Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Rep. Adam Schiff is a little too rosy in his assessment of the state of U.S. democracy

I share Schiff’s concern about these recent transgressions by the Justice Department under Donald Trump, but he misses the larger and more permanent constitutional ways the United States falls short of full democracy.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff
I have long since fallen off the wagon of viewing the United States system of government as a fully functioning democracy.

In a fully functioning democracy, every citizen would have equal representation. But the U.S. Senate, which gives fully equal power to two senators from Wyoming (population 581,075) and two from California (population 39,613,493), plus the District of Columbia (zero representation in the Senate, population 692,683) is not only deeply violative of the fundamental principle of equal representation of all citizens, but is the one and only provision of the Constitution that the Constitution itself says can never be amended (see Article V, last clause).

There are other examples of undemocratic features of the Constitution, including the Electoral College system that gives candidates (like George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016, that’s twice in the past six elections) the ability to win the presidency while losing the popular vote.

Article continues after advertisement

The very smart U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff didn’t bring up either of those features, but brought up several others, when asked recently by Galen Druke on the podcast (transcript here) how close the United States to not being a democracy today, replied:

I think we are still very much a democracy, but a lot of the guardrails have come down. Things that we never imagined could happen in this country have happened.

It was hard to imagine, post-Watergate, another president of the United States using the Justice Department to protect those who are lying to cover up for him. But that’s what Bill Barr did: in intervening in Roger Stone’s case, someone convicted of lying to Congress and trying to intimidate other witnesses into lying to Congress; by intervening to make the whole case of Mike Flynn go away.

But also using that Justice Department to go after the president’s enemies.

And of course, the betrayal of that Department of Justice, which is supposed to represent the interests of justice, is only one of innumerable examples. The frequent attacks on the press as the enemy of the people, reportedly trying to raise postal rates on Amazon to punish the Washington Post is using the instruments of state power to censor the press. The flagrant violations of the Hatch Act, the flagrant violations of the Emoluments Clause. … We are still a democracy, but we are also not out of the woods.

I share fully Schiff’s concern about these recent transgressions about these violations by the Justice Department under Donald Trump and William Barr. But, according to me, he missed the bigger permanent and fully constitutional ways in which the United States falls short of full democracy.