Is Our Worrisome Love for Simplicity Putting Democracy in Danger?

Oversimplification is “poisonous in democracy,” says Stephen Carter, Yale law professor and Aspen Institute Trustee. He recalls the prescient words of historian Richard Hofstadter: “Democracy cannot survive when major parties believe that elections should be reduced to applause lines, slogans, emotional appeals, and lists of people to hate.” And while that statement reads like it could have appeared in an op-ed last week, it’s from Hofstadter’s 1964 work The Paranoid Style in American Politics.

Cut to the 2016 election cycle: Carter points out that even our presidential debates are designed to fail the electorate, to some degree. For example, candidates are given two minutes to respond to a question. In comparison, rebuttals in Abraham Lincoln’s time were 30 minutes long. This truncating, Carter says, reflects a larger problem: We’re oversimplifying complex information. Information that is critical to meaningful public dialogue and thus, a healthy democracy. “If every complex issue is reduced to something simple, it’s hard to figure out how someone can be on the other side,” says Carter. 



Joe Biden and Cancer Moonshot



Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, and a White House effort is working to fight it. Cancer Moonshot is led by Vice President Joe Biden. In Aspen Ideas to Go. Biden gets personal about his connection to cancer and why he’s working to break down barriers preventing progress in battling the disease. Subscribe on iTunes, your favorite podcasting app, and now, on NPR One.




Memorable Words



“What if we all assume when we meet new people that each person is a vastly complicated human being having an exceedingly unique human experience” — Ellie Wheeler, age 16, Spotlight Health 2016