Reaction to John Broderick’s “Make no mistake. America is broken.”

A good friend sent me an opinion piece “Make no mistake. America is broken.” written by John Broderick. [1]  The article provoked several layers of reaction for me.

Gut Reaction

Broderick opens with:
“Make no mistake. America is broken. The entire idea behind democratic rule is subverted every day by a minority of our population who distrust any government they don’t control, ignore science they don’t understand yet don’t like while callously putting others at risk, disparage and restrict voters of a color different than their own and despise immigrants striving to be free.”[1] 

Broderick writes to provoke a gut reaction from the reader. My quick reaction to the first section: the author is dead wrong! I read the rest of the piece rather quickly and my initial reaction was confirmed. Next, my mind flashed to the two systems of mind: System 1 and System 2. Here’s a brief description by by psychologist Daniel Kahneman:
“I describe System 1 as effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps.”[2]

 Broderick invoked my fast System 1 thinking.  The article struck me as an emotional appeal; an “argumentum ad passiones. I spent about a week doing a System 2 analysis for the first two paragraphs of the opinion piece. Readers be warned: this was a detailed dissection by an engineer. Let me proceed with some observations and facts.

Analysis of First  Paragraph

Why did I analyze the first two paragraphs in detail? Broderick starts with his main point: “America is broken.”  He doesn’t define his subject in the first two paragraphs yet this is more than 60% of the piece  (see Appendix A for details).  Instead, he alludes to  “a minority of our population.” The subject in most of the sentences in the first two paragraphs are mainly “They.”  Why not define the subject early? In the third paragraph and beyond, it’s clear that Republicans are the subject of the piece. For me, clarity speaks louder than allusion.

The first two paragraphs are complex. After a punchy start, the third sentence contains six accusations against an unstated minority who : 

  1. Subvert democracy.
  2. Don’t trust the government.
  3. Ignore science.
  4. Put others at risk.
  5. Restrict voters due to race..
  6. Despise immigrants..
    The accusations keep flowing…:
  7. Constitutional views are incorrect.
  8. They live in a different world with the wrong social values.
  9. They don’t honor the sacrifice of other Americans.
  10. They believe the “Big Lie” – Joe Biden’s victory wasn’t legitimate.

I found elements of truth and falsehood in most of the accusations. I started with a detailed, bottom up analysis. I started with a detailed, bottom up analysis; see the addendum. Here’s a summary of my detailed analysis of the first paragraph: 

  •  “The entire idea behind democratic rule is subverted every day…”[1]  
    A majority of one political party is in power for a period of time doesn’t imply that the actions of the minority constitute daily subversion.
  • …by a minority of our population ,…”[1]  
    Assume that Broderick’s undefined use of  “ minority of our population”  and” They” represents Republicans who have voted for members of their party to represent them in Congress and President in 2020. 
  • distrust any government they don’t control,...”[1]
    This is  true for most of the history of our Republic. 
  • ignore science they don’t understand yet don’t like while callously putting others at risk…” [1]
    To echo Richard Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.​” and “there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science.”
  • disparage and restrict voters of a color different than their own…”[1] 
    States can pass voting laws, courts must ensure that requirements of the Constitution and/or Federal law are met. Unsaid is that white Republicans are the disparagers.
  • … and despise immigrants striving to be free.” [1]
    Most  Americans don’t Americans despise immigrants. They do want us to follow our immigration laws and processes.
  • Their view of our Constitution is most often fanciful, contradictory and uninformed and their idea of freedom is twisted and self-absorbed.”[1]
    Ad Hominem argument to attack the views of a group of Americans regarding the Constitution.
  • They live in a self-interested, imaginary world with no social compact and no reciprocal responsibilities.”[1]
     There are both Republicans (‘They”) and Democrats who might fit this description. 
  • They support the Big Lie with zero proof; a Lie that any rational American would reject.”[1]
    “Big Lie” is an emotionally charged term that refers to at least three separate efforts by President Trump and supporters to dispute the 2020 election results. Two efforts were unpopular but legal: election litigation  and objections in Congress to some state returns. Finally, there was illegal rioting at  the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.
  •  “Every federal judge found no evidence because there was none.”[1]
    No evidence isn’t measurable; it’s true Federal judges (69% Republican) voted against election litigation. Also, ignores state election litigation.
  • It is the same Big Lie that even President Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr disowned.”[1]
    True that Barr didn’t support the election litigation 
  • Incredibly, according to some recent polls, sixty percent of Republicans still believe that the election was stolen, too. They have zero proof as well. Do facts matter anymore? Is truth too inconvenient to be honored? [1]
    The assertion is partially correct.  December, 2021 polling  indicates 46% of Republicans believe that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was definitely not legitimate.   
  • For an increasing number of Americans, facts don’t exist or at least facts that don’t serve their ends.”[1]
    Comparing polls between April. 2021 l and December, 2021 – a decreasing not increasing) number of Americans believed that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was not legitimate.

The terms used are emotionally charged; for example: callously, fanciful, twisted, self-absorbed, self-interested. He  also uses  absolute claims: “entire idea behind democratic rule”, “no reciprocal responsibilities”, and “zero proof” are examples. Such language won’t help a reader understand the author’s logic and wisdom. Instead, you are either with Broderick or against him.

The author uses long sentences to make claims. Why do long sentences matter?  They reduce readability. I calculated the Flesch Reading Ease Score [22] for or the six longest sentences. (Details Appendix A: Word Count Analysis)  These sentences range from “Difficult to read” to ‘Extremely difficult to read”  The entire piece also graded out as “Difficult to read”.

Broderick uses charged, hard to read, partly true claims for a purpose.  He wants to convince readers that Republicans are deplorable.  As he states: “Too many Americans live in a conspiracy-laden echo chamber of their own creation”. Echo chambers exist for both Republican and Democratic Americans. He’s fueling  an echo chamber of the opposite polarity.

Analysis of Second  Paragraph

The second paragraph discusses the events of the Jan. 6  U. S. Capitol riots.  Broderick finishes with: “Actions speak louder than words.”  I have to agree. More than 700 rioters have been arrested and 150 have pleaded guilty. 270 rioters face felony charges. [21]  Rioters are being prosecuted, convicted and sentenced. These actions tell me that our judicial system is working. It’s worth noting that 700 criminals out of more than 74 million Republican voters is about 1 in 100,000. Are the crimes of a few to tarnish the millions?

A few salient  points from the second paragraph: 

  • “… and embrace the American flag …. support the police 100 percent. [1]
    Agree with Broderick’s sentiment. It’s terrible to see the US flag misused in riots at the capitol (or the federal courthouse in Portland)
  •  Many of those people presented with clear and graphic proof that misguided Trump supporters attacked our government on January 6th have concocted the bizarre notion that the FBI or Antifa were behind the insurrection.”[1]
    In a poll of Republicans assessing  responsibility for the Jan. 6  Capitol riots, ranked responses by Republicans were 30% Democratic party, 24% U.S. Capitol police, 20% Antifa.
    (Details in Addendum)   

Mr. Broderick asks three important questions in the second paragraph: “How far have we fallen? How dangerous is our descent?  How much destructive nonsense, ill-will and subversive conduct can we tolerate and still sustain democratic rule in America?    I struggle with how to answer. When I look at the degree of polarization, I see that we need to do a lot of work to understand the driving forces between such disconnects.

Some data exists to quantify: How far we have fallen? But first, we might ask: From what have we fallen?  Our republic is never united for long. There are certain events where we come together: World War 2 and 9/11 come to mind. Now, I think our country has fallen into a canyon of polarization and  factionalism. What is a faction? James Madison defines: 

 “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” [23] and Appendix B – Factionalism and  Federalist Papers No. 10

We have been in a deep abyss of factionalism before. Look back from 1967 to 1973: race riots, assassinations, the Vietnam War, Watergate, lack of jobs, inflation all spring to mind. Less factionalism would be better. So, what  can we do? Follow the Constitution and our laws. As James Madison states:

“The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. …. In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.” [23] and Appendix B – Factionalism and  Federalist Papers No. 10

Analysis of Third Paragraph

My analysis of the remainder of Broderick’s piece is less detailed. I used more System 1 thinking and less System 2 for the remainder of this reaction.

In his third paragraph, Broderick finds a target:

It seems “They” equals Republicans, a point of clarity. Broderick told us before that: “They support the Big Lie with zero proof; a Lie that any rational American would reject.”[1] So, I looked at the electoral  vote counting on 6-7 January, 2021. Objections could be raised; these needed to be presented by both a House Representative and a Senator. Representatives raised objections to electoral votes in six states.  Two senators supported objections for two states: Arizona and Pennsylvania, A simple majority of the joint House and Senate would allow the objection to be sustained.[24]

How did it go?   Congress voted on the Arizona objection: 396 voted No, that is to reject the objection. 127 members voted Yes and 7 didn’t vote. It’s interesting to see that 49.2% of Republicans voted No, while 48.8% voted Yes and 1.9% didn’t vote. [Appendix C]

For the Pennsylvania objection: 374 voted No, that is to reject the objection. 145 members voted Yes and 11 didn’t vote.   For the  Republicans: 41.5% voted No, while 55.8% voted Yes and 2.7% didn’t vote. [Appendix C]

Thus, based on the votes during the troubling times of 6th January Capitol riots, most Republicans senators and many representatives didn’t remain silent. The Republican Vice-President Pence certified the election results on 7 January 2021. There was no autocratic rule. Our republic stands.

Analysis of Fourth Paragraph

Broderick asks us: 

“Where have all the statesmen gone? When did truth die? When was finding out who organized and funded the January 6th assault on our free elections a petty partisan exercise to be disparaged by virtually every elected Congressional Republican?”  

To me, leaders are people that speak truth to power. Most Republicans follow the party line. Most Democrats follow the party line too. The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack started with a fight over who could serve. It started as a political duel between Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy. [25][26] Two Republicans took a risk: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. When did truth die? Probably when we ended with a lopsided committee of 2 Republicans and 8 Democrats.

I do see some other leaders on Capitol Hill. The bipartisan group that came up with alternative infrastructure proposal spring to mind. Five Republicans and five Democrats. Here they are: Senators Cassidy, Collins, Manchin, Murkowski, Portman, Romney, Shaheen, Sinema, Tester and Warner. In August, 2021 Democrats and Republicans voted 69-30)  to pass the bill.  After a series of stalling tactics in the House, it was passed in November, 2021 and signed into law by President Biden. So, there’s some proof that there’s leadership on Capitol Hill.[27]

Closing

Broderick states: “Putin must be smiling in Moscow.” I must agree and would add that Xi Jinping is probably dancing a jig in Peking. Our country is in turmoil. Broderick is correct that we need leadership. My biggest disagreement is that we need bipartisan leadership that can break through the current silo mentality.

Let me close by saying thanks to John Broderick, He made me think deeply about our country as we enter 2022. I don’t agree when Broderick states: “Make no mistake. America is broken.” I do think our country is faltering. Here’s my opinion: 

America has run for a long time through some epic challenges. We have almost always had a two party system; think of one party as the left leg and the other as the right leg. You won;t get very far hopping on one leg. To be effective, both legs have to work in harmony.

 Our country has won many  races against strong competitors.  Today, we have stress fracture injuries in both legs. We are hobbling. The race is painful.  We have some hard choices. We can recover from our injuries or press on.  

 We know how to heal, recover and emerge strong. We have done this before. We came back strong after the Civil War, World Wars, the Great Depression, and Vietnam. We went on to win some races.

Another choice is to ignore our injuries.  We can hobble into the future. We will soon stop running. We will stumble and fall. We will  lose  races to our strong competitors.

It’s our choice to make.

John Brew 10 January 2022

Supporting Pages

Addendum with supporting analysis

Appendix A: Word Count Analysis

Appendix B – Factionalism and  Federalist Papers No. 10

Appendix C – Counting of electoral votes and confirmation of the 2020 Presidential election

Notes and Sources

4 thoughts on “Reaction to John Broderick’s “Make no mistake. America is broken.”

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