Vital Signs of Democracy & the third political branch of government
Welcome to The Fulcrum’s daily weekday e-newsletter where insiders and outsiders to politics are informed, meet, talk, and act to repair our democracy and make it live and work in our everyday lives.
Every story we hear on the news, online or in a meme about government and our fellow citizens will become the future we create. That's what Vital Signs of Democracy is -- a quick score to let us assess how we in the USA are weakening or strengthening our collective story about our democratic republic. Are we telling stories that support autocracy? Or democracy? Our podcast is an overview of the latest competing narratives for the future of our nation. We will explore how the latest news impacts the score. We'll end each episode with stories we've found that tell a better story for us to consider.
In this extended, inaugural episode, we outline what Vital Signs of Democracy is, and examine how the news, in aggregate, tells us a story about the future of our democratic republic, or democracy for short. Included in this episode is an overview of the two primary "Make America Great" stories that are competing for our attention. One is the MAGA story or returning to a nostalgic past. The other story to make America great is to advance to a multicultural, pluralistic society. Each of these stories demonize the people who prefer the other story. We include commentary about corporate media, social media, the issues used to divide us to profit (for media) or to motivate voters issue by issues. Listen to this episode and find a new way to think about the news.
In a recent Washington Post opinion piece, Ruth Marcus castigated the Supreme Court’s conservative majority for allowing their originalist legal philosophy to contribute to the “insane state of Second Amendment law” by ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that “ordinary, law-abiding citizens have a right to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense.”
While Marcus is correct that Second Amendment law is currently too absurd for even Samuel Beckett, she errs in pinning the blame on originalism, or in fact on any body of legal theory. The justices did not rule the way they did in Bruen, or its predecessor District of Columbia v. Heller, or in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization or Citizens United for that matter, to adhere to deeply held views of law and justice, but rather because of a political agenda into which legal philosophy was shoe-horned to fit.
Elon Musk has claimed he believes in free speech no matter what. He calls it a bulwark against tyranny in America and promises to reconstruct Twitter, which he now owns, so that its policy on free expression “matches the law.” Yet his grasp of the First Amendment – the law that governs free speech in the U.S. – appears to be quite limited. And he’s not alone.
I am a lawyer and a professor who has taught constitutional concepts to undergraduate students for over 15 years and has written a book for the uninitiated about the freedom of speech; it strikes me that not many people educated in American schools, whether public or private – including lawyers, teachers, talking heads and school board members – appear to have a working knowledge about the right to free speech embedded in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Americans are spending more and more time alone, and more than a third reported experiencing “serious loneliness" in 2021. The director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development -- the longest study of human life ever conducted -- concluded in a new book that close personal relationships are the "one crucial factor [that] stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health and longevity." A lack of those relationships can actually have an impact on political behavior and interest in extreme ideologies. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Galen Druke speaks with the director of the Harvard study, Robert Waldinger, about the lessons his findings have for politics in America.