Politics

The Republican Party is succeeding because America is not a true Democracy.

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  • #40577

    This in an opinion piece from the New York Times today – Jan 3rd 2022. It was written by Jedediah Britton-Purdy who is a professor of constitutional law at Columbia.

    The Jan. 6 attack would not have happened in a genuine democracy.

    The attack was the most acute symptom — so far — of the political crisis that Donald Trump incited by refusing to admit defeat in the 2020 election. But the roots of the crisis run deep into the undemocratic features of our constitutional system.

    The arcane scheme that Mr. Trump’s lawyers hatched to disrupt congressional certification of the vote and perhaps persuade Republican state legislatures to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in states like Pennsylvania was conceivable only because the Electoral College splinters presidential elections into separate contests in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and skews the totals toward small states. In a simple system of majority rule, Mr. Biden’s thumping margin of more than seven million votes would have been the last word. For that matter, so would Hillary Clinton’s national margin of nearly three million votes in 2016: Mr. Trump would not have had a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address in which to barricade himself in 2020.

    Would Mr. Trump’s big lie about election fraud have sent the rioters to the Capitol anyway, even without his lawyers and fixers trying to overturn the results? Maybe. But there would have been no constitutional machinery to jam. And even the big lie received a huge constitutional assist. Thanks to the Electoral College, Mr. Trump could have tied Mr. Biden and forced the election into the House of Representatives by flipping just 43,000 votes in three close states, a gap narrow enough that any number of toxic fables can claim to bridge it.

    At a more basic level, today’s Republican Party succeeds only because the Electoral College, the Senate and the Supreme Court all tilt in its favor. That system has handed conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that only one Republican has won the presidential popular vote after 1988. A party doesn’t have to persuade majorities that it has the best vision for the country. It only has to persuade a selective minority that the other side is a mortal threat. Its grasp on power may be too tenuous for the party to govern effectively, but it has offered conservatives a fine perch to weaken economic and environmental regulation, appoint conservative judges and launch attacks on the democratic system itself.

    In a more democratic system, the Republican Party’s extreme elements would have been sent packing long before they stormed the Capitol because they couldn’t muster enough votes to win a national election. Instead, they have perfected minority rule as a path to political success. An antidemocratic system has bred an antidemocratic party. The remedy is to democratize our so-called democracy.

    James Madison boasted that the Constitution achieved “the total exclusion of the people, in their collective capacity.” Its elaborate political mechanics reflect the elite dislike and mistrust of majority rule that Madison voiced when he wrote, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Madison’s condescension has never gone away. Walter Lippmann, perhaps the most prominent intellectual of the short American Century, reckoned that citizens were ignorant, confused and emotional. Democracy brought “an intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance” to whatever it touched. If Madison and Lippmann could have seen the “QAnon Shaman” break into the Capitol, then meander around like a tourist whose phone has lost its signal, they would have muttered, “This is what democracy looks like.”

    Democracy receded from the popular imagination during the blandly optimistic decades that followed the Cold War’s end around 1989. American leaders predicted that the world would inevitably come to embrace some combination of elections, capitalism and personal freedom. Serious thinking about what democracy meant, and what could threaten it, seemed more like intellectual history than practical politics. We live in the shipwreck of that unearned optimism.

    Jan. 6 and the four years before it were a forcible reminder that democracy is a task, not a birth right. Having rediscovered that we must take democracy seriously, we should now put it first in our politics.

    Majorities of the people, not the Electoral College, should be able to pick the president and decide who controls the House and Senate. All who make their lives in the United States — including the incarcerated, people convicted of felonies and non-citizens — should be allowed to vote.

    This might sound alarming to inland Republican voters who imagine themselves besieged by a permanent coastal majority. But in a working democracy, there are no permanent majorities or minorities. Forging partnerships in a truly democratic system, inland conservatives would soon find new allies — just not ones determined to break democracy itself.

    Some of these changes probably require amending the Constitution. Hard changes have come through constitutional amendment before: Shortly before World War I, activists successfully pressed state legislatures to ratify an amendment giving up their power to choose U.S. senators. Maybe we can revive mass movements for amendments, starting with one that would make the amendment process itself more democratic. If the public supports a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics, restrict gerrymandering or enshrine a core abortion right, a committed majority should be able to say what our fundamental law is by popular vote, rather than having to go through the current, complicated process of ratifying amendments through state legislatures or dozens of constitutional conventions.

    This may sound wild-eyed. But it would not always have. James Wilson, one of the most learned and thoughtful of the Constitution’s framers, believed that as a matter of principle, “the people” may change the Constitution “whenever and however they please. This is a right of which no positive institution can ever deprive them.” Even Madison conceded that if we thought of the Constitution as a national charter rather than a federal arrangement among sovereign states, “the supreme and ultimate authority” would reside with the majority, which had the power to “alter or abolish its established government.” It is hard to deny that, since 1789, the Constitution has become a national charter in the minds of most Americans.

    Do we really think that establishing fundamental law is too much for us, something only revered (or reviled) ancestors could do? More likely we are afraid of one another and the decisions majorities would make. Thinkers like Madison associated democracy with majority tyranny, but history tells a different story. Even our terribly flawed legacy is rich in examples of majoritarian emancipation: New Deal programs, the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare. Majorities can change the world for the better, when they have the chance. Giving one another that chance, over and over, is how equals share a country.

    But are we willing to give, and take, that chance? Maybe more than fearing majority tyranny, we suspect that the country is already too divided and mistrustful to make basic choices together at all. One thing Democrats and Republicans share is the belief that, to save the country, the other side must not be allowed to win. Every election is an existential crisis. In our current political climate, any proposal to democratize the system would immediately be coded as partisan, and half the country would reject it from the start. In such an anxious and suspicious country, the current system can be seen as a kind of peace treaty. Maybe that was what Mr. Biden meant when, just after taking his oath of office two weeks after the Capitol riot, in a Washington guarded by 26,000 troops, he praised “the resilience of our Constitution.”

    But the Constitution is not keeping the peace; it is fostering crises. Far from being resilient, it is adding to our brittleness.

    Resilience would come from a shift to more constructive politics. Majorities should be able to choose parties and leaders to improve their everyday lives, starting with child care, family leave, health care and the dignified work that still evades many even at a time when employers are complaining of difficulty hiring workers and there is upward pressure on wages after decades of stagnation. Democracy matters not because there is something magical about 50-percent-plus-one in any given vote but because it gives people the power to decide how they will live together. If we don’t claim that power, the market, a court or a minority government will always be pleased to take it off our hands.

    Aristotle called democracy “the rule of the poor,” and he was onto something. Democracy, when it works, puts the ultimate political power in the hands of the people who work, worry and wish they could promise their loved ones more than they can. It gives us back a bit of our world.

    Of course, we must not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Our Constitution deserves to be defended against lies about election fraud and antidemocratic schemes to double down on minority rule. But it also deserves clear-eyed efforts to make it better.

    If Jan. 6 was a symptom of a crisis of democracy, the best answer we can give is more democracy. We might not be capable of that; in which case the future is bleak. But the only way to find out is by trying.

    Democracy’s vitality is not handed down from on high. It comes from actually ruling and being ruled in turn and learning to live with both. It comes from the constant search for new majorities, new coalitions, new ways to avoid disaster and even make life better. That is how we learn to believe, with Walt Whitman, that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” The way to save democracy is to make it more real.

    #40607

    _Robert_
    Participant

    Unfortunately, I am starting to think Unseen is right about a pending authoritarian takeover. I don’t have a fucking clue about what a solution would be. Lots of people must think they have very little to lose and much to gain by living under a racist, nationalist dictatorship. Again, I have no idea to see how they would benefit.

    #40608

    TheEncogitationer
    Participant

    Reg,

    Several big problems with this man’s thesis: The U.S. elected 45 Presidents under our existing Constitutional framework without a January 6th occurring after each Election.

    Also, even with The Supremes having a majority of “Conservative” Justices, they still didn’t want to hear any of Trump’s claims of voter fraud and didn’t want to contest or overturn the results of the Election.

    That’s the thing about lifetime appointments to the seat of The Supremes. Since they can’t be removed except for high crimes and misdemeanors, they can suprise you on what cases they’ll accept and how they’ll rule. Many great rulings upholding racial equality and civil rights were handed down by Justice Hugo Black, who prior to his appointment, was a Ku Klux Klansman, and Roe v. Wade was handed down by the “Conservative” Warren Burger Court.

    Also, if our Constitutional Amendment or Convention process was handled by direct majority rule rather than approval by State Legislatures and the Senate as go-betweens, The Bill of Rights, including the 1st Amendkent, would not survive.

    People on the street in the Fifties were shown a copy of The Bill of Rights and many thought it was a Communist document and denounced it, when the document is the furthest thing from Communistic!

    People in the street nowadays, especially in “Woke” college and university towns, would think The Bill of Rights was a White Supremacist document and would assume the fetal position after reading it, again, when the document is no such thing and applies to all Citizens equally via The Reconstructionist Era 14th Amendment!

    These are the people who would make The Bill of Rights into confetti if given the chance, which our system is supposed to guard against an prevent.

    And Professor Britton-Purdy says this gem right here:

    All who make their lives in the United States — including the incarcerated, people convicted of felonies and non-citizens — should be allowed to vote.

    Look, if someone is falsely accused and wrongfully convicted by the justice system, then I am all for releasing them, expunging all their related legal records, and fully restoring their civil rights, including voting rights.

    I am also for repealing all “victimless crime” laws such as laws against alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, prostitution, and all sex and commercial acts between censenting adults. When repealed, I would favor releasing all who are only guilty of these victimless acts, expunging all their related legal records, and restoring their civil rights, including voting rights.

    However, giving the vote to persons justly convicted of violent, destructive, fraudulent acts against the Life, Liberty, and Property of others is damn crazy!

    People like that with the vote would include abuser and molester Priests, Nuns, Ministers, Mullahs, and Imams, as well as religious con-men, rip-off artists, and Woo-peddlers who would support representatives who would pass laws in their favor. Some prisoners even use the legal system to claim that “religious freedom” includes the “right” to steak, caviar, and champagne three times a day paid for by the State! They would do enormous damage with a vote!

    Also, criminals in general would vote for candidates that guarantee them free shit both inside and outside prison walls. Criminals would most likely favor candidates and laws disarming both the victims who got them in prison as well as future would-be victims. Criminals would moreover vote against candidates and laws protecting the privacy and restitutiom of victims.

    And non-Citizens voting could include not just legal migrant workers, but illegals who could be blackmailed by unscruplous people to vote any way the unscruplous wanted.

    Non-Citizens could also include gang and cartel members, International terrorist cells, members of hostile foreign militaries, or foreign spies, all voting wnd peddling imfluence in their favor and against the rights and freedom of U.S. Citizens.

    Professor Britton-Purdy needs to get out of the rarefied air of academic lounges and Ivy Towers and see how the real world works before he goes brain-puking on fish-wrap.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  TheEncogitationer. Reason: Spelling. Another thing the majority couldn't be trusted to do right
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  TheEncogitationer. Reason: Another spelling error.. I don't even trust me with a vote
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  TheEncogitationer. Reason: Spelling. This guy's got me so worked up, I can't see straight
    #40613

    Unseen
    Participant

    Unfortunately, I am starting to think Unseen is right about a pending authoritarian takeover. I don’t have a fucking clue about what a solution would be. Lots of people must think they have very little to lose and much to gain by living under a racist, nationalist dictatorship. Again, I have no idea to see how they would benefit.

    Well, they imagine that an all-white or white-controlled country would be pure and devoid of the impure influences of the feral races. You know, those inferior races that gave us corn and tomatoes, coffee and most spices, blues and rock music, etc.

    Try to imagine a pure America without about 90% of the vegetables we eat, without coffee or tea, pepper, garlic, vanilla, chocolate, garlic, chili peppers.

    No Indian, Thai, Chinese, or Mexican restaurants of food.

    Try to imagine how well a whites-only basketball team would fare against one composed of nonwhites or mixed races chosen only for their skills and not their race.

    Ugh.

    #40615

    Unseen
    Participant

    I watch this show every morning I can. They promote themselves as an (if not “the”) alternative to the corporate media news sources on the one hand and the ultra-right/-left crazy sources on the other. He is if anything the more liberal member of the pair with a creative flair while she is more of a businessperson and ex-business/finance reporter.

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