November 17, 2020

KNKX, James Madison, and Mobs

James Madison, the primary author of the U.S. Constitution, knew that all democracies had a serious vulnerability.

A vulnerability revealed by his study of how democracies fail, and discussed in several of his writings, including Federalist No. 10.

James Madison

Madison found that most democratic societies were ended by mobs, or what he often called factions

Such mobs or factions, often representing the majority, inevitably attempted to suppress differing viewpoints, gathered state power to themselves, and used intimidation against opponents. He noted that democracies rarely die from outside attack; instead, they die from the dominance of an unfettered majority, which often falls under the control of an authoritarian leader or leadership group.

Madison attempted to design the new Federal government of the United States to lessen the potential for such mob power.

Power was divided between the States and the Federal government.  In the Federal government, power was separated into three independent branches.    The U.S. would be a republic where voters would act through representatives, an indirect form of governance that would lessen the ability of mobs to act rashly.  Mobs would also be slowed by the huge size of the nation, with different regions having differing viewpoints.  Communication was slow, so it would take time for any major changes to be considered and effected.

Unfortunately, unforeseen developments have lessened the "mob cooling" of the Constitution.  The nation has self-segregated into politically homogeneous zones (coastal urban Democrats and rural/heartland Republicans), where similar-thinking majorities can dominate.  The internet and social media have allowed the development of uniform viewpoint echo chambers and new tools for intimidation (e.g., Twitter).  Political parties, which in the past were "big tents" of varying viewpoints, became more monolithic in ideas and goals.  Mobs, comprised of large groups of like-thinking individuals, have become an increasing threat to American democracy.  Even on college and university campuses, mobs have gained influence.


Recent Mob Challenges to Democracy

If Madison was alive today, he would note new examples of the destruction of democracy by mobs, and his fear for the American experiment would be manifest.

Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, would be a potent example.  For 15 years, a democratic government (the Weimar Republic) was in place.  During its later years, the National Socialists (Nazis) gained ground and used violent henchmen (the brownshirts) to intimidate the opposition.  After Hitler became Chancellor, a majority of the legislature willingly give him dictatorial powers through the "Enabling Law."   This loss of democracy was the reason I mentioned Nazi Germany in my August blog regarding violent rioters.

Madison would have seen other examples of democracy on the ropes.  Here in the U.S. during the McCarthy era of the late 1940s and early 1950s, freedom of speech was undermined, with people being fired or worse because of their political beliefs.  Blacklists prevented individuals with "the wrong views" from working in media and the entertainment industry. Faculty at the University of Washington with politically unpopular views lost their jobs, with the remaining faculty being forced to sign loyalty oaths.  The majority of Americans supported many of these acts.  Madison would have been outraged.

Senator Joseph McCarthy
Some of his approaches are being applied by the mob in 2020

More recently, here in Seattle, violent rioters, many with a political agenda, damaged buildings, set fires, attacked individuals, and intimidated politicians and our police chief by harassing their families.  This was done with a clear political message, one implicitly supported by a majority of the Seattle City Council members, who pushed for defunding police and removing penalties for serious offenses.  This is the kind of majority political faction connected with thuggish violence that Madison would have immediately recognized and opposed.

KNKX Management Surrenders to the Mob

Some of you may ask why I continue to discuss the situation at KNKX.  The reason: if any group should be in the front ranks in standing up to the mob, of protecting diversity of viewpoint and freedom of expression, it should be a Public Radio station. 

But this has not been the case at KNKX.   KNKX management appeased the mob several times during my tenure at the station, strengthening the worst elements and weakening our democratic civil society.

I saw the surrender to the mob first hand.

First, it was climate change.  Last spring, a mob of climate activists, including Seattle350, forwarded a petition to KNKX that complained that my viewpoints on climate presented in this blog (which reflect peer-reviewed scientific literature) were not consistent with their viewpoints on climate change, and that KNKX needed to make changes. 



 They wanted me off the air. Silenced. And they thought they could pressure KNKX to do so.

KNKX management, instead of sticking up for science and viewpoint diversity, decided to appease the mob.   KNKX took the extraordinary stepping of getting my  science "evaluated" and they selected a MEMBER of the  complaining group (Seattle350) to do the evaluating.  Furthermore, they paid a substantial sum to get the past national NPR public editor (Elizabeth Jensen)  to evaluate me.  Not surprisingly, my science was found to be sound and Ms. Jensen did not find anything that was problematic.   KNKX management, reticent of sticking up for principle (like protecting diversity of viewpoint), thought they had purchased "peace" and protection from the mob.

But the mob would soon be back.

Rioters and Brownshirts

In a blog in August,  I described the failure of the Seattle City Council and noted several similarities between the violent rioters of 2020 and the brownshirts of 1920's/1930's Germany (I have studied that period in some depth and believe that the similarities are profound).  I never mentioned peaceful protestors who were concerned about excessive police violence--my blog was about violent and destructive rioters.  

The mob, who evidently were sympathetic to the rioters, was outraged with my blog and they surged on KNKX management, demanding my expulsion from the station.  KNKX panicked and made the immediate decision to do what the online mob demanded--end my tenure at KNKX.   KNKX management was so desperate they violated our written contract.  The mob won.

In the 1950s, radio stations removed on-air personalities if they were blacklisted by the anti-communist mob. KNKX did essentially the same thing.  Just a different mob--one on the political left.

How can our democracy be safe if mobs can demand that a National Public Radio station fire anyone who has a private viewpoint different from theirs? 

Totally chilling of the foundations of freedom of speech and viewpoint. KNKX management failed in one of their most important responsibilities:  to ensure that American citizens can consider a wide range of ideas and viewpoints. You can imagine what James Madison would think.

But you don't have to imagine what KNKX listeners thought.  They not only wrote hundreds of emails letters opposing the surrender, but they have abandoned the radio station in droves. As KNKX has reduce diversity of ideas, their listenership has sagged dramatically.  

Here is a plot of share of the Seattle radio market enjoyed by KNKX and KUOW, Seattle's other public radio station. Back in April, KUOW had a 5.5% market share, while KNKX had a 4.0% market share.  But as the summer progressed, KUOW has surged to over a 6% market share, while KNKX has plunged to 2.2%. Almost, three times more people listen to KUOW now.  KNKX has now fallen to 22nd place in the Seattle market, just ahead of a Christa Ministries station.


This drop is not surprising.  KNKX was saved and folks listened to it because it provided diversity of programming and ideas compared to KUOW.   But as KNKX has rejected diversity in ideas, listenership have gone back to KUOW.  There are costs to appeasing the mob.

The Acute Danger of Mobs to Our Democracy

The American people, at a very fundamental level, know that mobs are dangers to our civil society.  It is one reason that they often split their votes, allowing the power of government to be split among parties.  Tolerance of mob violence by some over the summer led to substantial damage to the Democratic party, with dramatic losses in the House of Representatives and in local governments throughout the nation.  The American people know that groups that surrender to and empower mobs are undermining American democracy.

He warned about the power of mobs

Abraham Lincoln understood the danger of violent mobs and warned how they could undermine trust and belief in a democratic society:

"....there is, even now, something of ill omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice...Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the everyday news of the times.....men (and women) that love tranquillity, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted and their lives endangered … become tired of, and disgusted with, a government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit, the strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed"

Abraham Lincoln was stating something important and perceptive:  when people no longer feel secure and safe in their businesses and homes, they may be ready to give up some of their freedoms to buy the safety they crave.  This has happened time and again throughout history. The only other option is to close their businesses, sell their homes, and move to a safer venue. 

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42 comments:

  1. Cliff, your comments are good and on target. The move to do away with the electoral college is another example. Direct democracy would be another example of mob rule. It is sad we have gotten to the place where there are few places one can have a civil discussion of differing viewpoints. I believe that social media which has separated our personal selves from our virtual selves has been one of the primary drivers that exacerbates this problem. Thank you for your thoughts on this.

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  2. F*CK YEAH. Blessed to have freedom of speech, those don't understand need to acknowledge it before it's too late.

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  3. I honestly don’t think Americans are that far off from each other overall, but the media, social media, and academia are so far left that they have split this nation into irreconcilable factions. Those on the left cannot comprehend a God fearing, freedom loving American mentality, and write them off as backward, uneducated, hateful deplorables. We must find a middle ground without silencing thoughtful yet contradictory opinions.

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    1. Funny that your so-called "God fearing, freedom loving American mentality" has chosen, of all people, Donald Trump as it's physical embodiment...

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  4. Oh Cliff...you have turned into such a bully. I am glad that the leaders of the public radio station let you go. I actually was on your side at first but not anymore.

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    1. Christina, you are so wrong here. If you can actually find anything in what he said that leads you to believe that he is a bully or off base in any way, you are part of the problem. Ask yourself what about what he said actually makes him a bully. I have a feeling you'll have a tough time answering that. If anything, Cliff and others like him are being bullied. The radio station was bullied, so they in turn bullied Cliff. Bullying is rampant, not just in schools. "Cancel culture", which I find reprehensible, is a form of bullying. Online trolls not liking what someone says bully companies into firing them, sponsors into dropping them, and/or just plain assassinating their personality. This is a form of censorship, which goes against the idea of democracy and what this country stands for. And it's happening unchecked. Think hard about who the real bullies are..

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    2. So Catguy, what you’re essentially saying is that since Cristina doesn’t agree with you or with Cliff, she is, by definition, wrong.
      .... You might want to re-examine the concepts of bullying and of free speech. While looking in a mirror.

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  5. I hear you. But. NO mention at all of the current occupant in the White House and his sycophants in Congress calling for ACTUAL overthrow of the US democratic system and inciting violent mob intimidation in our cities RIGHT NOW? The parallels you're making with Weimar Germany are exactly what the Republican party is doing as we speak. You make some good nuanced points and you did get a bad deal but you're missing the fascist forest for the trust fund anarchist trees.

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    1. And exactly how likely is it that the current occupant of the White House will remain there come January 21st? Once he's gone, are you going to start paying attention to the budding totalitarians surrounding us from the left?

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  6. Very true, people need to start realizing these truths.

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  7. The amendment to the Constitution providing for direct election of Senators seriously undermined the original republican system of governance of the United States. Reversing that error and providing the Electoral College with greater independence would go a long way to reducing the current dangers to our republic.

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  8. Excellent, well-conceived essay, Cliff. Those who were "triggered" by your personal opinions on your BLOG and successfully got you booted from KNKX eschew logic and reason in favor of emotion-driven zealotry. Their behavior is of Orwellian enforcers, purveyors of the decidedly *illiberal* notion that dissent and diversity must be quieted, that you must adhere to the groupthink of the "woke" conformity cult.

    And that's exactly what the "woke" branch of leftism represents: a secular cult, composed of herd-mentality lemmings, manifesting and demanding conformist groupthink, whilst marching themselves toward the cliffs, unashamedly willing to trample capital-C Cliff along the way, along with anyone else who dares differ from their diabolically toxic orthodoxy. You're right: Madison, Lincoln and Churchill would be aghast at the resulting hideous transgressions against individual liberty -- along with MLK and others who properly advocated peaceful methods of social change.

    Further: James Jones, David Koresh, Asahara Shoko, and Charles Manson would envy the vast pool of gullible zealots easily assimilated to the "woke" herd, and willingly manipulated by its academic and political puppetmasters. The difference here is that there's no one all-powerful leader (yet) that we can point to as the head of the snake, but instead, a nebulous dispersion of humanities academics mutually peer-reviewing (rubber-stamping) each other's "critical theory" subjectivities. That, in turn, lends a deeply deceiving illusion of credibility for dangerous radicalization of followers. And in the patterns of the late Saul Alinsky's guiding principles, follow they do, spreading the poison through curricula, media and entertainment, and harming countless freedom-loving individuals along the way.

    It takes courage to stand up to such a vast secular cult, especially in one of its geographic hotspots. Thank you for doing so.

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    1. Plenty of people have expressed their concerns about our current president. I suppose Cliff could add his thoughts on that, but at this point, it wouldn't be much more than an imperceptible additional volume added to the noise, and a lot of it is outside his field of expertise and experience.

      His radio show and the actions of people he worked with to retaliate against people not only with differing views, but even with views that are insufficiently compliant with expectations is within his expertise and experience. And it is a topic affected by less overall noise where his input can have meaningful effect.

      I for one and glad to see Dr. Mass focusing his individual efforts on the reactive aspects of Seattle politics and its influence on local organizations like KNKX.

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  11. Well said cliff and spot on. Agree 1,000,000%

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  12. It's worse than you state, Cliff. Search engines are clearly throttling the ranking of websites that promote alternative views. The agendas of the fringe left are what people find in their searches.

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    1. Thankfully there are some good alternative search engines out there that won't gather data on you and sell it while at the same time limiting the info you can find on something they deem unacceptable.

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  13. I like discussions about weather. This, not so much.

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  14. I had sent out an email to some of the folks in my homeowner association a couple of days ago, giving the new people a list of local resources for in-depth weather info, and as usual, I put Cliff's blog up at #1.

    Boy, did I hear about that. People followed my link, only to find a political diatribe instead of detailed, local weather knowledge as I'd promised. (They could have dug deeper, but first impressions sometimes rule. And politics is pretty raw lately.) And my neighborhood is mostly filled with political moderates, mostly retired, from either STEM, medicine or law.

    I guess when people are directed to a place for weather knowledge, that's what they expect to find.

    Unfortunately, I've had to amend the email for my neighborhood association to warn people to skip past the political stuff to look for the awesome regional weather info.

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    1. Odd that moderates of any sort would object when someone worries about mobs trashing his city, and Cancel Culture getting people fired for thought crimes. Caring about your city when some people are trying to burn it down isn't a "diatribe," it is a simple sense of responsibility.

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  15. I sympathize with your plight at KNKX, but I think if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that the greater danger to our democracy is to be found in the knee-jerk responses from a majority of commentors here who have "a God fearing, freedom loving American mentality" as one of them said. I fear this "true believer" mentality far more than a few misguided misfits getting their violent jollies in the streets.

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  16. Filthy lucre played its part in the KNKX decision too...

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  17. It was the right call for KNKX to give you the boot.

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  18. Well said. Mobs are terrifying and our political decisions should not be based on what mobs want.

    The Founders were right, and so are you.

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  19. Cliff, I find your argument clear and persuasive. Thank you for having the courage to speak out. For those commenters who object that the current white house crowd is also flawed, that may be (not that there's any question) but that in no way weakens Cliff's message. We need to focus more on the direction we want all of our society to move, and less on putting down the other side.

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  20. Please explore what gives rise to mobs in your next post.

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  21. I worry about whether the US can remain viable with two camps yelling at each other and distrusting each other and their motives. I hope that some way can be found that people of opposing views begin accepting that it's OK for people to have opposing views and start talking rationally with each other.


    I don't understand the KNXX action nor your reaction - another example of warring camps unwilling to discuss and accept that people can have opposing views.

    Strangely, it *seems to me*, that both you and others have agreed that climate change is happening and we should be reacting to it. But it *seems to me* that the difference is in applying rigorous science and proposing carefully thought solutions as opposed to non-fact based science and repetition of uninformed opinion (including those on both of the extreme sides of the climate change question - both the deniers and the those that are overly careless in their assertions.)

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  22. The Founders really did put considerable effort at setting up ways for the minority to check and balance the majority. However, if I recall, another worry of the Founders was that once in power, a faction could essentially use the democratic system to perpetuate their own power. Sounds a lot like gerrymandering and voter suppression would qualify here. Not to mention talk (fortunately by just a few people) of directly overriding the will of the voters via the state legislatures--which would be technically legal! Democracy as we know it is definitely under threat from both "sides."

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  23. I'm betting Cliff would also call the King-assassination riots a mob too. Why doesnt he liken the civil rights movement and the violent riots that expedited and actualized the Civil Rights Act to the brownshirts?

    If you're so convinced that there are "profound" similarities, Cliff, perhaps you should make those profound similarities abundantly clear, because every argument I've seen from you about how they are similar is very simple, and really quite bad. The violent rioters were not state sanctioned agents (brownshirts) targeting a specific ethnic group, or other social class.

    Elected officials agreeing to "defund" the police are not appeasing violent rioters (which even you say were a small minority of the BLM protestors), they were LISTENING TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS.

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    1. Colin.... Civil rights were won by non-violence....you remember Dr. Martin Luther King? He was the one the brought progress, not those pushing violence. What did the violence get us? Richard Nixon. And if the violence continues, you may get Trump again in 2024. Violence does not get allies, it gets fear and people will do what is necessary to stop the fear....cliff

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  24. Freedom of speech as enshrined in the Bill of Rights means that the government cannot punish you for your speech. It doesn't shield you from criticism or from losing your platform. I don't necessarily agree with the remarks above that you should "stick with the weather," but do acknowledge that there is hazard in straying into more controversial areas.

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  25. Thanks for your very thoughtful piece, Cliff.

    It is both comforting and frightening to realize that human behavior doesn't change. There have always been people who incite others to behave badly. Joseph McCarthy is a good example. But there have always been those who stand up to them. I am hopeful that your voice will be heard and make a difference.

    Oddly, now that I think of it, everyone remembers Joseph McCarthy. Hardly anyone remembers the guy who said "Have you no shame?"

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  26. Agree, CM. Nothing to really add. Other than it's been disheartening to see society cave to the far left. PC run amok, cancel culture the result.

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  27. Facts Mr. Mass. Bravo to you good sir for your critical thinking. God bless you.

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  28. I think it's great that you're willing to keep speaking out about the vital need for diverse ideas on public radio. If history has taught us anything it's that no good comes from curbing honest observation and reflection. You're a keen observer and an honest scientist, and that particular purge was "untoward," to put it mildly. I don't see anything liberal in "constituencies" wanting to suppress original views that may seem to challenge one popular orthodoxy or another. Slog on, prof!

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  29. Complex problems. I would like to share an article by Glenn Greenwald that I read this morning. It shines a light on part of this discussion.As far as media manipulation goes anyway.
    "The New Ruling Coalition: Opposition to Afghanistan Withdrawal Shows Its Key Factions."

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  30. As with ALL media, “Public” radio never has been, and certainly is not now, without bias. Locally, the dominant station, KUOW, has become increasingly left-leaning in the 30 years I’ve been listening to it, usually for ~2 hours/day. But the main driver of this increasingly liberal bias in local public radio stations is simply that, for financial survival, these stations are beholden to their listenership. Their bias simply MUST reflect that of their contributing members. And the Seattle intellectual elite, the prime membership, has become an intolerant monoculture, devoid of any intellectual curiosity for an “alternative” narrative. Sadly, KNKX, now totally at the mercy of this “groupthinking” audience, has fallen into the same hole. It’s a death spiral for free thought in local radio.

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  31. As with ALL media, “Public” radio never has been, and certainly is not now, without bias. Locally, the dominant station, KUOW, has become increasingly left-leaning in the 30 years I’ve been listening to it, usually for ~2 hours/day. But the main driver of this increasingly liberal bias in local public radio stations is simply that, for financial survival, these stations are beholden to their listenership. Their bias simply MUST reflect that of their contributing members. And the Seattle intellectual elite, the prime membership, has become an intolerant monoculture, devoid of any intellectual curiosity for an “alternative” narrative. Sadly, KNKX, now totally at the mercy of this “groupthinking” audience, has fallen into the same hole. It’s a death spiral for free thought in local radio.

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  32. A lot of people I know who are centrist, right leaning, classically liberal, and anything to the right of today's Antifa, Critical Theory Marxists all recognize the new anti-intellectual Crazy Far Left and have confided in me how much they hate the leadership of Seattle and want to get out. The City Council is so deluded, they have not realized that they have already killed the golden goose. Amazon is leaving Seattle for Bellevue and points beyond. The exodus will continue and Seattle will never be the same. Bad ideas have consequences.

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