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In Our Time

Science and Democracy

A virtue of America’s quadrennial election cycle is its success in revealing and giving form to whatever popular malaise has set in over the past four years, whether the results of the elections themselves address the disorder or not, and occasionally in raising real issues, even if only by implication.  In this respect, the presidential election of 2016 so far has been more significant than recent ones have been.

No one doubts the depth and breadth of popular discontent in this country, which appears to be attaining critical mass.  Democrats put this down to economic inequality and to a Republican Congress stonewalling the White House by refusing to act on legislation Democrats want passed; Republicans, to the Democrats’ determination to transform America morally, socially, and demographically and to President Obama’s Caesarism in resorting to executive action when he finds himself thwarted politically.  Both parties are agreed that the electorate’s enthusiasm for presidential candidates from beyond the circle of professional politicians—like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina—on the Republican side, and maverick politicians like Bernie Sanders on the Democratic one, signals the voters’ lack of trust in their incumbent representatives personally and the political establishment in general.

This explanation, while true so far as it goes, fails to account for...

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