I find democracy very confusing.
Before the election, everyone seemed concerned with the problem of poorly informed voters. During the primaries, commentators and academics continually decried the fact that voters had too little information about the candidates. Not enough was known about their character, or where they stood on the issues, or what their policy proposals were. I don’t know how many op-eds I read railing against the danger of the ill-informed voter.
During the general election campaign, the elite commentators were similarly up in arms about what the public did not know. Donald Trump did not release his tax returns. Hillary Clinton did not release the text of her Wall Street speeches. Not enough was known about the lawsuit against Trump University and the activities of the Trump Foundation. More disclosure was needed regarding the activities of the Clinton Foundation and whether its donors received special consideration by the state department. And what was in those 33,000 missing emails anyway?
In short, before the election, there seemed to be almost universal agreement among the commentariat that citizens needed more information if they were to make a well-informed choice about how to vote. Virtually everyone was calling for more disclosure.
But when the election was over, everything changed. The commentators are now arguing that the election was illegitimate because the public had access to too much information. Apparently, Russians hacked into the computers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
As a result, the public was informed that the DNC coordinated with Clinton campaign to disadvantage Bernie Sander’s candidacy, planted protesters at Trump rallies to incite violence, cozied up to big money donors by offering them special access, and that Donna Brazile gave the Clinton campaign advance notice of questions that would be asked at the town hall debate.
Weren’t the Russians and Director Comey performing a public service?”]
FBI Director James Comey informed Congress, and hence, the public, that thousands of Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails turned up on Anthony Wiener’s laptop, and that the FBI was looking into the matter.
Surely this information was relevant to the voters’ decision. Weren’t the Russians and Director Comey performing a public service by supplying the voting public with relevant information about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy that the traditional media could not obtain?
Too Much Info
Yet now, the voters’ possession of this information is supposed to have corrupted the election. I don’t get it. Before the election, the problem was that the voters did not have enough information. After the election, the problem was the voters had too much information. What am I missing?
Many commentators argue that the election was illegitimate because the Russians leaked information about Hillary Clinton, but not about Donald Trump. But this cannot be the problem.
The mainstream media spent the last six months revealing compromising information about Donald Trump. Investigative journalists kept the public well-informed about the fraud allegations against Trump and Trump University. The Washington Post had a reporter assigned to ferret out and reveal every questionable activity of the Trump Foundation.
Reporters discovered and trumpeted the news that Trump paid no federal income taxes for several years due to a $900 million loss in the 1990s, that he had been sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination, that he frequently refused to pay contractors that did work for him, that he employed undocumented workers, and that he had Trump products made overseas.
Virtually every broadcast outlet played the recording of Trump bragging about forcing himself on women. The press compiled a list of his female victims and published their accounts of his conduct.
Exactly what negative information could the Russians have discovered on Trump’s or the RNC’s computers that could be more damaging to Trump’s reputation than what the media had already revealed?
The Principle of the Thing
I am having difficulty discovering the principle that is at work here. Is it that the release of compromising information discovered by investigative journalists is good, but release of compromising information discovered by Russian hackers is bad? But what if the Russian hacker is an investigative journalist? Would it be OK then? What if the information came from a 400-pound man sitting on his bed as President Trump suggested? Would that person be corrupting the election or advancing the public interest by providing relevant information to the voters?
The people who are upset by the release of information about the DNC and Clinton campaign are not claiming that the information is not true. They just don’t like where it came from. But how can the truth corrupt the electoral process? Would the election still have been illegitimate if Clinton had won?
So, how can the poorly informed voter be a problem before the election and the overly informed voter a problem after the election? The only principle that I can find to explain this would hold that the disclosure of information that benefits the party one is supporting is a public service, but the disclosure of information that benefits one’s political opponents is corrupting. I just don’t get it.
Or do I?