Has America become a nation in which small groups of its citizens exercise oppressive majority control? 2016 may be the year special interest groups became what James Madison, in his Federalist #10, described as “factions.” Even in 1787, Madison seems to have seen our day.
In the marketing world, a company’s success is always defined by how effectively it manages to convince the buying public that it keeps control of something the rest of the public wants. Companies therefore brand themselves as uniquely qualified to give you what you are willing to spend your money to obtain. The trick to making their marketing successful is to persuade the public that the company is actually bigger than it really is, and has more unique control over its product than it really has.
In 2016 political America, special interest groups are like companies, and the government is the buyer. The product they claim to sell: victimhood. The price they require of their buyer: power over legislation. There is nothing that will motivate a legislator to pump out law after law more than the prize of being known as having rescued a victim. These laws are often strikingly similar to each other – like barely unique widgets produced in the same factory.
Tactics used by these special interest groups are the same as those used by their commercial counterparts. Today these activist are fond of calling the groups they purport to represent “communities.” Activists, just like marketing companies, attempt to make their groups look bigger than they really are. For instance, the “Hispanic Community” may actually consist of group subsets (Mexicans, Chileans, Brazilians) with nothing more in common than a language (and often not even that). “LGBT” is a special interest group consisting of four different subset groups whose interests are likely not nearly as common as their activists like to suggest. Yet when an activist seeks the help of a government representative to rescue a subset, that government representative’s failure to respond as the activist demands labels the representative as against the entire special interest group. A legislator failing to vote for a law supporting an initiative intended to help transgender people is, for instance, against the entire LGBT community. These legislators know that even debating the merits of legislation directed at a subset carries with it the risk of being labeled “against” the entire special interest group. There is no room for debate.
If this author may say so, as a marketing tool it is actually brilliant. Insidiously brilliant.
James Madison may be the genesis of the American emergence of special interest groups. In his treatise known as “Federalist #10,” Madison defined as a virtue of a Union the ability to “break and control the violence of faction.” Everyone in the latter 1700s was painfully aware at the time what factions were. Fortunately, however, Madison decided to define faction as he meant it:
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.
Legislators, and even judges, now react to special interest group petitions with exponentially sweeping legislation. Many in America have noticed resulting fundamental changes to over 200 years of law. Resistance, even in the form of attempting open debate, is sometimes met with arguably draconian punitive measures. The result: America now may be close to consisting of a majority who are either part of the special interest group or who, by their silence because they’re unwilling to debate it, support it. Madison seemed to predict this in his Federalist #10 by describing these legislative reprisals against those who dare to oppose as:
… measures … too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.
Have some special interest groups become what Madison described as the “overbearing majority”? Are these groups now factions? The questions are legitimate and deserve open and honest debate. Good luck seeing such debate, however.