Our basic system of government is not working. A representative democracy is intended to utilize professional politicians in a system of checks and balances. The reason why we use representatives is to acknowledge that most complex issues are beyond the grasp of the average citizen who must focus his attention on matters not dealing with the operation of the government. The expectation is that the citizens remain informed and use their vote as a general sign of approval/disapproval for policies and behaviors of the elected representatives. The media is the bridge whose job is to help the citizens remain informed by reporting on our representatives.
The system is broken in three main areas:
1) Citizens have shown little interest in news and are more interested in entertainment.
2) The media has chosen to forgo news in favor of delivering entertainment.
3) Politicians have seized upon this trend and chosen to either represent issues via obscure legislation, via appointed agencies, and via propositions.
As I see it, the system has broken down at all layers, but it begins with the citizenry itself. People won't tune into investigative pieces which are not high in entertainment. Really, most people won't digest news which does not come in the form of a 120 character soundbite. People get lots of surface information, but little depth. This is problematic for several reasons. People tend towards over-confidence on their knowledge of issues because they have digested lots of factoids. In current politics, Trump said this or Clinton responded with this is all people get. No depth. No context. No real objective reporting on the issue. Instead of facts, we get a candidate's spin from one of their spokespersons. This is all the average person is willing to digest and when objective reporting occurs, people complain it is biased.
This leads the "news rooms" to forgo actual reporting and investigation with capturing soundbites from the representatives and their opponents. If the majority makes a statement, then it must be reported and then the news must follow with a statement from the other side. None of this is news nor is it useful. It is the willful spreading of propaganda. The citizens should be outraged, but, frankly, it is all they want. If Politician A does something, then the news will report it without actual investigation. They will capture a quote from politician A (or a surrogate) and then get a quote from some Politician anti-A (or his surrogate). Then, if either quote generates some "buzz" (i.e. ratings) it will be repeated. What is, of course missing is any judgement on importance or the idea of getting more information. Rather, the media outlets look to use the story to create entertainment. The talking opinion heads on all the news channels discuss the issue from some ideological perspective. Often, they invite other surrogates to give the viewer more spin. Again, there is no objective journalism being done.
The final issue is how politicians use the existing framework to obscure their own policies and decisions. In order to keep this post from being construed as partisan, I'll use CA state politics and remove any discussion of actual politicians. In CA, one of our legislative tools is the proposition system. Voters can put initiatives on the ballot to create law. Politicians can add items to the ballot too. The legislature uses this to avoid tough decisions. So, for bond measures and tax hikes, the legislature will often put these items on the ballot, but almost always couch the legislation as some sort of health initiative or something for the children. Sometimes, the initiative is so complex there is no reasonable way the average citizen can make an intelligent decision. So, it comes down on who spends the money on ads. The legislation typically uses this to avoid doing their job and making tough decisions. They hide behind the idea of democracy, but this is at odds with the idea of representative democracy. Again, though, it is another pothole in legislative system.
Why do we get candidates like Clinton and Trump? Because we deserve them.
Discuss: How can we fix representative democracy in this country? Is it fixable?