The Paradox of Democracy: Why Everyone Lost the Midterms

How is democracy supposed to work? Well, there are many views.

Some people take a very crude view of democracy: there are things called votes, and whoever has more of them gets to decide things. I’ll call this the power-politics view of democracy. Other people take a richer view of things. For deliberative democrats, democracy is an outlook on politics that tries to put persuasion over force. In the end, the majority is entitled to make the laws -- that much is required for a functioning government -- but the goal of democracy should not be simply to discover which policies are supported by more people, ballots, and money, but rather to create a consensus by argument, research, and explanation.

Take the midterms. People get really worked up about who got more votes, and that’s important because more votes means more power. That’s power politics. What’s getting lost, though, is the deliberative side. Did the midterms clarify any issues? Does anyone understand, better than before, where we need to go and what we need to do? Almost certainly not, but the whole reason we have elections and debates is partly to enrich the public’s understanding of complicated issues. The midterms failed at this task.

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