Here’s how we can, but probably won’t, fix our failing democracy


Photo by Dave DeckerIn a investigation taken this summer by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, 83% of Trump voters agreed with this statement: “There are a lot of radical and immoral people out there trying to ruin things; our society should stop them.

More than four in five Trump voters also believed that “our country needs a powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents that prevail in our society today” (i.e. a strong man) , while 44% agreed the country would be “better off if the president could take the necessary action without being coerced by Congress or the courts,” and 52% expressed support for the Red States leaving the union.

Scary, right?

Before the Liberals get on their high horse, consider this: 65% of Biden voters think “radical and immoral people” are trying to ruin the country; 62% agreed with the strong man’s statement; 46% said the president should not be constrained by co-equal branches of government; and 41% were in favor of secession.

I’m not a two-way street. The Republican Party has been heading in a radical and undemocratic direction since the Gingrich Revolution, its trajectory accelerated by conservative racial anxiety during the Obama presidency, which culminated in the nativist populism of Donald Trump. As the greatest political scientists have recognized, the GOP has grown from a center-right coalition to an “ideologically polarized, internally unified, strongly oppositional and politically strategic” party better suited to parliamentary systems than presidential systems.

But in politics as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The more Republicans break standards, the less apt Democrats are to abide by the old rules.

It has long been evident that ours is not a representative democracy. Republican presidential candidates have won the popular vote once since 1992, but have occupied the White House for 12 of those 29 years. Joe Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump, but thanks to the Electoral College, Trump found himself less than 50,000 well-placed votes from keeping his post.

Democratic Senators make up about 56% of the US population, but since Wyoming and North Dakota have the same representation as California and New York, the fate of the Democratic agenda hinges on legitimate concerns about debt / taxes. / inflation and / or the mercurial whims of moderates in West Virginia and Arizona.

Because these moderates have given their fellow Republican veto power over non-budget legislation. Because the Republicans exercised this veto – the filibuster – mercilessly, Senate rules forced Democrats to bundle most of their initiatives into one massive package.

The more moving parts there are, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. As I write this, progressives are delaying the bipartisan infrastructure agreement to find a way to prevent moderates from weakening the social and climate provisions of the reconciliation package.

This impasse exists because of the systematic obstruction. The existence of the obstruction, in turn, fuels the feeling that “Washington” is broken, which diminishes confidence in institutions, which gives rise to authoritarian movements.

Add to that an extremist Supreme Court likely to demolish abortion rights and the legislatures of the red states openly talk about rigging the next presidential election– this after Trump urged Vice President Pence to simply declare it the winner on January 6, which would have sparked the biggest constitutional crisis since the Civil War and it’s no wonder Democrats are taking an undemocratic turn. Democracy fails.

The funny thing is that the Center for Politics investigation found bipartisan support for key elements of Biden’s agenda: over 80% of Trump voters support upgrading the power grid, modernizing systems water and sewer and investment in roads and bridges; the majority of Trump voters support paid family leave, universal pre-K, increasing rural broadband internet, and increasing taxes on those earning more than $ 400,000 a year.

More than 40% of Trump voters even support a free community college and legislation banning right to work laws.

What divides us is not political but cultural– the feeling that the other side is destroying the country and that our side must stop them. Every fight becomes existential. This feeling erodes rationality, nurtures conspiratorial beliefs, and creates space for demagogues.

In the Washington post, the Curator Henry Olsen writes: “We have solved such moments before. We did it peacefully, outside of the Civil War, because wise leaders like Thomas Jefferson defused conflicts by persuading large numbers of supporters on the other side to join new coalitions.

It would be nice if we didn’t have to look back 220 years for a peaceful resolution. Besides, it would be nice if the Republican Party didn’t remind the Southern Democrats of the 1850s so much.

Indeed, this is where Olsen’s analysis fails: Persuasion fails when differences are about identity, not politics. Since the Civil Rights Act, American politics has become less based on what we believe and more on team allegiance.

But Republicans are also revealing the solution to the crisis they caused. The GOP has eroded democratic safeguards by playing the system to its advantage, in other words, by operating as a parliamentary party in a presidential system that relies on standards and good faith to function. If it was one of many parties in a parliamentary system – alongside the Greens, Socialists, traditional Democrats, traditional conservatives, libertarians, etc. – who were to form a coalition to govern, however, this would not be the case.

Multiparty democracies promote compromise and inclusiveness. And ruling coalitions have few constraints on their ability to govern, which makes them more responsive and accountable to voters.

There is a way to go in that direction. The Fair Representation Act, a bill introduced at each session by Democratic Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, would establish multi-member congressional districts drawn by an independent redistribution commission, with members elected by priority vote. In short, this would lead to more proportional representation in the House.

That, in addition to the preferential vote in presidential and senatorial elections – you cannot remove the two-senator-per-state edict from the Constitution – the elimination of filibuster and the elimination of the Electoral College through the National Interstate Popular Vote Pact, would go a long way towards making our democracy smaller D) democratic.

It would also upend the current power structure, so it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. Maybe we will consider it when 75% of the country wants to secede.

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