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Monday, November 13, 2017

The American problem


Many American Democrats were rejoicing after the recent elections in the USA because Democrats did so well. In fact, they did much better than expected. This is a good omen for the US Elections next year, right? Well, no, not really. The American problem is that the current system is set up to prevent change.

The video above from Vox talks about one of the main problems facing US elections: The country’s antique elections system which helps Republicans keep power, even when they win only a minority of votes. Changing the USA’s election system to a fairer and more democratic system is so difficult as to be nearly impossible, but the video is correct about the ways in which it could help—and how it could smash the Democratic v. Republican duopoly in elected offices.

The second big problem is gerrymandering. Republicans made a big effort in the mid-to-late-2000s to take over state legislatures so they would control how election district boundaries would be drawn to ensure their party got as many seats as possible, and Democrats got as few as possible, all to ensure Republicans maintained a majority of elected representative seats (both state and federal), even if they lose the popular vote (which is how Republicans held onto the Virginia legislature this year despite the massive swing to the Democrats in that state’s elections).

The third problem is Republicans’ voter suppression laws designed to keep Democratic-aligned voting groups—especially poor people, working people, and Black and Hispanic voters—from being able to vote. Republicans initially were able to hoodwink some Democratic legislators into supporting them, but most Democrats eventually realised Republicans were lying about their reasons fo their voter suppression laws. By then it was too late.

The final big problem is money: There’s WAY too much special interest money in politics. Because of the rightwing majority on the Supreme Court’s infamous gift to the Rightwing, Citizens United, corporations can spend as much as they want to buy politicians through campaign spending. It, and other, mostly Republican, legislation has increased the availability of “dark money”, the vast, vast majority of which goes to support Rightwing candidates.

Add it all up—an anti-democratic voting system that makes it easier for the two existing parties to remain in power, gerrymandered districts to keep Rpublicans in control, laws to make it harder for many Democratic-aligned people to vote, and virtually unlimited money to help Rightwing candidates, and even under the best of circumstances the odds are against Democrats re-taking the US Congress next year.

Democrats may do better in state legislatures, and statewide races (incuding some Governor races and some US Senate races in some states), but they’re unlikely to make major inroads in the US House until after redistricting, and then ONLY if they get control of the map drawing and are able to do to Republicans what they did to Democrats. Add to that the fact that people generally don’t vote against incumbents, and the odds are long.

There are some things that may help Democrats. As the current occupant of the White House continues to plummet in opinion polls, it could encourage his opponents to go vote for Democrats (his True Believers, it’s important to remember, are a small minority of voters even if they all turned out to vote). Of course, if he resigns, is impeached, or removed under the 25th Amendment, that might change everything—in either direction; it would depend on the circumstances.

For lasting reform and restoration of democracy, I’d do four things (if I could…):
  1. Switch to a fairer, more democratic voting system. There are several options, but the point is to end the First Past The Post system.
  2. Outlaw gerrymandering by requiring all district boundaries be drawn by independent, non-partisan commissions who would be forbidden by law to consider party identification of voters when drawing maps. Non-partisan systems are used in some US states and many countries, like New Zealand.
  3. Pass new laws making it easier to register and easier to vote. A national Fair Voting Act would outlaw voter suppression laws and ensure every citizen’s right to vote is protected and their participation encouraged.
  4. Amend the US Constitution to overturn Citizens United, to ban all “dark money” in US politics, and to enable legislation to severely regulate contributions to candidates for Congress and President, far beyond any restrictions that exists now.
I don’t think any of my reforms will ever see the light of day, and some are clearly more do-able than others. But without serious, strong reform, nothign will ever change. The system is designed to frustrate change, and it keeps Republicans in power. And that is why I’m pessimistic about Democrats re-taking Congress in 2018. In fact, defeating the current occupant’s campaign for re-election may also be very difficult.

And that’s the real American problem.

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