I long ago fell off the bandwagon of American exceptionalism, especially where it pretends and pronounces the perfection or near-perfection of the U.S. system of politics and government and suggests that the rest of the world benefits from our model.
Few of the democracies that have developed since ours came on the scene have used us as their model, and none recently. Those lucky newer democracies benefit from our mistakes and the blatantly obvious (to outsiders) problems built into our system, which, quite recently, produced a national “leader” who had been chosen by, and gained the support of, neither a majority nor even a plurality of the electorate, who had no prior experience in government, and who brought us as close as we have been since roughly the Civil War to the ruination of our now-relatively-ancient experiment in democracy.
I don’t blame the founders/framers of the Constitution. They didn’t have the benefit of many experiments in how to do democracy that have come along since, and they were dealing with a their own political imperatives that led to atrocities like the three-fifths compromise, obviously hideous to modern eyes, but which was apparently necessary to get the 1787 Constitution enacted. Of course, that 3/5 atrocity no longer applies, although many states seem to find 21st-century ways of depressing turnout among black voters.
But many other features (like the one that gives California and Wyoming equal power in the U.S. Senate despite a population ratio of slightly more than 68-1) do still apply, directly and unalterably. I say unalterably because, as I’ve mentioned before, the Constitution specifies that that particular feature can never be amended.
The difficulty of amending the Constitution reinforces the blocking power of small minorities. I don’t expect to live long enough to see much improvement in our system.
The fact that the American Experiment appears, for the moment and thanks to a great deal of luck, to have survived the (first) Trump presidency is great. The fact that that presidency occurred should be discussed by those who think our system is brilliantly designed. It ain’t.
If you are open to thinking about ideas for improving our system, I highly recommend the most recent weekly column by the great Thomas Edsall of the New York Times op-ed page, who (as he often does) mined the wisdom of serious scholars and experts to discuss ideas for making our system better.
I’ll give you a taste of what Edsall learned from his sources, and then urge you to read the whole column, which cites Lee Drutman’s recent book, “The Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multi-Party Democracy in America,” and Edsall’s email exchanges with Drutman and others. Drutman believes (and I agree) that if the grip of the two-party duopoly could be broken … “the MAGA wing would be cut loose from the rest of the G.O.P. coalition and left to operate on its own. It’s certainly conceivable that there could be even a few more Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Lauren Boeberts elected, but proportional representation (PR) would also mean more Adam Kinzingers (a House Republican who is a critic of Trump) and Romney-type Republicans elected as well.”
With the help of Drutman and other scholars and experts, Edsall explores some of the features of our system that virtually guarantee complete domination by two big parties, and the consequences of that fact.
Obviously, there are other ways to do democracy, and this would be a fine moment to think about some of the advantages of some of those ways.
The full (and great) Edsall column is here.