American Democracy

Cold Civil War?

September 2, 2020

“In the Spring of 2011, Donald Trump was booked on the Today Show, The View, CNN, Fox, etc. to discuss his “theory” that Barack Obama was not born in America. The US media mainstreamed racist innuendo and made Trump’s political ascent possible. Don’t let it happen again.” -Ben Rhodes, author, ‘The World As It Is’

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” -Hanna Arendt


We are in a cold civil war

America after the conventions

by, Anand Giridharadas, The.Ink

“On this morning after the end of the party conventions, I woke up with this feeling: This is how it gets right before the end — or before a new beginning.

I had woken up early to make some notes for a television appearance. More notes than usual came out. I thought I would share them, more or less as is:

My sense after watching these two conventions is that we live in two countries impermeable to each other.

We are locked in a cold civil war.

Each country feels the other is an existential threat to America. Each sees itself as the carrier of truth and freedom and righteousness. Each sees itself as honoring the founding values. Each says it will keep you safe. And the problem is that we have become a society where persuasion is nearly impossible, where people live in their own castles of reality.

I watched Fox News a little last night to understand what it looks like from inside the death cult. And it is a complete, coherent, airtight, fascistic world.

I agree with Michael Beschloss, who said on TV last night that we may be a year away from losing our democracy. This is not me saying it or AOC saying it or Joe Biden saying it; it’s Michael Beschloss saying it. A presidential historian. A year away from losing our democracy.

Until lately, I haven’t really thought that Donald Trump would win. But after watching these conventions, I dread that he is indeed going to win — until you hear otherwise.


If this cult is going to be defeated, it is going to take the most heroic effort and focus between now and November.

And that’s hard because a lot of the progressives with real passion don’t feel it for Joe Biden. And, frankly, it’s more his fault than theirs. And the passion and energy that you see in Black Lives Matter don’t necessarily land on Joe Biden’s shoulders, because of his record on criminal justice and mass incarceration.

Plenty of people are lecturing those folks to come into the tent and focus.

But, far more important, I think, is Biden coming to them. To speak to the Black Lives Matter movement folks, to speak to progressives, to make promises that, fair enough, do not hurt him with the broad coalition he feels he needs to build, because this is a work of coalition-building, but that ignites loving fury and passion like we have never seen.

I live in Brooklyn. Half the people on the street in the primaries had a T-shirt of some candidate or other. In the general election, I have seen exactly one Joe Biden T-shirt among thousands of people.

This is not the time to blame the non-T-shirt wearers. Between now and November, Joe Biden needs to do everything in his power to ignite a righteous political fervor like we’ve never seen before.

And, yes, in this many-way marriage, we’re all going to have to give something. The progressives are going to have to shift from negging Biden to pushing and pressuring and summoning him.

These beautiful protests, when they’re at their best, have drastically moved public opinion in their favor. We need public opinion to keep moving that way.


This campaign for the rescue of the American republic needs to fight on two distinct fronts. We need a passionate consolidation and enlivening on the left. And there have been a lot of missteps here — but there is still time to repair it.

And then in terms of outreach to the other side, the approach shouldn’t be the courting of never-Trumpers at the cost of your own party’s soul — but rather a careful study of the right’s ways.

What I saw over four nights of the RNC was a party that is still the most gifted in American politics at reframing increasingly bizarre, dangerous, destructive, nihilistic policies and prescriptions in the gauzy, stirring language of faith, family, heroism, bravery, and liberty.

In modern times, the Republican Party has forced itself into the extraordinary challenge of selling policies that would serve ever fewer people to a majority. So they have learned how to speak to people. This is the moment for the left to really step up on speaking to people.

Speaking to people in a commanding language that is not wonky, that is not hyper-woke, that is not college-sounding, that is not exclusionary and hard to ramp onto, that strums the courts of widely shared values, not ideological stands. Joe Biden is already better at this than many others, but there is much runway still.

It is existential work right now to find the language that will stoke the fire of those who believe most ardently in the cause, and will call in those who believe least in it but patriotically fear the loss of the republic — this language is hungering to be found.

This is how it gets right before the end — or before a new beginning.”


America’s failing experiment.

June 25, 2020





January 14, 2020
Love it when smart people draw outside the lines. -d

A modest proposal to save American democracy

A law journal just floated a wild idea to add 127 more states to the union. And it’s all constitutional.

American democracy is broken.

We have a president who lost the popular vote, a Senate where the “majority” represents about 15 million fewer people than the “minority,” and a Supreme Court where two justices were nominated by that president and confirmed by that unrepresentative Senate.

An unsigned note, entitled “Pack the Union: A Proposal to Admit New States for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution to Ensure Equal Representation” and published in the Harvard Law Review, offers an entirely constitutional way out of this dilemma: Add new states — a lot of new states — then use this bloc of states to rewrite the Constitution so that the United States has an election system “where every vote counts equally.”

To create a system where every vote counts equally, the Constitution must be amended. To do this, Congress should pass legislation reducing the size of Washington, D.C., to an area encompassing only a few core federal buildings and then admit the rest of the District’s 127 neighborhoods as states. These states — which could be added with a simple congressional majority — would add enough votes in Congress to ratify four amendments: (1) a transfer of the Senate’s power to a body that represents citizens equally; (2) an expansion of the House so that all citizens are represented in equal-sized districts; (3) a replacement of the Electoral College with a popular vote; and (4) a modification of the Constitution’s amendment process that would ensure future amendments are ratified by states representing most Americans.

Under the Constitution, new states may be admitted by an ordinary act of Congress with a simple majority vote. The Constitution does, however, prevent new states from being carved out of an existing state unless the legislature of that state consents. Chopping up the District of Columbia gets around this problem because Washington, DC, is not a state.

One can quarrel with the details of the Harvard proposal. Ratifying a constitutional amendment, for example, requires the consent of three-fourths of the states. So it makes more sense to divide the District of Columbia into 150 states, rather than 127 states, to ensure that pro-democracy amendments will actually be ratified. (Under the Harvard proposal, there would be 177 states, so 133 of them would have to agree to a new amendment. That means that six existing states would need to play along.)


Indeed, there is a long history of partisans selectively admitting new states in order to pack the Senate with their own fellow partisans. In 1864, for example, Republicans admitted the state of Nevada — then a desert wasteland with only several thousand residents — giving themselves two extra Senate seats in the process.

Similarly, the reason why there are two Dakotas is because Republicans celebrated their victory in the 1888 election by dividing the Republican Dakota Territory up into two states, thereby giving themselves four senators instead of only two.

So let’s be frank. The Harvard note’s proposal is ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than a system where the nearly 40 million people in California have no more Senate representation than the 578,759 people in Wyoming. As the Harvard note says of its own pitch, “radical as this proposal may sound, it is no more radical than a nominally democratic system of government that gives citizens widely disproportionate voting power depending on where they live.”

[Full article]
Harvard Law Review

Pack the Union: A Proposal to Admit New States for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution to Ensure Equal Representation

The problem of unequal representation is rooted in provisions of the Constitution that treat citizens living in different places differently. These provisions date to the Constitutional Convention, but in many respects, the present state of affairs does not reflect the Framers’ intentions. Developments since ratification call into question the inequality of the status quo, which has a substantial effect on public policy and is likely to get worse unless it is addressed.

But even when democracy is messy, a society’s commitment to the endeavor rests on the belief that giving power to the people is appropriate and fair. Recent events have highlighted some of the ways in which federal elections in the United States are profoundly undemocratic and, thus, profoundly unfair.

The Electoral College — when it contravenes the popular vote — is an obvious example of this unfairness. But it is just one of the mathematically undemocratic features in the Constitution. Equal representation of states in the Senate, for example, gives citizens of low-population states undue influence in Congress. Conversely, American citizens residing in U.S. territories have no meaningful representation in Congress or the Electoral College.

If we truly hold to be self-evident that all are created equal, The Declaration of Independence para. 2 (U.S. 1776), then it is time to amend the Constitution to ensure that all votes are treated equally. Just as it was unfair to exclude women and minorities from the franchise, so too is it unfair to weight votes differently. The 600,000 residents of Wyoming and the 40,000,000 residents of California, should not be represented by the same number of senators. Nor should some citizens get to vote for President, while others do not. Any rationalization of the status quo must adopt the famous Orwellian farce: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell, Animal Farm 112 (1946).

[Full article] 

“…communities have become information deserts.’

April 1, 2016


(Bagdikian, the Armenian-American immigrant who became one of this country’s great journalists and then the greatest media critic of his time, died in March at age 96.)

‘…with his 1983 book, The Media Monopoly, have always recognized that the genius of this Pulitzer and Peabody Award-winning journalist was not in his charting of the steadily increasing control of communications by a handful of conglomerates. It was in the understanding Bagdikian provided about the danger that was inherent in allowing the dominance of the discourse by a handful of wealthy and self-interested corporations.’


‘No national paper or broadcast station can report adequately the issues and candidates in every one of the 65,000 local voting districts. Only locally based journalism can do it, and if it does not, voters become captives of the only alternative information, paid political propaganda, or no information at all.


‘Ben Bagdikian saw the crisis of journalism coming, and he knew that this would be a crisis for American democracy.’

This post originally appeared at The Nation.

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