Lawrence Lessig on How the Internet is Breaking Democracy

This brings together a lot of topics: public opinion, polling, media, polarization, and the duty of citizens and opinion leaders to be responsible consumers and producers of political information (news literacy).

Confronting Deep Fakes and Other Forms of Deception

How can truth prevail in an information environment flooded with deception, including now deep fakes? The reporter in this video segment suggests (1) check the source and (2) Google it. This parallels what I see as the two most essential skills citizens need for navigating today’s incredibly complex information environment. First, they need to be aware of trustworthy and untrustworthy sources and take steps to fill their personal information environment with the former and not the latter. Second, when they encounter an unfamiliar source, they need to know trustworthy sites that evaluate the trustworthiness of sources, like fact-checking sites, Ad Fontes Media, and (They also know about the significant shortcomings of sites such as I don’t think “Googling it” is sufficient, however. It is unknown whether Google’s basic search algorithm adequately filters out fraudulent political information. We know for certain that Google’s YouTube algorithms do not.

Empowering citizens with these skills is essential for protecting the commons from deceptive and fraudulent political communications. An article in Fulcrum points to an additional protection: laws prohibiting the publishing of deep fake videos during an election campaign without disclosing that they are fake:

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that prohibits distribution of these artificially created or manipulated videos within 60 days of an election unless the video carries a statement disclosing it has been altered. Texas enacted a similar law late last month.

That the nation’s most populous state, where lawmaking power is entirely in Democrats’ hands, would mirror a new policy in the third-largest state, formulated entirely by Republicans, is a clear indicator that the new world of deepfakes is causing big-time bipartisan worry among politicians. “

While I do not have an opinion at this point about the best regulatory solutions, it seems that both reforms are needed: a radical improvement in citizen political information literacy skills and a new legal framework governing the distribution of political information.

Discussing Party Differences

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If I could find something comparable from a pro-Republican perspective, I’d love to use this (and it) in class as a provocative way to discuss differences between the parties and between party elite vs. ordinary mass public party identifiers. I think it’s important to point out that, even if (big if) this is a somewhat accurate account of Republican activists and elite, it doesn’t mean ordinary Republican voters see things this way. The fact that a lot of Republican voters would object to this portrayal is a good way to discuss the difference between the ideological elite and the relatively non-ideological mass public.

Link to US Civitas Facebook Thread

Article questioning the primacy of social identity over political attitudes


I could see using the findings reported in this article to frame a discussion about what drives division within American politics. In Ch. 3 of my textbook, I give a modified Madisonian account, arguing that two perennial drivers of division / conflict are ideology and interests. As I’ve told many of you, I plan eventually to add a “third I” to the discussion: (social) identity. But I think this article should give us pause before going as far as many contemporary scholars have gone (e.g., Bartels, Aiken, Druckman, Bolsen, etc.). They are close to contending that, at least in the mass public, it is ALL about social identity. As we see here, it appears that, at least when it comes to sex/gender identity, ideology appears to be an intervening (and more consequential) variable.

‘Why Donald Trump never really had a “woman” problem among Republican voters.‘-LSE US Centre

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


The tension between freedom of the press and media misinformation

Great for talking about media ownership, freedom of the press, and democracy. And don’t forget this one either ….

Sinclair “must-run” segment on family separation policy and child detention attacks the media‘-Media Matters

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread

Video: American Democracy and the Specter of Authoritarianism

This would run the risk of appearing partisan, but I think there’s a lot in this video to facilitate class discussion. I’d probably use it during a unit on public opinion and media, with an emphasis on how (and why) would-be authoritarian rulers seek to discredit the media, and also the part about why our traditional media is not well suited for demonstrating something like “democratic backsliding.” It could also be used for discussing “freedoms necessary for democracy” in Ch. 2 of Understanding American Government and Politics…”

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


Understanding political attitudes: when identity trumps ideology and national interests

More on how social identity — here, racial / ethnic identity — can trump (!) ideology and interests.

“This is a dynamic Tesler describes well. “In the post-civil rights era, Democrats needed to maintain their nonwhite base without alienating white voters,” he said. “So their incentive was silence. And Republicans needed to win over white voters without appearing racist. So their incentive was to speak about race in code. The shifts now have made it so Democrats’ incentive is to make explicitly pro-racial equality appeals and Republicans now have an incentive to make more explicit anti-minority appeals.”

Take that idea and extend it out into the coming decades of American politics. The Democratic Party will not be able to win elections without an excited, diverse coalition. The Republican Party will not be able to win elections without an enthused white base. Democrats will need to build a platform that’s even more explicit in its pursuit of racial and gender equality, while Republicans will need to design a politics even more responsive to a coalition that feels itself losing power.”


White threat in a browning America‘-Vox News

Link to US Civitas Facebook discussion thread

Democracies are losing the hearts and minds of their citizens, world’s largest study on trust in government finds

I haven’t closely examined this study, but the executive summary is jaw-dropping:

“The Democracy Perception Index (DPI) finds a majority of people around the world feel like they have no voice in politics and that their governments are not acting in their interest (51% and 58% respectively). In particular, they have little faith that their government is formed “by the people” and works “for the people”. / Perhaps most surprisingly, this public disillusionment is higher in democracies than in non democracies. Almost two thirds (64%) of people living in democracies thinks their government “rarely” or “never” acts in the interest of the public, compared with 41% of people living in non-democracies.”

Link to Alliance of Democracies report

Link to US Civitas Facebook discussion thread

Thread exemplifying the distinction between violent and non-violent politics/ideologies in the Alt-Right vs. Antifa context

Image result for antifa alt right

This would be great for discussing ideologies and the idea that politics (in my modified-Crickian sense) consists of a set of free nonviolent activities (and that this commitment to freedom and nonviolence sets its apart from other forms of power struggle). Both ideas converge in this discussion of the “alt-right” and “antifa” movements in this thread. On the two-dimensional ideological spectrum that I introduce in Ch. 3, both movements would be low on the vertical axis because they both are authoritarian. But they are literally violently opposed to one another on the left vs. right axis because one seeks to create a white male ethno-state while the other seeks to stop them (because they envision a deeply egalitarian multicultural society).

Link to discussion thread authored by Political Scientist David Neiwert

Link to US Civitas Facebook post

Bowdoin College’s Civic Education Videos: “Founding Principles”

“Narrated by Bowdoin College Government Professor Andrew Rudalevige, [Founding Principles] provides an introductory overview and basic understanding to American government, but one that is crucial to building citizen-leaders, promoting civic engagement, and working toward the common good.”  The Founding Principles website is located here.

Here’s a Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: American Governance in Theory and Action
  • Chapter 2: Federalism
  • Chapter 3: Congress

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How Not to Report on Social Science Research

The Seattle experiment with a very high minimum wage has presented a rare opportunity for economists to study the impact of large minimum wage increases. This, in turn, could potentially contribute to a better informed public debate over the costs and benefits of minimum wage increases. Unfortunately, a report today in the Hutchins Roundup (published by Brookings Institute) provides a glimpse into how the interaction between social scientific research and media reporting is likely to play out. Based on that glimpse, I would have to say the likelihood of that interaction resulting in a better informed citizenry is negligible.

It is important to keep in mind that Brookings is a think tank, and therefore is more likely to report on the social science in a responsible manner than is a typical news Continue reading

Disturbing American (and Global) Decline in Support for Democracy

Polyarchy, a political science blog now at, recently summarized data showing a disturbing decline in support for democracy in the United States and around the world. Younger Americans are less likely than older Americans  to say that living in a democracy is “essential.” Americans overall (but particularly those who are among the top 15% of income earners) are increasingly likely to agree that Americans would be better off with “a strong leader” instead of “elections.” Americans, and democratic citizens throughout the world, have become more likely than in the past to say that “army rule” would be a good way to run the country. Clearly, education about the advantages of democracy, and the abundant disadvantages of nondemocratic alternatives, needs to become a top priority of civic educators.



Local Explanatory Journalism at its Finest

Anna Clark, at Columbia Journalism Review, reports on “an exhaustive, densely analytical, data-rich four-part series (one, two, three, four) on partisan polarization in metropolitan Milwaukee, produced this month by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.” As Clark, notes, this series presents a serious challenge to the conventional wisdom that says high quality, deeply explanatory and data-driven journalism is only possible at the national level.

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