Except, y’know, when it doesn’t. Which, nowadays, is most if not all of the time.
Even the most cynical among us still thinks that the people in charge worry about public opinion. They may have ways to fortify democracy against the voters, but they still worry about the voters. After all, no democracy can be completely fortified.
The reality is, they probably do not care at all. The people controlling the politicians certainly do not care. The unanimity of opinion among this group is why the two parties are barely distinguishable from one another. What is the main different between Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer? The people who animate the politicians have their aqendas and they do not care about public opinion. Most people get that, but they still think the pols care and they need to care.
The trouble is, there is no evidence of this. For example, it was rather obvious that the Republican Party threw the 2018 midterm to spite Trump and his voters. They could do this knowing that they would not suffer in any meaningful way. Sure, some back benchers in the party would have to transition into lobbying jobs or (gasp!) the dreaded private sector, but 90% of the caucus would do just fine. In fact, the bosses could expect to be rewarded for throwing the fight.
The last midterm was a similar display of indifference. If the parties really cared about the result, they would have pulled out all the stops. On the Democrat side, it was a chance to prove those election deniers were wrong. Joe Biden really was the most popular man in history. On the other side, the Republicans could have got their red wave of rebuke. Instead, both sides worked to make sure none of the populists got the support they needed to beat a system candidate.
The fact is, the political system in America reached a point where elections make no difference to the system. Over 95% of incumbents win reelection and those who lose land in cushy jobs. John Boehner now makes seven figures selling weed, after a disastrous run as Speaker. Paul Ryan makes seven figures sitting around one of the banks, making calls to Washington on behalf of the bankers. When the losers get rich the winners do not fear losing.
In the bigger picture, even a wave election does little to change the makeup of the political parties in Washington. If forty House seats change hands in a wave election, it means close to 400 remain safe. Look at the last twenty years and you see that maybe 60 Congressional districts can be competitive. Most years only about twenty seats are genuinely up for grabs. American Congressional elections are ceremonial. It is a big expensive show that means nothing.
What appears to have happened over the last thirty years is the political class has internalized this reality and they no longer care about elections. The contempt we see is not so much about public opinion, but about the lingering need to keep up appearances with regards to elections and public opinion. The leaders of both parties are increasingly irritated that they have to pretend to care about your opinion. They have better things to do than take questions from the slobs.
This reality is hard for Americans to accept. Central to the American identity is the invincibility of the marketplace. The “go woke, go broke” business reflects the enduring belief that public opinion matters. The fact that none of the woke are going broke does nothing to alter this belief. Something similar is in play with elections. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, people still cling to the idea that public opinion not only matters, but it matters to the politicians.
Even people on this side of the divide cling to this belief. The concept of the psy-op rests on the idea that the people in charge care about public opinion. In reality, the secret police just like their work. The same can be said for the busy bodies that police the internet for bad think. They are not shaping public opinion. They simply enjoy playing hall monitor. Contempt for the public and public opinion is now the coin of the realm in the ruling class.
He’s right, and deep down, in the places we don’t talk about at parties, we all know he is. One of ZMan’s very best yet, if you ask me.