Friday, November 30, 2018

America's democracy problem

The USA has a huge problem: Its democracy is completely broken and that prevents the will of the people from being heard, much less carried out. The video above from Vox’s Ezra Klein talks about the worst problems preventing democracy and democratic solutions in the USA. He offers no set, absolute reforms or solutions, except for this: We must move, we must change. Well, obviously.

In 2018, Democrats had a massive vote, but didn’t win as much as some people expected. There are two reasons for that. First, Republicans passed voter suppression laws, and Republican elected officials worked hard, to keep people, especially non-white voters deemed likely to vote for Democrats, from being able to vote. We saw this most notoriously in Georgia, Florida, and North Dakota, but wherever Republicans held power, they usually tried to keep Democratic supporters from voting.

The second problem is gerrymandering, which draws electoral districts to maximise the power of one party. In this case, Republicans drew legislative boundaries to maximise the number of Republicans elected while minimising the number of seats—if any—that Democrats can win.

Those are the two main reasons that Democrats didn’t win as many races as they should have. No other factor was anywhere near as important as this: Republicans have rigged the system to their advantage.

Consider the US House of Representatives.

In 2010, Republicans won control of the US House by taking 63 seats from Democrats—an utterly massive win, carried by the party’s teabagger insurgency. Republicans won 51.7% of the popular vote to Democrats 44.9%, so the Republicans enjoyed a 6.8 point margin of victory.

In 2018, Democrats won control of the US House, picking up 40 seats. Democrats won 53.3% of the popular vote to the Republicans’ 45%, meaning Democrats enjoyed an 8.3 point margin of victory.

So: in 2018 Democrats did 1.5 points better than Republicans did in 2010, yet they won 23 FEWER seats. THAT is what rigging the system has done for Republicans. THAT is what Republicans putting party first has done. THAT is what political corruption looks like.

The question is, how do we fix that? One logical answer is to gerrymander the system back toward Democrats, giving mainstream Americans a chance to reform the system once Republicans are out of the way. But that would only rile up the rightwing, possibly violently. It would be no more legitimate than the current rigged system is, no matter how virtuous, noble, or even defensible the goal might be. There MUST be a better solution.

The solution is structural reform to change everything about the way elections are done. This will not, by itself, make government feel legitimate. The USA’s political culture is now so partisan, so divided, and so toxic that even if the USA adopted the most fair and democratic system possible, whoever lost an election would feel the result was illegitimate—at least, at first they would. Old habits die hard.

It is probable, though, that after more and more free and fair elections took place, and ordinary people saw that the fair contest of ideas is what wins elections, not money or rigging the system, they would eventually come around. The diehards at the extremes never would, of course, but I don’t think anything could ever please them unless they hold all the power, and maybe not even then.

This assumes we get the chance to fix America’s democracy problem, and that is not yet certain.

Rather than rehash the various reform measures I’ve talked about over the years, I decided to just list the relevant posts below. The need to reform has been there for years, and so have the solutions.

But there’s one final important point, a warning, actually, articulated by President Kennedy in a speech to Latin American diplomats at the White House on 13 March 1962. He said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” We need to make a peaceful revolution before the alternative becomes unavoidable.

The American problem (2017)

Fixing the Electoral College (2016)

Real electoral reform (2013)

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