Smart Ideas: James Madison Never Anticipated This

With an image of former President James Madison in the background, Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch speaks at the Federalist Society's 2017 National Lawyers Convention in Washingto on Nov. 16, 2017.
AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz
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Sept. 13, 2018, 8 p.m.

The mob has overtaken James Madison

Jeffrey Rosen, writing for The Atlantic

As he set about drafting the Constitution, James Madison’s "reading convinced him that direct democracies—such as the assembly in Athens, where 6,000 citizens were required for a quorum—unleashed populist passions that overcame the cool, deliberative reason prized above all by Enlightenment thinkers." He also thought that America had a built-in advantage, namely that its "vast geography and large population would prevent passionate mobs from mobilizing. Their dangerous energy would burn out before it could inflame others." Now, "Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob," which prize passion over reason. And the "cooling mechanisms he designed"—separation of powers, republicanism, and the Electoral College, to name a few—have been weakened almost irreparably.

Al-Qaeda won the battle for the American mind

Stephen Marche, writing for Foreign Policy

“The Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan once predicted that World War III would be a ‘guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.’” The 9/11 attacks marked the beginning of that war. In launching the attacks, al-Qaeda began the “battle for the stories people tell and for the public consciousness,” turning modern communication technology—cameras, cable news, the internet—against the people who use them. The front in this war is “cultural, the conflict over narrative.” Today, as communication infrastructure expands, the dialectic battle becomes more important. America is now battling Russian disinformation campaigns, which again leverage our own infrastructure against us. As “painful and grotesque and offensive” as it may seem, “if you want to understand America’s current vulnerability, you have to look at 9/11 as a show. It is a war show that the United States lost and continues to lose.”

The proposed tax cut extension is poorly targeted

Howard Gleckman, writing for Forbes

“The House Republican plan to make permanent the individual income and estate tax provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act … is an enormous budget-buster that primarily benefits high-income households.” After-tax incomes of the top 95 to 99 percent would rise by an average of $14,700. “By contrast, those in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution (who will make $28,600 or less in 2026) would get a tax cut of about $100. ... Middle-income households would get an average tax cut of about $1,000, or 1.3 percent of their after-tax income.” In total, roughly 45 percent of the benefits would go to the top 5 percent of earners. Of course, these numbers are averages—“9 percent [of households] would pay more under the bill and about one-quarter would pay roughly the same federal income tax as under today’s law,” largely due to the continued repeal of personal exemptions and the cap on state and local tax deductions. When Congress individual tax cuts—without an extension, they’ll mostly phase out by 2025—one hopes “it will do so in a more fiscally responsible and better targeted way.”

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow applauds as he listens to President Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker speak in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 25. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

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