The development of social media platforms has put the Citizens United principle on steroids. Such platforms became profitable only when they began to deploy algorithms that use commercial advertising principles to amplify every consumer preference. By applying those algorithms to political speech, they embody the deformities of political dialogue that the Citizens United principle made certain.
But here’s the rub: Once you have generated money by appealing primarily to the most motivated supporters of a cause, and recruited others by demonizing the other side of an issue, how do you then explain to them the need to walk it all back, to compromise? Compromise, after all, is ideologically impure. It is messy and unprincipled. It is also, under our Constitution, essential.
In its own way, compromise points to higher virtue than ideology can reach: humility, the recognition that no set of beliefs has a monopoly on truth, and that no matter how fervently we may believe something, we just might be wrong.
The intellectual humility that underlies our form of government is hard to find in the commercial marketplace, so it’s not surprising that it has been banished from our post-Citizens United politics. Accepting that the Supreme Court is unlikely in the near term to moderate its course and embrace some limitations on the role of money in politics, the issue of our time is whether you can sell compromise.
Is there a market for moderation? The answer to that question may hold the key to the continued viability of our republic.