American polity was embroiled in the Watergate scandal, and the social unrest of the s was evolving into the economic malaise of the s.

Lost Republic

At that time, as in the early s and now, many scholarly discussions became concerned that corruption was corroding our political institutions. In James M. Finally, while the reform idea has many virtues, its main problem is that it will not work. Instead, a large body of research shows that voters make their choices using lower-cost information like sound bites, selective statistics, and charisma.

Voters are also given to a number of cognitive biases that blur the lines between reality and rhetoric. It is common, for example, to see elected officials tout the gross benefits of a policy proposal without acknowledging its net costs, as in when President George W. Bush raised steel tariffs ostensibly to protect American jobs. It is easy for voters to see the jobs saved at U.

Less obvious are the higher prices throughout the economy that burden consumers and jobs lost in steel-using industries. It is perhaps understandable that voters with busy lives, who are comfortable in their worldview, might not run the numbers on the true costs of every policy considered by Congress.

Congress would still be handing out favors to special interests. And voters would still be winking that everything is okay.

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Despite these potential pitfalls, this book and its reform plan shine brightly in their general thrust. It is an inspiring idea because it tells us there are deeper, more structural ways to think about the problem of money in politics. By scrutinizing the problem to the breadth and depth of Republic, Lost , Lessig provides a service of fundamental proportion.

If this book has the impact it richly deserves, then the very terms of the reform debate will shift. Scholars, pundits, and policymakers need to join the discussion that Republic, Lost has sparked. The Republic might be counting on it. About the Author. That creation and maintenance of public perceptions is what requires money as well as a great deal of skill and activity.

Those objectives of creating perceptions of another an opponent may be negative, and often more costly to construct and deliver.

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Still, public perceptions are what provide the representative authority, but not necessarily the functions of governing now largely delegated to the unelected — staffs, agencies, etc. The representative functions are now chiefly the representation of interests in the uses to be made of the mechanisms of governments operated by the unelected , rather than representation of principles as in the former ideology.

It might be said; then take away from those seeking authority the funds for creating perceptions. That would have no effect so long as the electorate which may be more than just those voting is less concerned with principles than perceptions. Others with interests as they now do, and are doing increasingly will create the kinds and levels of perceptions necessary to further their objectives; not for the first time in our history. Perceptions, which are compatible with prejudices, confirming of inclinations, and resist analysis, rather than information, which calls for understanding and analysis, will continue to dominate the processes for assigning represenative authority.

Money and other efforts will find their ways to the ends of creating and maintaining perceptions. Damming some channels will cause others to form so long as the rains continue. Are perceptions corrupting? Reduce the uses of the mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the mechanism.

That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of creating perceptions. If a choice between Corporate welfare v.

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