No matter how lucidly the truth is explained and how authoritatively it is supported, it is unlikely to persuade anyone who needs persuading. To see why not, consider why most of us who agree about the urgency of the climate crisis believe in climate change. We may argue that scientists have collected overwhelming evidence of climate change, its anthropogenic origin, and the catastrophic threat it poses. But do we really believe in it because we have studied climate scientists’ peer-reviewed scholarship? If not, then why should we expect climate change skeptics to be persuaded by it?

Why, really, do we believe what we believe? Perhaps, we trust the many scientists, journalists, and leaders warning about climate change because we figure they have little incentive to lie about it, whereas climate change skeptics have every incentive: it is more profitable and politically expedient to ignore the prospect of climate change than to address it. And maybe we think the actions necessary to mitigate climate change would be desirable regardless of its threat because they create cleaner air, limit environmentally destructive extraction processes, reduce profits to the war-mongering oil industry and the geopolitics it has created, and incentivize investments in energy conservation and the environmental security of vulnerable people.

But for a supporter of Trump or contemporary Republican, these factors probably do not apply. They may believe that “the establishment” leaders do have a motivation to lie and that the actions they propose are not a win-win scenario: they want to take money away from those who have it and redistribute it to those who do not.

The reality is that we all believe whom and what we want to be true. Therefore, to change what people believe, we must change what they want.


The perversity

It is striking how this played out. Obama and Comey both wanted to protect the integrity of the vote. But in doing so they both assumed Clinton would win. Then Trump won and we lost faith in the integrity of the election – a lose/lose outcome caused by their mistaken assumption. Trump set it up by questioning the integrity of the vote in advance, thus instilling this concern in two of the most conscientious people in government. They decided to do what they would not normally–Obama not making a bigger deal about Russia hacking our election and Comey reopening the Clinton investigation–because they were afraid of what Trump would do. Yet Trump would have been powerless to do anything. People would have forgotten about him in a week. Is this a problem of those who are not power-hungry–they get conned by those who are?

Collective action and inaction

The purpose of government is solving collective action problems. Consider crime. Government coordinates collective resources to protect individual victims, which benefits the collective, regardless of whether each member of the collective has been or may be at risk of victimization, by creating a society in which we are relatively free from worry about being victimized.

But who constitutes the collective? Not the women whose domestic violence complaints are ignored, the immigrants whose wage theft goes unprosecuted, the black men killed by police, the poor people exposed to toxins by corporations paying their way free from environmental regulation.  The collective are holders of concentrated wealth. The rest are systematically less assured of freedom from victimization.

What if?

What if a party campaigned for a set of structural reforms to our democracy that would be viewed as non-partisan corrections to the widely lamented distortions of democracy plaguing our system today? Such reforms might include:

  • Strictly limiting campaign contributions and spending,
  • Replacing the electoral college with a system that ensures every person’s vote counts equally,
  • Ending gerrymandering,
  • Automatic voter registration,
  • Declaring Election Day a paid national holiday, and
  • Breaking the Republican and Democratic parties’ duopoly, e.g., by including candidates of other parties in debates.

Wouldn’t most Americans, regardless of political party affiliation, and even contrary to their party representatives, support such reforms, so long as the process of advancing them did not collapse into a partisan fight or corporate hijacking over, say, a balanced budget amendment? Isn’t the growing disillusionment with democracy and lurch toward authoritarianism a result of frustration over how little power people have in our so-called democracy because of partisan gridlock, corporate lobbying, and the suffocating grip the establish parties hold over electoral options?