Are We A Legitimate Democracy Anymore?

Well, we never were. We were and are a representative democracy as distinct from a pure democracy, but the point is still the same. Is our government illegitimate? Sure it follows the “rules”, but does it represent the people anymore? And I don’t ask this in some esoteric way, what I am asking is that has the majority of Americans recognized that what we call the American system of government does not represent or respond to them any more? And if the answer is yes, and I think it is, are we not setting up the conditions for the failure of America or violence to arise? I think we are close. Look at the number of people who don’t bother to vote anymore.

We have a system of government established by our Constitution. It tells us how to elect Congressmen, Senators, and Presidents. It sets up a Supreme Court that adjudicates laws and the Constitution. It balances powers between the three branches of government so no branch can get out of control. And yet many of us think the system has gone off the rails.

We have a President and a Congress that does not represent the will of the people. How do you explain the Healthcare repeal and replace that only had a 17% approval rating and yet almost passed except for the political courage of three Republicans? How did the Supreme Court back in 2000 stop the vote count and anoint George W. Bush president? How did the Senate block even considering a nomination by Barack Obama to that same court? How did a President so profoundly unfit for the job get elected by a minority of Americans? How does legislation favored by a majority of Americans (immigration reform for one) and would have passed if brought up, not get a hearing?

All this comes to mind as I read an op-ed by Ross Douthat in the NYT called the Empty Majority. Ross, a conservative, was asking how the present-day Republican Party is so successful at getting elected when “it is a majority party that behaves like it’s in the political wilderness, an election-winning machine that has no idea what to do with national power…The same feckless G.O.P. that exists in a constant state of low-grade civil war controls not only Congress and the White House, but most statehouses and state legislatures as well. All of the contemporary Republican Party’s critics — left-wing and centrist and conservative — keep saying that the G.O.P. is broken and adrift, and years of government shutdowns and Obamacare debacles and everything about the Trump era keep proving us correct.” And yet they keep getting elected.

He goes on to try to explain it in terms of the incompetence of the Democrats (true), “a party that’s terrible at governing can still win elections if the other party is even worse at politics.” And then he leaves us with this:

So that leaves the Democrats as the only people with the power to put an end to the current spectacle of Republican incompetence and folly. All they need to do is persuade Americans that they have more to fear from conservative hackwork than from a liberalism in command of politics as well as culture.

Sure the Democrats are idiots and have a philosophy of a herd of cats. But Obama gave us a steady ship even while the Republicans took both houses of Congress. And the thing that Congress wanted had very little to do with what the American people really wanted as shown in poll after poll on the issues. So Douthat did not really answer the question which is my fundamental question that started this blog, is our government legitimate any more. But we are saved by his readers who answered that question:

The big issue that Mr. Douthat ignores here is that the Republicans are not actually the majority party. Yes, they hold the large majority of offices at federal and state levels. But such results do not reflect the will of the majority. For example:

– Trump, of course, lost the popular vote by at least 3 million, and the GOP has lost the popular vote in six out of the last seven elections.

– The Senate is not a majoritarian body, as states like Wyoming and the Dakotas each have as many Senators as California.

– The House is gerrymandered beyond recognition, as are many of the GOP-run state legislatures throughout the country.

– The GOP has engaged in comprehensive voter suppression efforts for the past 10 to 20 years to limit voting by Democratic-leaning populations, which skews the results of elections even in districts that are not gerrymandered.

– The dismantling of campaign finance reform by the Supreme Court has given billionaires and millionaires a massively outsized voice in our political system in comparison to that of average voters.

All of this adds up to a system where conservative Republicans have been able to take virtually all of the reins of power despite not having the support of the majority of Americans. The result is a party that doesn’t have to figure out how to govern in a way that is responsive to the voters but, instead, can create the type of dysfunctional mess we are witnessing today.

Has our system of rules become either obsolete (the electoral college and Senate representation) in reflecting the nation, or bent by money, gerrymandering, and voter suppression to create a system that no longer is the legitimate representative of the people? I think we ought to think long and hard on this one. As Republicans game the system for power, they may be setting up the chaos and violence they say they so abhor. We have entered dangerous times when the majority in power do not represent the majority in the country.  Rember what our own Declaration of Indepence told us:

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Are we getting there?

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