In a massive piece that ran over the weekend, The New York Times continued its brilliant effort to not only explain how U.S. democracy came so close to going off its rails in 2020, but also to highlight many features of our system of politics and government that threaten our future as a functioning democracy.
I don’t think a summary will do it justice, And I’m not sure if non-Times subscribers can get to the full piece. The experience of the Trump presidency, the quirks in our system that enabled him to get into that office without winning the national popular vote in 2016, the number of ways he found to abuse his powers during his term, and the number of ways he found to try to steal the office for four more years in 2020, all make it vital that we candidly face the elements of the crazy, overly-complicated system of sort-of democracy under which we govern ourselves.
But it’s a very long, serious, smart piece and part of an ongoing occasional series called “Democracy Challenged.” I’ll offer a few brief excerpts from the top and hope that the link will enable you go get to the full piece. From the article:
“…The United States today finds itself in a situation with little historical precedent. American democracy is facing two distinct threats, which together represent the most serious challenge to the country’s governing ideals in decades.
“The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.
“The violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, meant to prevent the certification of President Biden’s election, was the clearest manifestation of this movement, but it has continued since then. Hundreds of elected Republican officials around the country falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Some of them are running for statewide offices that would oversee future elections, potentially putting them in position to overturn an election in 2024 or beyond.
“’There is the possibility, for the first time in American history, that a legitimately elected president will not be able to take office,’ said Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who studies democracy.
“The second threat to democracy is chronic but also growing: The power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.
“The run of recent Supreme Court decisions — both sweeping and, according to polls, unpopular — highlight this disconnect. Although the Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees seems poised to shape American politics for years, if not decades. And the court is only one of the means through which policy outcomes are becoming less closely tied to the popular will…
“…Two of the past four presidents have taken office despite losing the popular vote. Senators representing a majority of Americans are often unable to pass bills, partly because of the increasing use of the filibuster. Even the House, intended as the branch of the government that most reflects the popular will, does not always do so, because of the way districts are drawn.
“’We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world,’ said Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University and a co-author of the book “How Democracies Die,” with Daniel Ziblatt. … Mr. Levitsky said, “It’s not clear how the crisis is going to manifest itself, but there is a crisis coming.” He added, “We should be very worried.” …
I feel I have to stop there. The piece is very long and makes many very strong points very clearly and well. As I said above, I don’t know whether non-Times subscribers can access it easily or for free, but take a shot.
I agree with the authors of the piece and the experts quoted in it that we must focus on these issues very urgently. The flaws in the system that threaten its future are many, including many old and new features. The Trumpers are still looking for loopholes.
I want to believe that we can find them first and fix them.