Here are three more distortions of partial truths into Mainstream Delusions (MDs) that strangle our ability to solve social problems.
MD1: Increasing the national debt just forces an added tax burden on future generations, namely, our children and grandchildren.
It’s an especially devious delusion because a pious refusal to increase the national debt is commonly combined with refusal to raise taxes — thereby guaranteeing failure to maintain the physical and human infrastructure needed for the future well-being of those children and grandchildren.
Human infrastructure—like education, public health, child care, the police, research and development—are just as important as physical infrastructure.
Falling behind here just raises the costs of catching up. This has been happening for40 years.
In paying for infrastructure, given the enormity of income inequality in the U.S., it makes sense to raise taxes on the extremely wealthy. Given the level of private affluence, it also makes sense for lesser increases on taxes for others doing quite well, when necessary.
Moreover, innovations and economic growth produced by developing infrastructure makes a better case for taking on debt, especially when interests rates are low, than a willy-nilly free market.
MD2: People of color are blaming American culture for problems of their own making.
Justification: We ended slavery and passed civil rights laws against discrimination; we elected an African-American president. It’s up to them to get their act together.
Response: Four centuries of racism cannot be put aside so easily. Still with us are the consequences of the past along with the persistence in American culture of factors such as notions about white superiority, existence of white privilege, and systemic racism. And who is the “we” here?
It’s systemic racism when a black male can be automatically suspected of something when he drives a vehicle, walks into a store, or walks through a white neighborhood. And it’s white privilege for white males not to be treated the same way.
It shouldn’t take a definitively sensational event like the murder of George Floyd to spur police reform that changes often, long-established attitudes and practices detrimental to people of color.
MD3: We must stand up for traditional values.
Justification: They’re tried and true; we feel comfortable with them; and they serve everyone’s best interests.
Response: Sometimes, they’re never tested for truth but merely represent an existing power structure; or they can become outdated; the comfort we feel can be resistance to the need for change; “everyone’s best interests” can be self-defined to serve one’s own interests; and people can resort to underhanded methods to preserve them when they do not serve us well.
So, there’s the balancing act between maintaining traditional values worth having—like seeking and spreading truths rather than falsehoods—and giving up detrimental traditional values--like Confederates states fighting to preserve slave culture.
Let’s consider how “One person, one vote,” an essential value of our representative democracy, has to overcome the crippling effects of various traditionalist activities designed to stifle it.
Why is it an “essential value”?
Answer: “One person, one vote” is the bedrock of our democracy because elections provide the most fundamental opportunity for every citizen to participate in the process of government equally with every other citizen.
Unfortunately, rather than using government to strengthen implementation of the value, opponents turn to ever more precise use of traditional means of subverting it—including gerrymandering, voter suppression through voting restrictions, abuse of the filibuster rule, stacking the judiciary, and voter disenfranchisement.
Our nation’s system of checks and balances is threatened with distortions that produce legislative gridlock and, worse yet, minority rule.
Current attempts by so many Republican state legislatures to restrict voting without evidence of significant fraud are an attack on “One person, one vote.” They should be working instead on available ways of increasing access—like turning to automatic voter registration.
The electoral college is now as obsolete as the original Constitutional requirement (repealed by the 17th Amendment in 1913) that each state legislature, not the state’s popular vote, elects U.S. Senators.
The Constitution’s requirement that each state has two senators, regardless of population, is also obsolete—considering that the U.S. Senate has exclusive control over confirming major federal appointments, like judges to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1790, Virginia was the largest state with 14 times the population of the smallest state. Today, California has 69 times Wyoming’s population of 579,000. So, in effect, more than 39 million California voters are disenfranchised when it comes to such fundamental judicial appointments.
“One person, one vote.”
Ron Yezzi, now emeritus professor of philosophy at Minnesota State University, taught courses in social and political philosophy. He lives in Mankato.