Apathy and the Big Picture

Ed. Note:

Other than this sentence, this post does not mention or allude to Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller, Congressional hearings, Kim Jong-un, impeachment, obstruction of justice or any of the usual suspects. Today this is an official JaxPolitix safe zone.


Reading time – 5:03; Viewing time – 6:35  .  .  .

Seeing the Big Picture isn’t always easy for me, what with the constant flash of bright, shiny objects of distraction, the din of self-serving noise and the near-complete lack of veracity from official sources. Whatever is happening, I try to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to the latest outrage and instead put some effort into thinking Big Picture. Sometimes I succeed. I got some help for that last week and hereby pass it along to you.

Let’s start with the key to what brought us to where we are now, the Big Picture: public apathy. Specifically, apathy toward elections.

You already know that it’s largely agitated people who are motivated to show up and vote in primary elections. (Late addition: There is evidence that this belief may not be accurate.*) That leaves us with a problem. Here’s how it works.

These folks make up about one-third of the electorate, but they have oversized influence because few moderate voters show up for primaries. That means that this angry one-third of voters decides who your choices will be when you show up in November for the general election. Worse, in the general election the winner will have garnered only a smidgen over 50% of the votes, so our elected officials are decided by just 17% of eligible voters. But wait, it gets worse than that.

Only about 60% of eligible voters shows up for the general election. That means that the winner of a general election is decided by just 10% of our eligible voters. And because that 10% has a large component of hair-on-fire types, we get flamers in Washington. See the sidebar to the right and link through to the article for an example. This guy is hardly unique – he’s just the most recent.

The fact of agitated people making up the preponderance of primary voters is why moderate Republicans aren’t standing up to obvious malfeasance. It’s because doing so will anger “the base” – code for “angry voters” – and in the next primary some far out goofball will defeat the moderate. That causes moderates to have elective surgery to remove their spines when they get to Washington – it’s so they can keep their jobs.

Did I mention that it gets worse? It does.

The Supreme Court delivered its insane decision on the Citizens United case in January 2010.  It was one of the most devastating and inappropriate decisions the Court has made, because they delivered not one, but two decisions, the second of which was over an issue that wasn’t in dispute in the case. That opened the door to the bottomless supply of money that buys our entire elective process, exactly as President Obama predicted would happen at his State of the Union address later that same month. Chief Justice Roberts shook his head in disagreement, but he and his 4 friends (it was, of course, a 5-4 decision) were blindly wrong in expanding the case to something completely outside the dispute in question, as well as wrong about what would happen.

And that, plus moderates surrendering elections to extremist voters gets us less than the best legislators, less than the best judges, less than the best policies and the dysfunction and corruption we have right now. Ours is a devastatingly compromised democracy.

That’s the Big Picture I see. Now here’s the help I mentioned in the opening of this piece.

Read Jim Hightower’s current Lowdown to see how your pockets are being picked.

Trump’s only legislative win is the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which he and the proponents of this larceny claimed would increase workers’ wages. Apparently, they felt that dangling that before voters would cause us to support the annual $1 trillion giveaway to the wealthy. I know you review your paychecks carefully, so how much more are you getting? Nothing. Nada. And that’s the point.

That piece of legislative theft is just the most recent example of exacerbating wealth inequality and it came about because we elected self-serving radicals to be in the majority. Or should I say, 10% of voters did that and many of the rest of us stood by – 120 million eligible voters stayed home on election day – and let that happen. Clearly, many people were motivated to turn that around in the 2018 election. Perhaps that’s a beginning of change. But it’s only useful if we continue that change.

BTW – while you’re on Jim Hightower’s site, have a look at his clarification of populism. You might be surprised to learn that populism isn’t at all what many would have you believe. It isn’t about torches and pitchforks.

There are consequences to massive wealth inequality and the world has lived it repeatedly. Read futurist David Houle’s current post to enhance your view on this.

I’m reminded of the cynical declaration commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette about the French poor: “Let them eat cake.” There was no cake for them, nor bread, either. Perhaps you remember that the French Revolution happened shortly thereafter in 1789 and lovely Marie lost her head.

The point is that there’s a limit to what people will tolerate – we demonstrated that at the Boston Tea Party. The question is whether we will take action before things get really dangerous. Which leads to how we’ll do that.

RepresentUs is an organization dedicated to setting things right before we pass a point of no return. Watch their video, Unbreaking America, narrated by Jennifer Lawrence and Joshua Graham Lynn, for a clear explanation of what’s going on and what we can do about it. It’s well worth 11 minutes of your time. And if you’d like to see the research mentioned in the video, click here for a PDF download. Be sure to note the next-to-last paragraph on page 3.

Back to the Big Picture: All we have to do turn this mess around is to abandon our apathy.

  • * Even if the general belief of primaries being driven by extremists is not true – and that is unclear – the lack of voter participation is still at the core of our dysfunction. 120 million voters sat out the 2016 election and that gave us an extremist president and an extremist Congress. The importance of voter participation was further illustrated, this time in reverse, by the massive voter participation in the 2018 election and the changes those activated voters have started. When we show up and vote, politicians get a very powerful message from us that just might affect their behavior. When we don’t show up and vote, politicians get a very different message from us.

    Click to join me on March 23 for this fascinating and informative event.


Ed. Note: I don’t want money (DON’T donate) or your signature on a petition. I want you to spread the word so that we make a critical difference. So,


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  2. Engage in the Comments section below to help us all be better informed.



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3 Responses to Apathy and the Big Picture
  1. Paul Winsor Reply

    Hi Jack

    I ve been thinking about your concept of the ‘big picture’ for a long time. An avenue I ve ventured down is learning and thinking about very long term economic growth. As an example, imagine a world 500 years from now that grew it’s gdp at a compound rate of 3%. Assume that world population settles in at 12 billion people. I did the math, on average, everyone would have the wealth of Donald Trump (about $2b in current $’s) So, ‘500 years from now, everyone, on average, will be Trump’.

    3%+ GDP growth seems to be a magic number. It allows for a middle class. Prevents inequality. At 3+% growth rate, lots of stuff falls through the cracks, requiring human effort. The rich really need the middle class then. As GDP growth drops below 3% there is less chaos coupled with higher efficiency eliminating the need for middle class work. So the rich move on while the middle becomes irrelevant. As the rich move on, it would appear from the middle, that they are being screwed.

    That’s what makes 3% growth so important. The West’s GDP growth has been below 2% for over 10 years, since the Great Recession. This is what is squeezing the West’s middle class out. It also is moving wealth up to a smaller and smaller group. This is not a new issue. It’s born out by human history. Prior to about 250 years ago, global gdp growth was near 0% for centuries. There was huge income inequality. Slaves, serfs, War, rape, murder, all the bad stuff was completely out of control. Terrible!

    So the ‘big picture’ is if the West’s gdp cannot sustain 3+% GDP growth and growth slides toward 0%, we can expect huge income inequality with more and more have’s and have not’s, just like we did 250 years ago.

    Being that global GDP growth is well above 3+%, there is no problem, on average, right now. Poverty is decreasing, a large middle class is growing. But what happens if 3+% global growth is unsustainable. That’s when the rubber will hit the road. A big shiny Kaboom!

    I don t feel that fighting for issues like voter apathy, money in politics or inequality will solve the ‘big picture’ problem. We need to figure out how to grow the global economy at no less than 3% per year, everywhere in the world, indefinitely or dream up a whole new spin on human civilization that works and doesn’t lead to disasters like fascism and communism.

    A new enlightenment.


  2. David Houle Reply

    Jack- Apathy and tune-out is one of the biggest reasons we are in the mess we are in. Here is one idea that has become my “soapbox” about voter apathy:

    Provide FREE or deeply discounted high speed wireless to every person who votes, and continues to do so.
    The Founding Fathers and those that followed them created the one room public school system to create a base literate citizenry so that voters can be informed. This idea is just a 21st century version of that.
    David Houle

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.” – Thomas Jefferson