About half of U.S. voters demonstrated their incapacity to vote wisely in 2016 and 2020.

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As I write this, exactly one year after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol to subvert the counting of Electoral College votes, I’m more convinced than ever that many, many, many Americans lack enough intellectual integrity and common sense to be trusted electing anyone.

It’s becoming clearer by the day that American universal suffrage—the right of all adult citizens to vote—needs re-imagining. For instance, should there be any basic knowledge or cognitive requirements? Like for driver’s licenses.

Socrates’ point is … letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme [an ancient Mediterranean warship] sailing to Samos in a storm.

The School of Life

The reason: 70-plus million Americans voted for Donald Trump despite him having lied to them and everyone else more than 30,500 times (a thoroughly fact-checked statistic) throughout the four years of his brutally authoritarian, callous, single-term presidency, and thousands of his acolytes then marched on the Capitol with blood in their eyes.

They did this because they believed yet another easily dismissible lie: that the election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump due to supposed (but nonexistent) “widespread fraud” in the election process.

“The reality, backed by law enforcement officials and the judiciary, is that Jan. 6 was the culmination of a sustained effort by a sitting president to overturn the election results,” according to a recent report in the Washington Post, which quoted Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. “‘That attack, that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple. And it’s behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.’”

How can such people, fundamentally unable to objectively discern verifiable facts from self-serving fantasies, be trusted as responsible, voting citizens—in America or anywhere else?

No widespread fraud in 2020 election

The well-substantiated fact is that zero evidence exists of enough election fraud in 2020—keep in mind that a smattering of fraud is experienced in every election—to change the final presidential vote count, and thus the Electoral College vote count. Read this excellent Reuters article linked above if you have any doubt.

Indeed, top election officials in Trump’s  own administration pointedly declared it “the most secure election in American history.”

In addition, U.S. courts—more than 60—threw out virtually every 2020 election challenge filed by Trump, some contemptuously. The charges were so bogus that lawyers who brought them on the former president’s behalf face sanctions and possible disbarment for trying to gaslight courts with obvious fabrications and frivolous claims in contravention of ethical rules for attorneys.

In addition, every state secretary of state (they oversee state elections), many of them Republicans, declared their elections free and fair, some after several vote recounts demanded by Trump that ultimately reaffirmed the original vote counts.

Yet, to this day, on the anniversary of the terrible Jan. 6 insurrection, the defeated former president, who lost the popular vote by more than 7 million ballots, continues to falsely insist that he actually won “by a landslide.” And, more alarming, tens of millions of Americans are deluded enough to believe this political charlatan, and a significant number of them are running for public office.

There’s no convincing the naysayers

It’s far too late, one year past, to convince those hoodwinked naysayers what is provably true: their dear leader, in fact, got beat (the technical term is “whooped”) in the 2020 election. Joe Biden has been the American president for 12 months now fair and square, and Trumpists continued desperate embrace of this “Big Lie” is existentially threatening our democracy.

If they simply don’t care, it further demonstrates their unfitness to participate in the United State’s democratic process, which, to be successful, requires fidelity to truth as well as the ability to discern it, personal responsibility to the collective national good (not just their side), and clear-eyed common sense.

We don’t need corrupt personality cults like Mr. Trump’s and slavish, hero-worshipping, dim-witted believers comprising the government of the people. That was the situation in pre-World War II Germany under the idolized Adolf Hitler, and we know how that turned out.

However, if the nation doesn’t do something surgical and effective soon to counter this growing surge of destructive civic mindlessness (polls show that even more people now support the Big Lie than did originally), an anti-democratic, authoritarian government is ultimately what we might very well end up with after the 2022 and 2024 elections.

Pass the Voting Rights Act

The first surgical thing Congress, still in Democratic control, however slight, must do is pass the Voting Rights Act and, if necessary, amend or kill the filibuster to do it. That should halt the recent rushed cynical project in a number of Republican-led states to pass voting rights bills more restrictive than any since the Jim Crow era, seeking to electorally disadvantage Americans of color and young people (all of whom lean sharply Democratic).

The sad irony is that statehouses are pushing these punitive laws because of the Big Lie and its invented dangers of voting fraud, not because of any real, identifiable threat.

Then, Donald Trump needs to be held responsible for the national upheaval he orchestrated that we are still suffering from. Certainly, 700-plus rioters who have been charged (and some already convicted and jailed) in the Capitol insurrection shouldn’t be the only American criminals forced to pay the piper for their misdeeds. The bosses—Trump and his key minions, like Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, Rep. Jim Jordan, Fox News, et al.—should also be held to legal account for knowingly spreading the lies that purposefully lit the flame of rebellion.

Next, new laws absolutely must be enacted to: 1. make it a federal felony for any elected official to encourage, incite or support insurrection or blocking of any official constitutional act (e.g., counting of Electoral College votes by Congress), 2. legally prosecute dissemination by elected officials of biased media of misinformation, disinformation and manifest lies in the context of constitutionally protected free speech (e.g., you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater), 3. require every presidential candidate to release multi-year tax returns and not be allowed to profit off the presidency in any way, and 4. codify as unlawful any attempt by an elected official to use government resources to blackmail or otherwise financially coerce others for political goals (e.g., Trump’s 2019 blackmailing of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with military funding to force him to announce an investigation of Joe Biden’s son).

Resurrect the Fairness Doctrine

And regarding the media, I support bringing back the Fairness Doctrine and even, as with other professions (medical, dental, legal), require specific training and certification requirements for journalists, broadcast, and print. Unlike Fox “News” and other sharply partisan right-wing “entertainment” outlets that operate indistinguishably as mainstream news stations do.

The Doctrine, repealed in 2000 by the Federal Communications Commission, “required licensed radio and television broadcasters to present fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues of interest to their communities, including by granting equal airtime to opposing candidates for public office” and mandated that broadcasters “serve the public interest” and not specific constituencies.

But “low information voters,” those who don’t make the effort, or have the capacity, to develop usefully nuanced understandings of current events and political controversies, are a particularly serious problem. They end up voting with their guts rather than heads, and instincts are wrong far more often.

Even the ancient Greek philosophers were wary of uneducated masses corrupting democracy, with both Plato and his most famous student, Aristotle, preferring governments led by the educated and propertied elite who had the leisure time, wherewithal and stoicism they believed to best understand and tackle the issues facing Greek populations. Nonetheless, wealthy and influential elites often dominated rule of the people, and even ancient Athens, the historical citadel of democracy, slid into authoritarianism after humiliating defeat by rival Sparta.

The website The School of Life describes Socrates wariness of uninformed (i.e., “low-information”) voters:

“Socrates’s point is that voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. And like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people. Letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme [an ancient Mediterranean warship] sailing to Samos in a storm.”

Quality of electors affects quality of government

Both Plato and Aristotle considered democracy to be the “least bad” government form “because it was the most moderate,” according to the student writing advice website Essay Sauce. They worried about how the quality of electors affected the quality of government.

An article in Essay Sauce explains the legendary philosophers’ reservations about democracy:

“Plato and Aristotle both criticized democracy as a poor form of government. Plato’s thoughts on democracy were that it causes the corruption of people through public opinion and creates rulers who do not actually know how to rule but only know how to influence the ‘beast’ which is the Demos, the public. Aristotle’s views about democracy hold that democratic office will cause corruption in the people, if the people choose to redistribute the wealth of the rich they will end up destroying the state and since the people have no knowledge about governance when they elect rulers they will err.”

Only male citizens 18 and older could speak at public meetings or vote in the ancient Athens of Plato and Aristotle but not women, slaves, or resident “aliens.”

Of course, universal suffrage is now undeniably the constitutional requirement in the United States.

The question is, how healthy is that for the survival of our republic going forward when tens of millions of voters believing easily debunked lies encourage and support a vicious attack on the foundations of American democracy?

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...