Earlier this month, Heather Cox Richardson reported that both the New York Times and the Washington Post ran op-eds penned by Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken their party is bled out of it.
Most Democrats would say that if they had a choice between the United States being a well-functioning democratic-republic, or the Democratic Party prevailing in about 50% of elections, they would prefer America to be a democracy.
In 2016, when Donald Trump was selected by the Electoral College to be president, a national conversation began concerning how American democracy was becoming more at risk. With each passing day of his presidency, as he said or did one outrageous thing after another, there became more discussion on how his method of ruling was similar to a dictator. Virtually all Democrats, most independents, and a minority of Republicans knew that America would be in for a rough ride with Trump. But as his outrageous behavior escalated, more came to fear for the preservation of our democracy. This culminated with Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that he had lost the 2020 election, and then the planned assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
On the strength of the 2020 election results, Democrats gained control of the federal executive and legislative branches. Even though Joe Biden won the presidency by more than seven million popular votes, absurdly his victory is still being challenged. In the House, the Democrats actually lost seats in 2020 and have merely a eight-vote margin. Because Democrats won the two January run-off elections in Georgia, the Senate is locked at 50-50, with Vice-President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote. But two of the Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, act like outcasts in the party and are major obstacles to the agenda advocated by most other Democrats.
Progressive Democrats have a very well-crafted agenda designed to effectively move the country forward economically, socially, and promoting human rights. Members of the House like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Jamie Raskin, and in the Senate like Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, are positioned to implement a genuine wave of progressive legislation somewhat akin to the New Deal and the Great Society.
But because of the two Senators (Manchin and Sinema), we’re largely at gridlock. However, two good things may happen: (1) democracy will function as two of fifty Democratic senators can stymie the overwhelming will of their colleagues, and (2) something will pass – a watered down compromise which is a far cry better than had we had Republican rule.
Let’s face it, progressives, we’re not going to have the kind of victory that we wanted. We are hamstrung in effecting more progress because of structural problems in our system; ones that go back to our founding fathers and ones that are continuously being developed by activists on the right. They make it very difficult for Democrats to advance a progressive agenda.
A few of the structural problems in our current system include:
- The U.S. Senate. A key issue among the founders was whether or not to have a bi-cameral legislature, and if so, how each house would be constituted. In the interest of democracy, the House as based on population. At the time that the Constitution was ratified, the only eligible voters were white men who owned property. This naturally benefited the larger states. For that reason, states small in population, such as Rhode Island and Delaware, wanted the second house to have equal representation for each state. Thus the U.S. Senate. Fast forward to today and it means that Wyoming and California each have two members of the Senate, but it’s highly undemocratic because the Wyoming senators represent only one-fifty-seventh of the population of the senators from California.
- Gerrymandering – the drawing of legislative districts in a fashion that favors one party over another. For example, Missouri, which generally votes of 40% for Democrats has only two of eight members in the House (25%).
- Corruption – while Trumpsters squawk about fraud and fake elections, it is the Republicans who are pushing all barriers to protecting our democracy. When the term ‘truth’ has no meaning to a large segment of the electorate, we run the risk of losing the people’s connection to democracy.
So, progressives would serve themselves well to harness some of their enthusiasm for immediate enactment of the policies of “The Squad” or even Joe Biden. Instead, the focus should be on protecting our democratic institutions at a time when they are under relentless attack from Trumpsters and others on the far right.
As we work at the governmental level to further protect our democracy, we need to work with our schools to reach out into the electorate in order to optimize a population that is empathetic and has the capabilities of critical thinking.
Only with a more aware electorate and a new generation of logical and compassionate thinkers will we be able to protect our democracy. If we can strengthen those two items, then we can adapt the next leg of the New Deal and the Great Society.