A Case In Point

It wasn’t just Donald Trump. For a number of years, Americans have been electing “celebrities”–actors and people famous for being famous–to government positions from mayors (Clint Eastwood) to governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to (most recently and unfortunately) President.

When Kanye West can announce a presidential campaign with a straight face, Caitlin Jenner assures people that knowing nothing about government qualifies her to govern California, and Matthew McConaughey is touted as a viable candidate for governor of Texas, the trend is hard to dismiss (although alcohol helps).

This willingness of voters to put people with absolutely no government experience into positions of authority is troubling on numerous levels, but what drives me absolutely bonkers is the lack of understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of governance that the phenomenon represents, and the message it sends to less-famous candidates for public office, who have come to focus on public performance rather than attending to the unexciting “grunt work” of governing.

Indiana provides a case in point. (Well, okay, several. But today, I just want to focus on one.)

While our legislators are busy pontificating about abortion, vaccination, the Second Amendment, protecting developers from the need to protect wetlands, and awarding ever-increasing amounts of public funds to private religious schools, they are paying far less attention to basic governance issues like ordinary citizens’ ability to access  the rules and regulations with which they are expected to comply.

Toward the end of my academic life, I served as a very informal consultant for a project undertaken by Professor Ross Silverman and several colleagues. Silverman’s research required that he collect the laws of Indiana’s counties, and his results were published as a research methods piece in the American Journal of Public Health. 

Silverman is a Professor of Public Health & Law, and he holds a joint appointment at IU’s Fairbanks School of Public Health and the McKinney School of Law. As he noted in an email announcing publication of the research,

During our process we discovered that nearly half of all Indiana counties either do not publish their ordinances and regulations online or have only partial or out of date materials available electronically. As you also know, there’s no law requiring electronic publication or a central repository either.

To acquire these documents meant we drove 1000s of miles & scanned 25000+ pages ourselves at County government offices dotted around the state.

We were most interested in the laws that may have an effect on the lives of people with substance use disorders, but once we got to see the primary source materials, we found they were usually kept in 3 ring binders organized by passage date, not topic, so there’s no quick way to pick out the relevant documents.

These types of obstacles and labor costs makes it very challenging to conduct statewide intrastate policy analysis, maintain up to date data, or even know your local laws.

Leaving aside the impediment to analysis this lack of a system represents, citizens’ ability to access the rules they must obey is a basic tenet of the rule of law.

How do we expect citizens to obey laws of which they are unaware? Why–in the age of the Internet–are ordinances not routinely digitized, categorized and made available online? Why–in a state like Indiana where “home rule” is a joke–can’t the members of the Indiana General Assembly pass a law requiring local units of government to make their rules accessible?

Granted, sponsorship of such a measure wouldn’t offer an opportunity for posturing, of appealing to a particular voting or donor constituency, or otherwise enhancing a politico’s name recognition, but it would certainly improve governance in a state that–to put it charitably–is not noted for excellence in that department.

Even Mussolini understood the importance–and political benefit–of making the trains run on time….


  1. Speaking of Mussolini …. Have you ever noticed how similar Trump is to him? The poses, the posture, the facial expressions in front of a crowd. It is spooky.

  2. Patmcc,

    Speaking of Mussolini, the way he ended up was telling indeed, hanging from a rope in the public square upside down gutted like a slaughtered pig along with his wife!

    One of my favorite lines from various movies and such is, “ignorance of the law is no excuse” but obviously that ignorance produces the desired effect on the citizenry.

    When you can keep the population dumbed down, they are much less of a threat to burgeoning politicians and their movements especially the nefarious aspects of them.

    A prime example is January 6th! And “the shock, the shock I say” that some of these people are being prosecuted? Unbelievable!

    How many reading this article raise your hands if you knew already that that sort of behavior on January 6th was illegal! Just because “Teflon Don” told everyone it was okay, they actually believed it? Maybe just a good dose of Common Sense would have helped them? Obviously even that is in very short supply!

    I guess keeping them dumb and riled up really does work ??

  3. And never forget Ronald Reagan! Do you notice they are all Republicans?

    Thank you JOHN for using January 6th as an example but…we have not yet seen those in government who took part in aiding and supporting the insurrection being prosecuted. Those 35 brave Republican House members and the 6 Republican Senators who support the Insurrection Investigation Commission are to be commended…and probably need protection for themselves and their families. Read Amendment XIV, Section 3, the investigation will “out” those guilty parties all the way up to Trump; convicting them would prevent them from ever running for public office again. That is why Republicans are fighting the Commission and all investigations of January 6th. If not active in creating the atmosphere for it to happen, they are supporting protection of those who endangered their own lives on that day.

    Matt Gaetz finally spoke the truth about Republicans when he said, “This is the Trump Party!” The strongest “Case In Point” and the strongest reason for the Democratic party to move forward with the investigation to protect this entire nation…including protecting the Republican party members from themselves.

  4. Speaking of dumb, John, I’ve been amazed this past week on Twitter listening to “journalists” and “pundits,” many of whom are educated, make the incredulous claim that the GOP was whitewashing the events of 1/6 by not agreeing to form a committee to seek the truth.

    We already know the truth. All the Intel has been collected because the dopes organizing the insurrection, did so on a highly monitored social media platform. And don’t forget, the NSA and DHS collect bulk data on ALL citizens. It’s how the FBI knew Trump’s henchmen were lying under oath about their phone calls.

    The real question is, “Why aren’t prosecutors with the DOJ going after the insurrectionists for violating US Code 2383?”

    When asked directly shortly after the event, both Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi said, “We need a strong Republican Party.”

    Forming a “committee” is irrelevant to the crimes already committed. Convene a grand jury, and share the evidence collected, and issue indictments to the billionaire funders, the planners, the Republicans who assisted, and Trump who incited it. I mean Roger Stone was there with the Oath Keeper bodyguards who stormed the Capitol. You don’t think Roger knew what was going on?

    Sheila is worried about laws governing citizens, but what about the laws governing the leaders of the government. Why isn’t the press hounding the DOJ?

    As dumb as we claim the citizenry is in this country, why are we overlooking the obvious? And why do we allow the media to help the political body whitewash a federal insurrection attempt?

  5. Every time I leave home I unfortunately must drive past a huge (10′ x 4′) tRump sign that has been posted in someone’s yard along the highway since 2019. Yesterday, the thought popped into my head that Hillary Clinton was so correct when she called them as Deplorables. People that refuse to accept the reality that he lost and continue to believe his lies truly are deplorable.

    I was informed last week that the man that lives there attends a small church of deplorables who have refused to wear masks and refuse to be vaccinated. The Covid virus recently spread throughout their congregation and he is one of the people in the hospital in serious condition. While I don’t wish death on anyone I do hope he ends up with a massive medical bill that may take him years to pay off.

  6. JoAnn,

    Both excellent points! And, I suppose a lot of this has to do with keeping a certain level of qualified immunity for government employees. Let’s face it, politicians are not going to give up their so-called “Trump “card!

    Politicians will never allow themselves to exist on the same playing field as those that they supposedly work for. That’s why, as we are continuously being told to “Eat Cake!” ‘The inequity that separates and elevates some from others, just keeps getting higher, wider and deeper.

  7. Todd,

    So, why don’t you and I start an action group that hounds the DOJ? Heck, they might even be impressed by our grammar and punctuation mechanics.

    Yes, Reagan was the first celebrity doofus to be elected to national office in my lifetime. Everybody else understood how government was supposed to work and what the Constitution actually meant. Movies and TV shows don’t create intelligent leaders at any level. Next, the dummies will want to elect the Scientologist Tom Cruise. YIKES!

  8. Sheila posed the question that worried me as a child; how will I become a law abiding adult since it seems impossible to know the law? Answer: You can’t know all you need to. I’m reminded of a shocking remark made in a teachers’ meeting several years back, “We need this rule so we have a way to expel anyone that we want to get rid of.”
    If they want you, they’ve got something on the books that will do the job.

  9. Vernon, being a writer yourself you will appreciate this memory of Reagan I cannot erase from my memory banks. It may have been his first speech to the nation after inauguration when he began; “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. As Charles Dickens said in his book “A Christmas Carol”. I knew we were in deeper s*+t than we thought.

    A striking difference between Reagan and Trump is that, we have no idea when symptoms of Reagan’s Alzheimer’s began. We knew almost 40 years before Trump was nominated that he was and is severely mentally unstable.

  10. Most people, including a majority of elected officials in this country, have no idea what it means to actually govern. It is hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight. Everything takes years, sometimes even decades, to be finalized. Most of us want our changes NOW. If they don’t come right away, we are liable to get bored and move on to something else.

    Who would you pick?

    a celebrity or Matt Gaetz
    a celebrity or Louis Gommert
    a celebrity or Marjorie Taylor Greene

    A celebrity might not be better, but the question is could he/she possibly be worse?

  11. Patmcc ,
    you hit the nail on the head, way too many similarities to historically demonic characters, (add Hitler to this description). The trumpsters are so blind to this.
    I also drive past a sign , almost billboard sign, in a yard for trump/pence 2020. The idiocy of that (a sign touting the man the rioters wanted to hang) blares out the ignorance of those people.

    But how do we educate them? The elected Republicans are determined to become the ruling party again, and history repeats itself. Democrats and any other reasonably good person will become extinct just like the Jews killed at Auschwitz.

    Or do we all take up arms and civil war II begins?

  12. Why is it so appealing to chose a celebrity to high office “while Rome burns”?

  13. JoAnn – I have long suspected that Reagan’s mental decline happened well into his first term and Nancy and her astrologer ran things.
    We also must admit that not all celebrity politicians were Republican, just most. Sheila reminded me of Tom Lehrer’s song, George Murphy (“now we have a Senator who can really sing and dance”). The intro reminds us “from Helen Gahagan to Ronald Reagan.”
    Helen Gahagan Douglas, a Democrat, was the famous “pink lady” who labeled Nixon, “Tricky Dick”, although red-baiting won out in the end.

  14. Vernon, we may very well have to since I don’t see any captured media covering this honestly. Max Blumenthal with the GrayZone and Substack is doing some great work. He is alone. The Oligarchy is covering it up because it exposes several layers including the IC and DOJ since I am sure that Barr played a role.

    The Pentagon also played a role in abandoning the Capitol police. There was clearly a stand-down order coming from someone. The National Guard was disbursed throughout the city as requested by the Mayor in advance. That was it.

    As horrible as Trump was, it sure is odd that Biden isn’t holding him accountable and even leaving many of his poor policies and policymakers in place. If anything, we’ve gone even further to the right after Biden’s taken office.

  15. Getting back to what Sheila was mentioning about celebrities. The weak minded conflate the characters with the celebrities that bring them to life, for some sort of alternate but desired unrealistic reality!

    The terminator, well he could get stuff done, if, he’s the good terminator! But what about the bad Terminator?

    Or what about the cowboy drifter that just stumbles upon individuals who are unrepresented and picks up the mantle for them? Who wouldn’t love that right? Or what about some bad guy who doesn’t ask questions ends up having an epiphany and helps all of those weaker and lesser ones to even the odds?!?!

    Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, and Jason Statham, are not these characters even if somehow fandom has deluded themselves to the contrary.

    The good terminator, the high plains drifter, or the transporter! It doesn’t take any special skills to be compassionate and empathetic. Epiphanies on life happen all the time and are caused by many different circumstances.

    I look at things in a way, “if not me who, and, if not now when?”

    There really is no reason to be ignorant in this day and age, unless you willfully choose that path! Conscience is a huge driver in doing the right thing. And, you would reckon, common sense would be also!

    But, to have common sense, that sense has to be common! And, that commonality out there in society right now is really non-existent. That’s the whole point in separating and pitting one against the other! No commonality in society, and therefore no common sense. Without common sense, ignorance thrives!

    The natural progression concerning ANY nefarious circumstantial narratives should be painfully obvious for everyone! Unfortunately, the stupidity and ignorance that exists including alternate realities and self-delusions along with willful ignorance, will never, ever, allow intelligent or unified decisions to be made or actions taken. Society then, unfortunately, remains ignorant, blind and sick!

  16. JoAnn,

    Thanks for that reminder. The Reagan phrase that sticks with me is “…government IS the problem.” That little throwaway signaled that Reagan had bent the knee to Donald Regan and corporate/banking America. Those non-thinking, greedy capitalists had the ridiculous Milton Friedman codify their tyrannical fascism with the misbegotten, horrific idea about “trickle-down” economics. The Republicans, of course, embraced this idiocy because their employers told them to. And here we are.

    It really doesn’t matter what sort of creature the Republicans run for any office, they are still Republicans and beholden to the oligarchs who want to control everything. These morons don’t see when resources run out, their little game is over. They don’t understand that in a consumer-based economy, the consumers must have money with which to buy and consume. Amazing, isn’t it? So why do Republicans always scream about deficits when they are the entity that creates them? Because corporate/banking America told them to. Tax the poor to feed the rich. Sound familiar? Where is Robin Hood – 21st century when he’s needed most?

    Republicans continue to work ever so diligently to fulfill Marx’s predictions that capitalism will fall under its own greed, nihilism and stupidity. So, it really doesn’t matter what cheap skin they put in a suit, it’s still about killing the middle class and ensuring that the poor stay that way.

  17. Roberta,
    Unfortunately, the deplorable trumpers refuse to even consider facts and/or evidence that proves their beliefs to be wrong. As long as they can continue to have their biases confirmed and to stay angry via being fed lies from Fox, OANN, and Newsmax there doesn’t appear to be a way to change their minds.

    The republicans in Congress care only about gaining absolute power and control over our country, which actually is a cover for the billionaires and multi-millionaire donors that have been taking over our country. They guarantee Senators and Representatives get to keep their jobs if they do what their donors tell them to do, in spite of knowing that they are not doing what they promised the voters and they continuously place their job survival above doing what is right or in the best interests of the country.

  18. I have taken it for granted, all of these years that every time I have a question about a noise ordinance, or littering, or a zoning question, that I can generally go online and find the answer I need. That is because I live in a big city and they have dedicated the resources. The reasons they have done this might have not been altruistic and I rather suspect a lot of it just came along as a byproduct of the software they have purchased to manage the city, but I have benefited.

    This is just another example of how and why rural America is dying. In this case it is from apathy and ignorance.

    But that said, how hard can it be to scan a digitize the current set of documents and post them on a website. As we have seen, in this age of digital information the bar to self publishing is set very very low. In addition, if county and city laws are not published in a meaningful way, how do city and county councils even know what they are amending or voting on?

    The only way to handle county property tax assessments and maybe zoning, is with a computer system, and how can you be too lazy or cheap to allow public online access to this data? I also suspect that the local clerks office is funded with those $0.15 a page copies.

    I will admit, that I have been stymied by the fact that the city plat books are not online and I would love to see the contents of myriad filing cabinets of the Historic Preservation Commission online as well, but I know what is holding those back and that is the large commitment of manpower to digitize those documents.

  19. After Trump was ‘elected’ via our ever-so-undemocratic system with millions fewer votes than Clinton, I wrote a letter to the editor which they did print here in Bloomington, the gist of which said something like, “It makes as much sense to elect someone with no governing experience to the presidency as it does to have your brain surgery done by someone who has no medical training or to have your kids taught by teachers who are illiterate.” When it comes to critical thinking skills, SO many of our fellow citizens are illiterate and vulnerable to the preening celebrity hucksters.

  20. When I was hiring professional people I can not imagine how imminent my own firing would have been if I hired even one person totally unqualified for our work for which my only reason to chose them was but they are a celebrity.

  21. Pete; during the Goldsmith Mayoral administration, the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Metropolitan Development had a Master’s Degree in Personnel from the University of India. A legal copy of a THREE MILLION DOLLAR one-year contract for an out-of-state consultant firm was believed lost. It took months for me with my GED to find the source of that problem; there had been no legal copy signed. The Mayor, City Department Directors and CEOs from the consultant firm signed their copies and filed them away. I reported this to the Deputy Mayor; by the time I returned from the Mayor’s 25th floor office to my office on the 18th floor, the CFO of DMD stopped me and asked how to get a legal copy of a contract. I explained the two options I knew of. The following year, a second THREE MILLION DOLLAR contract was drawn up; this time all copies of the contract were returned to me after the Commission meeting, I filed them away and waited. About 2 weeks later a vice president of the consultant firm in Cincinnati and the consultant for our department came to me to ask if I knew where they were. I handed over all copies which I had safely stored till someone missed them.

    Imagine this level of administration in the federal government under the Trump administration with a former TV personality whose program dealt with hiring and firing Apprentices. Apprentices to what I don’t know, never having watched the program.

    “This willingness of voters to put people with absolutely no government experience into positions of authority is troubling on numerous levels, but what drives me absolutely bonkers is the lack of understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities of governance that the phenomenon represents, and the message it sends to less-famous candidates for public office, who have come to focus on public performance rather than attending to the unexciting “grunt work” of governing.”

  22. If you combine a MUCH stronger influence of the Far Right at the state and local levels with no access to laws and regulations with the death of local investigatory journalism you have the complete recipe for the demise of our democracy- right in front of our eyes, buried in “BLM”, a celebrity culture and more and more of ME, ME….not US…USA begins with US.

  23. Well after all it is Indiana where spending money by the government is viewed as totally unnecessary, in some cases it is OK for political ends, like funding religious “schools”.

    I can just hear the howling from the cities and counties if they were forced to publish on line their various laws and ordinances concerning the cost of doing so.

    Many have above noted the various celebrities who have ran for political office, with some success. Let’s not leave out Jesse Ventura the Governor of Minnesota.

    There is another “class” of celebrities” they also seem immune to qualifications. The extremely wealthy who can self-fund their own campaigns. When the TV pundits gather and discuss the “viability” of a candidate they are referring to funds available to spend on a campaign.

  24. If HRC is correct and this is the era where future historians compare and contrast the USA with other global leaders, I’m afraid we will not come out so well in the compare and contrast exercise. We always have propaganda and whitewashing in our favor and since most Americans are ignorant of global happenings, or even national events, it will be interesting.

    Quite frankly, since Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the MIC when he departed office, what president has impressed you for their leadership abilities? JFK started strong but that got him assassinated. It’s only gotten worse from one cycle to the next.

  25. Elected office is the only job one seeks by touting a lack of experience. It is so weird.

  26. OK … so why does the electorate find celebrities appealing who offer no depth of experience to govern complex issues? Is identity more appealing than one’s competency to govern?

  27. Norris, I would say popularity (celebrity) is more appealing to Americans. If they’ve seen them a lot on TV, they qualify for a public office.

    We’ll see what happens as the Oligarchs reestablish their supply chains in the USA vs China. The semiconductor chips will be more expensive than the imported ones from China. Will the dumbed-down Americans accept lower wages?

  28. Todd,

    I have to say the Burr under your saddle is quite a positive thing today! You are literally on fire and right on point!

    I read an article about IBM, they just perfected a new chip that is 10 times smaller and more powerful than the current chips on the market! That means missiles can go faster, computers can go faster, batteries can be exponentially more powerful, supercomputers can now be super duper computers LOL, and everything that goes along with computing power. So the Chinese are behind again, when it’s all said and done, the prick measuring contests might morph into a shooting conflict!

    Oh, and by the way todd, I apologize if my comment the other day was a bit terse. I’ve been really trying to work on that lol. I’m not always the sharpest tool in the chest, but my wife does insist I take it down a notch or 10, she actually likes your comments better than mine lol!

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