Tag Archives: Elections

Donald Trump, Bullshit Artist, and Sociocracy

Could sociocracy have corrected democracy to prevent the election of Donald Trump, bullshit artist and astoundingly unqualified candidate, as the Republican nominee for President of the United States?
Donald Trump
Americans abroad are pelted with questions about Donald Trump. Is he real? How did he get nominated in a democratic process? Is he evidence of the US abandoning support for equality and freedom around the world? If not, why did 13,681,972 people vote for him?

As the result of a democratic process, the Donald Trump nomination has negative consequences far greater than in the United States. People around the world are fearful and in horror.

Was the process really democratic?

Compared to the democratic process in other countries and in history, yes it was. Despite allegations of “the establishment” trying to control the election, in fact, the establishment would have done a better job if they had. In the Republican Party’s nominating process, each person’s vote was respected equally in every state. Except in the few small populations that use a caucus process, each person was allowed to vote privately, without intimidation. Each candidate was allowed to present their case without fear of reprisal. Each voter had the same access to the same information as other voters.

From a field of 12 candidates who received enough votes to be considered formal contenders, the voters overwhelmingly elected the least qualified to be president. He is also the person most likely to cause harm not only to the internal governance If the US but to its relationships with every other country in the world.

Could this have happened with even a partial adherence to sociocratic principles? We would like to think not, but how?

Transparency, Inclusiveness, and Accountability

The principles of sociocracy are based on the values of transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability. They require decisions to be made with the consent of all they affect, not just the majority. In a national election, of course, consent would be an unrealistic expectation. No one has the amount of time it would take to resolve a national election by that standard. In general, a majority rule is not the best decision-making method, but it is the one that everyone consented to use. Perhaps it is the only possible one in an election involving hundreds of thousands of participants.

Sociocracy requires the organization of decision-makers into decision-making groups, or circles,  that self-organize to produce a decision. Balanced authority linking these circles, for example, between the local Republican parties and the national Republican Party. Neither can dominate the other.

All these conditions were met in this election and to a greater extent than in previous elections of this size. Approximately 42% of the US population of 320 million people are Republicans and could have voted. Registration, although not as transparent as it could be, was open to all Republicans.

There was open discussion between Republicans and Democrats about the pros and cons of each candidate and opportunities for each candidate to respond. Candidates were essentially given equal time in the media. Both candidates and voters could find a forum for expressing their ideas.  Local and national newspapers allowed comments from anyone who wanted to post them. The local talk radio stations and even the national cable television station MSNBC invited all viewers to send them comments. Local libraries have public computers and technical help so everyone has access to online forums.

What was missing?

The organization of the Republican party is not based on groups of people who discuss and deliberate together. Some do, but an individual voter is not required or even expected to discuss the candidates or the issues with others before voting. Voters are not expected to inform themselves.

A major deficit in the election was leadership from experts. In a misguided attempt to allow the election to go forward democratically, the leadership was not forceful enough in noting Trump’s lack of qualifications. In some instances, it was the result of intimidation by Trump’s power. Despite his poor business practices, he is wealthy and contributes to many election campaigns. He also awards favors to those who like him, such as free visits to his many magnificent hotels and golf courses. These include his Mir-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, which is members only and those members with a Trump Card receive  special privileges.

However, the lack of personal intervention by Republican leaders could have been offset by a job description. In sociocratic elections, adopting a job description is the first step. Voters are expected to measure their nominee against the requirements of the job and to defend their choice on that basis.

With no job description, the election process was lacking a rational measurement. How do you judge the appropriateness of a candidate without a clear statement of the office’s responsibilities and expectations? The lack of a job description was largely what made Donald Trump possible. The only surprise is that a Trump hasn’t happened sooner.

Donald Trump, Bullshit Artist

This week the highly respected Indian American journalist  Fareed Zukaria discussed Donald Trump in his weekly column in the Washington Post, “The Unbearable Stench of Trump’s BS” and on his weekly television program on CNN, “Trump as a Bullshit Artist” (a video is also posted).

Photo of Fareed ZakariaZakaria was asked to explain why Donald Trump could say something that had been proven false and then excuse it with “a caustic tweet and an indignant interview.” Zakaria’s response was because he is a “bullshit artist.” Zakaria referred to the work of American philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “On Bullshit”:

Harry Frankfurt, an eminent moral philosopher and former professor at Princeton, wrote a brilliant essay in 1986 called “On Bullshit.”  In the essay, Frankfurt distinguishes crucially between lies and BS: “Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point. . . . In order to invent a lie at all, [the teller of a lie] must think he knows what is true.”

But someone engaging in BS, Frankfurt says, “is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all . . . except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.” Frankfurt writes that the BS-er’s “focus is panoramic rather than particular” and that he has “more spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the ‘bullshit artist.’ ”

Zakaria describes how Trump has done this all his life.

He boasts — and boasts and boasts — about his business, his buildings, his books, his wives. Much of it is a concoction of hyperbole and falsehoods. And when he’s found out, he’s like that guy we have all met at a bar who makes wild claims but when confronted with the truth, quickly responds, “I knew that!”

Cartoon of a circus barkerTrump also never takes it back. He moves to the next boast. In the bar, at a wedding, dinners, and parties, this is fun. This is the guy at the center of the show. His performance before thousands of people at his campaign events is that of circus barker, a man performing to entice his audience to vote for my show. Vote for me. I’ll make life perfect. Like you’ve never experienced before.

Is Trump a Two-Headed Monster?

People who have been friends of Trump’s for many years say they like him and that he is a good guy. He’s fun, he’s generous, he’s fair. In private, he never behaves as if believes the same views he expresses in his campaign speeches. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked why she went to Trump’s daughter’s wedding  with 500 friends and family members, she responded, “Because he’s fun.”

The wedding  invitation and Clinton’s positive response were before Trump became the Republican nominee and Clinton’s fierce critic. Their daughters are also friends.

This is typical of other responses by his (former) friends. They have also found him to be kind and personable. They are astounded by his pronouncements from the podium to ban Muslims, protect gun rights, ignore international treaties, and write-off our national debt. They say that just isn’t the Donald they know.

Is he a two-headed monster, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? No the theory of the bullshitter says. He performs to his audience. Journalists embedded with his campaign say he has an uncanny ability to read the audience and craft his message to the moment. There are not two people, or three or six.

Like a lie that would require fine distinctions and precise observance between the characteristics of his different personalities and  positions.  It would require rationality.

Not irrationality, but an art

Trump’s speeches aren’t rational. They make no sense. He double talks. He spouts imaginary data. Even contradicts himself from one speech or  interview to the next. That is the art of performance. He seduces his audience not to believe, but to be entertained so they will attend his parties. And sign on to less than realistic business deals and to trust him even though his record of success is questionable at best.

In Trump’s view, our government is a circus and its leaders as clowns.  As all BS-ers do,  he is creating the circus and the clowns. Like the Music Man, he is promising to fix it. As if the Circus Barker in a small circus can become a great leader in international politics and create a lush economy. He thinks his bullshit will work the way it always has. Only now, ten weeks before the election have leaders have started to speak out and he has crossed so many lines of decency, that his poll numbers are beginning to drop.

Journalists and opposing candidates have been frustrated at not being able to pin Trump down with the truth. They can’t because truth is not his concern. To lie, you have to know the truth. He doesn’t care about the truth.  Fareed  quotes the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt again when he  says:

Liars and truth-tellers are both acutely aware of facts and truths. They are just choosing to play on opposite sides of the same game to serve their own ends. The BS artist, however, has lost all connection with reality. He pays no attention to the truth. “By virtue of this,” Frankfurt writes, “bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.” … Standard rules of fact, truth, and reality have disappeared in this campaign.

Have you noticed how uninteresting Trump’s rallies have become since he has dropped the circus barker’s showmanship? He has tried to adopt a more conventional speech-making style while saying the same things. He is a candidate, no longer a circus barker, and is no longer entertaining.

Harry Frankfurt’s article “On Bullshit” was published as a book of the same title in 2005. A copy of the article in PDF: Frankfurt On Bullshit

Wikipedia’s entry on the Results of the Republican Party Presidential Primaries includes a detailed analysis of the process that nominated Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. The results are given state by state, candidate by candidate.


Elections by Money


The only way to stop elections by money, the spiral of overwhelming political campaign expenses, is to stop political campaigns. We elect people to do the work of governance, not to prove themselves experts at printing signs, inventing slogans and soundbites, and speaking at campaign financing dinners. Campaigns are a major distraction from quality leadership. They are undemocratic and produce undemocratic governments. Political campaigns are about the rich. What the rich want, what the rich will pay for, and what the rich get for their money.

Rich is relative, of course. In a local campaign a person doesn’t have to be as rich as a Mitt Romney, or even a Hillary Clinton. They just have to be richer than the other candidates or rubbing elbows with people richer than the people with whom other candidates rub elbows.

Bad Ecology, Socially and Environmentally

In the meantime, landscapes are littered and the sewer systems clogged with campaign signs and flyers. Campaign advisors and pollsters work to trick the public into thinking their candidate will cure whatever the voters need cured, and do it cheaper than it can be done. Television, radio, and newspapers get richer as campaign ads flood the market and provide guaranteed income for the media, a media which is increasingly owned by a small number of rich people. Candidates spend more time at super-expensive dinners that only the rich can afford than they spend talking to the people they supposedly represent.

A political campaign based on the quality of the candidate doesn’t exist and may never have. Quality campaigns do not guarantee the quality of the candidate and excellent candidates can run horrible campaigns. Who wants to elect a campaign?

None of this produces better governance.

The Role of Government

The role of government is to organize and manage our collective resources for the good of all. To establish codes of conduct that ensure fair play and safety for all. And to oversee the use and distribution of those resources and the enforcement of those codes of behavior fairly and equally for all.  To create a democracy.

Peer Elections

Tinkering with campaign financing is as distracting and unproductive as the need for financing campaigns. The need is the core issue. To create a deeper democracy, we need to eliminate the necessity for campaign financing.

Candidates should be elected by people who know their work and are in the best position to know how well they serve our collective interests. Peers should elect peers.

This would create a system in which people vote for people they know and not for people they don’t know. Sociocratic elections are the only democratic elections.

Three Principles of Sociocracy

The numeral 3 in orange.Three Principles vs Four

There were originally three principles of sociocracy: (1) Consent to policy decisions, (2) circles arranged in a circular hierarchy to make policy decisions, and (3) double linking between circles. The election of people to roles and responsibilities was intended to be a part of the first principle of consent.

Allocation of resources involves the allocation of human resources as well as materials, machinery, space, and money. With three principles of sociocracy, this was not well understood. Organizations were still using traditional methods for hiring. This was often done by the operations leader or the operations leader combined with interviews by a subset of future coworkers. Consent decision-making, however, is dependent on being able to consent to those with whom one makes decisions. It is logical that all members of a circle must consent to the choice of a person to assume a particular responsibility. The fourth principle was added to ensure that these were consent decisions.

Working Memory

In the studies of working memory and the synthesis of ideas, three concepts have been found to be easiest for most people to comprehend. Many people can remember up to seven items in a list and train themselves to remember many, many more. This is  function of long-term memory, however, not working memory. Working memory refers to our ability to simultaneously examine a number of concepts and create a synthesis amongst them. If you found you could remember the first three principles and their relationships, but stumbled over the fourth, you are in good company.

Elections for Allocation of Resources

The fourth principle is also not the same in substance as the first three. The first three are conceptual and relate to how people in an organization structure policy decision-making. The fourth principle is a process for making choices between several possible options. It can be used equally well to choose between the purchase of large machinery, hiring a new CEO, or choosing a new program. There is nothing in the process that makes it particular  to the choice of a person for a job or a role in the organization.

Revision of We the People

Thus in the next revision of We the People, with Endenburg’s approval we will be referring to three principles of sociocracy, not four. And more clearly explaining what the allocation of resources, including the assignment of people to roles and responsibilities, is a policy decision and requires consent by circle members.

For an overview of the studies of memory and of working memory, see the Wikipedia article. Working Memory.


Is Voting Meaningless?

This post is not intended to discourage voting. It only addresses the fact that our votes are not as powerful as they are often portrayed by political parties.

The peer-to-peer election process is not about voting. It is designed to identify the best available person to do the job. Those with the most reliable information about the job and about the people qualified to do it are responsible for nominating and electing the best person. The preferred method of deciding on that person is consent by all those present but voting is also an option. Crucial is that the people who are electing the person have something at stake. Their own jobs will be on the line if the peer they chose doesn’t perform their job well enough for the whole electing body to perform well.

The Right to Vote Is Meaningless Without the Right to Nominate

Multiple lines of people waiting to vote.

In local, state, and national elections, the right to vote doesn’t mean voters will have good choices when voting. The authority to cast ballots doesn’t include the authority to nominate. Campaigns are so expensive that the political party system controls nominations. They often come down to the lowest common denominator because the better qualified people fail to gain popularity with one faction or another.

Political parties and well funded special interest groups control information. They cloud public opinion and determine first who is nominated and then who will “win.” Voting is irrelevant in this process except at the most mundane level. Which person has turned off the voters the least? Which is the least incompetent? Campaigns try their best to control that which further diverts the focus from qualifications to irrelevancy.

Too Many Voters Means No Meaningful Debate Over Qualifications

The information voters need to make a good decision is hidden in layers of bureaucracy and campaign spin. Since there is no forum in which hundreds of thousands of voters can sit together to debate the arguments. They must align themselves with political parties in hopes that the parties will surface the best people.

The political parties are filled with people who work for their own interests as party officials. Others for a particular party hopeful who is also their boss. Or a special interest group that the hopeful has promised to support, lavishly. Campaign workers take pride in being clever and getting their person elected at all costs because they win if their boss wins.

Voting Starts with a Job Description

The peer election process begins with a job description. When was the last time you participated in an election that started with a job description? As I was writing, I realized I’ve never seen a job description for an elected government office. How do we properly evaluate performance without a job description?

Presenting Arguments in a Forum Where They Can Be Tested

In a peer election nominations are judged not by the viewing audience or the party officials but the people who understand the job best. In a peer election, nominations are made, challenged, and defended. The election is determined on the quality of the evidence, not the quality of the campaign literature. The people in the room who are electing are the same people who know where the bodies are buried, and not buried.

Debate is about understanding and rebutting arguments. It requires skill and intelligence. What we call debates in the United States presidential elections are not debates. They are staged performances in which the candidates have spent hours learning to duck questions and make jabs at the other candidates. Studying their make-up and consulting with experts on wardrobe choices. In turn, we applaud their ability to make quick retorts and not stumble over their words.

Common Aims and Consent

Using consent decision-making requires a common aim. The job description provides that in part. If a body has been able to consent to a job description, they can then move toward the aims stated there when measuring candidates. Freed of the responsibility for financing their next campaign, peers are more likely to be faithful to the needs of the job.

Consent is not the only decision-making method to be used in peer elections. Preference voting is far preferable to majority vote and still avoids the issue of one person or persons not sharing the aims of others. Movement forward is important.

Successive Approximations

If consent can’t be achieved, voting by peers at least ensures that the voters will be more cognizant of reality than the great mass of voters who have little access to accurate information and can’t spend their lives trying to acquire it. Successive approximations is the most we can expect when attempting to adopt more rational practices.

By insisting that everyone has a vote, whether they understand the vote or not, we have made those votes meaningless.

The Sociocratic Election Process, Peer to Peer Elections

The sociocratic election process is used to assign people to jobs, choose operations leaders, and elect representatives to policy-making teams. It can also be used when choosing between any of several options.

As groups of people who work together toward a common aim, circles have both a vested interest in selecting the best person for a job and the most information about who that might be.

The Election Process

The circle meets for the purpose of deciding who is the best available person for a job. Election is by the consent of all members present or their consent to using a method other than consent. Alternate methods may include range voting, preference voting, majority vote, etc. The group may also consent to delegating the final decision.

1. The election leader reads the job description.

The job description defines the aim of the election. As an aim, it establishes the basis for argument and consent.

The group may have previously defined the functions and tasks of the person to be elected and consented to the job description, or it may be done in the same meeting. The election leader may have been previously elected, may be the regular leader of the group, or may be elected in the same meeting. This is determined by the size and complexity of the organization and the nature of the election, whether, for example, it is expected to be highly competitive or is a key position.

2. Nominations are submitted in writing as simply “X nominates X.”

Circle members may nominate themselves. They may nominate someone who is not a member of the circle or nominate an “outside search” for someone not currently a member of the circle.

3. Members give their arguments for the person they nominated. 

All arguments for one nominee are presented in the same round, asking the additional nominators if they have arguments to add to those of the first person to present. The election leader should monitor whether arguments are based on the job description and the ability of the person to fulfill its requirements and stop the presenter if they are not.

4. Nominators change or withdraw nominations.

After arguments in favor of nominations are presented, members are given the opportunity to change or withdraw their nominations.

5. Open discussion or rounds on the qualifications of nominated members.

Depending on the size of the circle, members may do rounds to discuss the candidates or have open discussion facilitated by the election leader. At this time any concerns about or objections to candidates may be addressed by the candidate or other by other members of the circle. When appropriate, the election leader may suggest that one person seems to be the best candidate. The group must consent to this decision.

6. Candidates accept or decline.

When one candidate has received the consent of all members present, that candidate is asked if they will accept the position. Candidates are not allowed to decline before this point because some candidates migh decline prematurely for fear of standing for election or inappropriately believing themselves to be unqualified. On hearing why their peers have elected them, candidates are more likely to accept.

Candidates may also accept with provisions, such as a modification in the job description, additional financial or personal support, etc. The group must decide to accept these changes by consent. If they do not, another round may be conducted to elect another of the candidates nominated or a new election conducted.

When the Election Process Produces Bad Results

There are several points at which a peer-to-peer election process can go awry:

1. Failure to read the job description or adhere to the job definition.

Not reading the job description will send the discussion off in the direction of favoritism, sympathy, path of least resistance, etc. The election leader should remind members of the job requirements when necessary. If an alternate decision-making method is used that requires a paper ballot, the job description should be included on the ballot.

During the election process, it may become clear that the job description needs to be amended. After amendment during discussion, the nominations round may need to be repeated.

2. Arguing against rather than for a nominee.

When arguments are given, they must be in favor of a nominee, not against another nominee. The election leader should stop any negative arguments or comparisons. During open discussion or discussion rounds, any person may raise concerns about a nominee based on previous actions or statements. Any other person present including the nominee may address those concerns. Both concerns and responses must be based on actual events or data, not potential actions or projected data or personal beliefs about the nature of the job or the person. In some contexts, personal feelings may be appropriate as data.

3. Asking the nominee before they are elected if they will serve.

Before an election some people will privately ask a person how they feel about being nominated, but generally this should be discouraged. The election is about the job to be done. The process is designed to determine the best available person for the job and to assure that person they are the most qualified. Circle members generally know, when a person will be unable to serve for personal reasons or because of other professional obligations. Asking them if they are willing to serve, short-circuits the process.

4. Attempting to squelch campaigning before an election.

Elections by consent provide their own protection against electioneering. If the group is truly a group of peers, their sense of each other will be determined by their experiences working together. It would be unusual to be able to change this perception by campaigning. Efforts to stop campaigning will distract the focus and place energy on the wrong issues.

5. Attempting consent without the conditions for consent.

Elections by consent are only workable when all members of a circle share a common aim, all participating members are willing to discuss together until objections to nominees are resolved, and all members consent on who may participate in the election.

To repeat, consent elections require a common aim, commitment to resolving objections, and defined decision-makers.