Gresham’s Law of Politics

Author: Gary Hart

Several decades ago, three to be exact, I forecast that destructive changes then taking place in the media and their treatment of politics would come back to haunt us.  Particularly, the erosion, then elimination, of any personal privacy for candidates and office holders would have the affect of driving better qualified candidates out of contests for public office and would leave a vacuum to be predictably filled by those without governing experience, knowledge of history, and even familiarity with the workings of our system of government.

In a word, the tabloidization of even reputable news outlets would inevitably lead to a Donald Trump-like president.

Gresham’s Law says bad money drives out good money.  Similarly, bad politics drives out good politics.

Men and women with self-respect, dignity, and character will not seek office if the price to be paid is destruction of all three.  Anyone under the age of 40 or so will have no knowledge of the age of Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley.  Those of us who remember the age of serious journalism find it a stark contrast with the media today.

Of course, the major traditional networks and a few quality newspapers do their best to deliver serious information seriously.  But their viewership and readership are slipping under pressure from cable television and tabloid sensationalism.

It was all forecast years ago by Neal Postman who wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death, a prescient look into the 21st century of distraction, celebrity, and a willing, herd-like suspension of citizen responsibility in favor of entertainment.

In some ways it is too easy to focus on a president who does not read, who is obsessed with television, especially cable, and who conducts juvenile feuds on the internet, who demonstrates little curiosity about issues facing our nation today and tomorrow, and whose single organizing principle is to destroy any and every vestige of the previous Administration.

The more profound concern is his “base”, the one-third or so of our fellow Americans who seem to glory in his totally unpresidential behavior.  Political scientists short-hand this as populism, a strain of anti-establishment, anti-traditional, anti-thoughtful behavior.  His genius has been to focus its anger at anyone and everyone who opposes his destructive behavior, who insist on civility, who harshly judge his juvenile, vulgar, and uncouth conduct.

The destruction of civil behavior knows no limit.  There is no positive outcome that would satisfy this populist anger.  Rage is encouraged, including among those dependent on the social safety net he is attempting to destroy.  Behavior against self-interest is irrational and in the end ignorant.

The net result is a downward social and political spiral whose ultimate end is chaos and potential violence.  It is ironic in the extreme that the president’s juvenile anger is focused so much on the media, ironic because the rise of media sensationalism empowered the Trumps of the world.

Where are the leaders, we hear now repeatedly, leaders among the Democrats of sufficient stature to reinstate sanity and maturity over shallowness and intemperance, and leaders among the Republicans who have sufficient courage to say Stop to a president marching their Party off the cliff of history.

If the thesis about Gresham’s Law of Politics is correct, potential leaders of stature and quality are staying home and refusing to submit to the ritual hazing that becoming a candidate for office ensures.

A case in point is the current Secretary of State, formerly head of one of the largest companies in the world, now facing harassment within the White House of his own President, by 30 year olds who refuse to let him select experienced diplomats for senior positions if they have not submitted to kissing the President’s ring and who demand that he take radically unAmerican positions in the world arena including among our closest allies.  His tenure may be brief.

We have the misfortune to live in an American era that drives genuine leaders into exile and rewards the cowardly and incompetent.  Either we rise up and repeal Gresham’s Law of Politics or we are consigned to a destructive period whose end we cannot see.

No better time than the date celebrating the founding of our nation to begin to demonstrate true patriotism and to demand stature and statesmanship on the part of our leaders.

9 Responses to “Gresham’s Law of Politics”

  1. Paul G Says:

    Republic over Empire: US and IRISH declare supremacy of human dignity

    Reflections on two republics’ lessons of history


    “We have the misfortune to live in an American era that drives genuine leaders into exile and rewards the cowardly and incompetent. Either we rise up and repeal Gresham’s Law of Politics or we are consigned to a destructive period whose end we cannot see. No better time than the date celebrating the founding of our nation to begin to demonstrate true patriotism and to demand stature and statesmanship on the part of our leaders.”

    – Gary Hart, Gresham’s Law of Politics, July 1, 2017

    After decades of England’s tyranny, her patriotic descendants in the US stood and declared independence from the empire’s cowardly bullies:

    “All experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. but when a long train of abuses and usurpations, begun at a distinguished period, and pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to [subject] reduce them to arbitrary power, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to expunge their former systems of government. the history of his present majesty is a history of unremitting injuries and usurpations, among which no fact stands single or solitary to contradict the uniform tenor of the rest, all of which have in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.”

    After centuries of England’s tyranny, her patriotic neighbors in Ireland stood and declared independence from the empire’s cowardly bullies:

    “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms … The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally …”


    Twelve score years after Jefferson’s Declaration that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness;” and, one century after Padraig Pearse’s Declaration of “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities;” our honorable host – then US Envoy to UK/IRL, addressed the Irish people and their government’s representatives:

    “Citizens of a republic are the sovereigns to whom those who govern in their names are accountable. Being sovereign, the republican citizen must be eternally vigilant against the cancer of corruption, the cause of the failure of republics throughout history. For if citizens of a republic, Irish or American, do not exercise their sovereignty by performance of their civic duties, and do not protect their common wealth and common good by resistance to corruption, then republics throughout history have failed, and we are not exempt.

    Now, I am casting onto this magic land the shadow of my hope for America. I believe that this era of turbulence, with so many Americans departing from our founding principles and convictions, can be overcome and left behind by a renaissance of republican virtue, of commitment to the commonwealth, a restoration of civic virtue, to a massive dedication to root out and reject the corruption of our political system by special interests, privilege, and the ruthless pursuit of power.

    Republics are not guaranteed eternal life. They must be renewed and sustained by virtuous, public interested, dedicated citizens who take the responsibility, and the glory, of citizenship seriously. By fulfilling these historic republican demands, the phoenix of the Irish Republic will continue to arise from the ashes of the past to inspire future generations.

    This is what Benjamin Franklin meant when, asked by a concerned citizen outside the closed corridors of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “What kind of government are you creating?” He responded: “A Republic—if you can keep it.” We routinely seek God’s blessing on the United States of America. Tonight, I seek the same blessing for the Republic of Ireland.”

    – Gary Hart, United States Senator (Ret.) Iveagh House, Dublin Ireland. December 14, 2016

  2. Maxdunitz Says:

    Entertainment is the supra-ideology of television, Postman said in that book. Alas, there are people who voted for Trump “because at least we will be entertained.” If the health care bill makes it through the Senate, I’m told that Republicans will “put a couple points up on the score board.”

    Postman had it right in How to Watch TV News. We must teach kids how to watch TV news, to understand how it is produced — the time and budget constraints, commercial pressures, and demands of entertainment. Students who read that book were taught to identify members of that propaganda-dressed-as-field-report genre the Bush administration produced for local news (a “native ad” that cost taxpayers only the cost of production), to put brief TV reports in context through consultation of print sources, to consider the backgrounds and biases in worldview and sensibility (toward the sensational, toward the visual, toward the “new” — e.g. “millions would gain insurance relative to the first CBO estimate of the House bill”) of those who produce the news — and, yes, to consider the interests of the owners of media outlets.

    The book was updated already for the Internet era, but since then — around the time of the first Obama campaign — much has changed. The emails obsession, the ignorance of policy issues (basically, the complete dominance of Cillizza-style “journalism” — in part due to misogyny but also out due to the presumption that Clinton would win), the shocking double standards, the emergence of paid Trumpkins on CNN whose salary depends on the defense of the indefensible, the close ties between Trump and certain media outlets, “fake news,” and a social media environment that, like TV, is designed to keep our attention, not inform us or enrich our lives, but that, unlike TV, knows so much more about us.

    Those of us in target demographics are told constantly by advertisers on these platforms about what we deserve (Uber was running ads on the MBTA Red Line — which at some hours, between some stops, resembles a tech-worker shuttle — that said “door-to-door because you deserve more”) not about our civic duty. Advertisers have lots of cute slogans, but I have never seen this one in AdAge: Ask not what the advertised product can do for you, ask instead what you can do for your country.

    It is a sad irony that companies like Facebook — the very companies profiting off this poisoning of our civic life — are themselves able to recruit our “best and brightest” young people away from public service. Our “best and brightest” (rather, our graduates of elite schools who lean heavily on the language of meritocracy to assert themselves) are building the platform we use to reshare stories about Trump or to scrutinize the private lives of new candidates — all the while scrutinizing our private lives for the benefit of the advertiser.

    The American people are being misinformed about not just the policy stakes and human cost — but also about personal characteristics such as tendency toward corruption. (Corruption is perhaps best considered with a systemic, situational, structural frame, but a comparison of the Trump and Clinton foundations is instructive.)

    And many who are trying to hold onto truth and who care deeply about our country fear it will damage their reputations to signal interest in service or run for office. (This filter tends to select for wealthy white men like Trump and against those in positions more representative of their constituents’.) It is not fun raising large sums — even from many small donors who are happy to support a champion of democracy and republican values — only to use them fighting baseless smears on TV (and even nastier robocalls) aimed at triggering repulsion and tribal solidarity among likely voters of the opponent. Maybe if the Fed were willing to allow a tight labor market for a few years, we would not have to worry so much about our personal brands.

    Fortunately, Trump is so odious that he is inspiring some to rescue our politics. Politics was seen as “slow” and corrupt among my peers — “tech is where you can leverage your skills to make an impact.” But people are looking at our president and saying, “We’ve got to do better. And if he can be president, I can be a state representative.” We have hope of restoring & keeping our republic.


    The Senator knows too much about this very subject , for it to be pleasing to those of us old enough, to ,as youth even in foreign lands, have seen him as a potential president when he ran for that great office, yet are youthful now , enough to know that a new era is upon us.

    The nonsense of the media dealing with the issues of 88, would be just the same or worse with the internet, but very different in the attitudes of the public.

    We could thus, now, have a President Gary Hart.

    It is knowledge of the greatness of our respective arts, entertainment and media talent over decades, that leads me to miss the quality of those as a boy, in both our countries.

    It is this, rather than a partisan love for and appreciation of the greatness of our two countries, though I feel this too.

    The US and UK are world class in these areas.

    Television is worse in the US.

    Tabloid journalism worse in the uk.

    Not the presence of the BBC, actually, but the tendency in my country to a little more outward reserve , at least a bit, means out tv is a lot more , shall we say measured, though of lousy quality compared to the best years .

    The newspapers in the uk, are as great as ever and as bad as can be thought up,both at once.

    The cheap, the silly, the biased , is the norm too much for my or most sensible people’s taste.

    Personalities of real ability and individual decency are there and do and shall and must emerge.

    The Senator needs to speak more about that which is one of the most absurd lost presidencies ever.

    His own. Absurd because he is better as a non president, than most who have been in the office.

    Absurd for the reasons he was not.

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Looking forward to “Frontrunner”! 🙂

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Looking even more forward to the aftermath of Frontrunner, in the sense that it could lead to a great reckoning and re-emergence of an up-wing leader … and, just in the nick of time, too!

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    Many thanks to Ms. Miller regarding a project I know little about and have no participation in or control over. Somewhat of a surprise these many years later, but evidence of the strongly held belief on the part of a surprising number of people that our current political detour has roots in events of May 1987. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. GH

  7. Paul G Says:


    Perhaps an important benefit for our republic’s restoration is our current president’s outrageous contrast on so many levels with a frontrunner candidate he supported three decades ago, and fake news reporters that covered both.

    The frontrunner, poor, humble, attentive, incorruptible divinity and philosophy scholar inspired to public service by JFK, prepared with Jeffersonian dedication for what it takes to be a good president. But billionaire bullies feared loss of $trillions.

    Does it take a big bully to tame a schoolyard of little bullies? Or, vice versa?

    Political media of 1987, arrogant and bullying like our current president, misled voters by headlining exaggerated stories and false quotes as truth, blurring timelines, censoring students and changing unwritten rules of civility that would most likely have eliminated our best presidents including Lincoln and FDR.

    One global media empire owner (that included former Nixon’s media advisor and recently fired president of Fox “News”) admitted he published fake quotes to see his targets destroyed! – The Man who owns the News, 2008, by Michael Wolff.

    Hiding behind our constitution’s protection of freedom of speech 30 years ago, two reporters from two major newspapers recently admitted their failure in “allowing a myth (alleged press challenge) to grow” by endless repetition.

    One of those reporters – currently a dean of journalism ethics – deleted this fake news from his employer’s website but has yet to admit his final knock-out role in misleading voters with a fake “secret financing” headline in January 1988.

    Ironically, the school of censored students who successfully demonstrated for the frontrunner’s poll-topping re-entry to the presidential campaign 30 years ago is the same school of journalism presided over by the dean of deletion.

    The contrast for our republic’s benefit rests not only with presidential candidates, but with the few journalists who swim against tabloid-corrupting currents to stand on principle like one freshman student in 1987, now co-author of Frontrunner.

  8. Tim Conner Says:

    I fear that the situation we find ourselves in will get a lot worse before it gets better.
    Because we now have widespread willful ignorance and no standard of cultural literacy any longer.
    Like a Colorado wildfire, this may have to burn itself out and we may have to wait a generation for the regrowth to start.
    I only hope we can avoid a nuclear catastrophe in the meantime.

  9. David Mareira Says:

    In an Age where everything seems to be moving far too quickly to digest or comprehend before the NEXT Breaking news ALERT pulls us like taffy away from
    whatever captured our attention last, I wonder if we are nearing the proverbial “Tipping Point” for Democracy. Yet, perhaps by pausing the anger and frustration and bringing voices of reason from our History BACK to our Present we can, using Tim Conner’s metaphor, re-seed our present political climate. If 1987 is indeed the crossroad where we veered off from all that “America’s Promise” could have delivered, then it only makes sense to circle the wagons and retrace our steps back. With the Tsunami of Media outlets and “Fake News” drowning out reason and discourse perhaps this Dark stage was a necessary step? It is only with Fire that the Great Sequoia standing like our Democracy, drops its magnificent seeds and starts again. With the success
    of both the Sanders and Trump campaigns it is clear the soil is fertile. We only need now to stop focusing on what should have happened and the Anger that comes with this type of disappointment and start focusing on how the profound tenets that inspired Mr.Hart, JFK and many here, might translate to the Present.

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