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How anti-democratic mechanisms beget further attacks on democracy


Excellent column by Osita Nwanevu explaining how various anti-majorittarian aspects of American constitutionalism have actually fed Republican assumptions that they can’t lose legitimately:

The structural advantages that conservatives enjoy in our electoral system are well known. Twice already this young century, th e Republican Party has won the Electoral College and thus the presidency while losing the popular vote. Republicans in the Senate haven’t represented a majority of Americans since the 1990s, yet they’ve controlled the chamber for roughly half of the past 20 years. In 2012 the party kept control of the House even though Democrats won more votes.

And as is now painfully clear to Democratic voters, their party faces significant barriers to success in Washington even when it manages to secure full control of government: The supermajority requirement imposed by the Senate filibuster can stall even wildly popular legislation, and Republicans have stacked the judiciary so successfully that the Supreme Court seems poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, an outcome that around 60 percent of the American people oppose, according to several recent polls. Obviously, none of the structural features of our federal system were designed with contemporary politics and the Republican Party in mind. But they are clearly giving a set of Americans who have taken strongly to conservative ideology — rural voters in sparsely populated states in the middle of the country — more power than the rest of the electorate.

With these structural advantages in place, it’s not especially difficult to see how the right came to view dramatic political losses, when they do occur, as suspect. If the basic mechanics of the federal system were as fair and balanced as we’re taught they are, the extent and duration of conservative power would reflect the legitimate preferences of most Americans. Democratic victories, by contrast, now seem to the right like underhanded usurpations of the will of the majority — in President Biden’s case, by fraud and foreign voters, and in Barack Obama’s, by a candidate who was himself a foreign imposition on the true American people.

But the federal system is neither fair nor balanced. Rather than democratic give and take between two parties that share the burden of winning over the other side, we have one favored party and another whose effortful victories against ever-lengthening odds are conspiratorially framed as the skulduggery of schemers who can win only through fraud and covert plans to import a new electorate. It doesn’t help that Republican advantages partly insulate the party from public reproach; demagogy is more likely to spread among politicians if there are few electoral consequences. This is a recipe for political violence. Jan. 6 wasn’t the first or the deadliest attack to stem from the idea that Democrats are working to force their will on a nonexistent conservative political and cultural majority. We have no reason to expect it will be the last.

This is also another reason why Rucho v. Common Cause deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson . If the Court will just wave the matador’s cape in front of Republicans who simply declare themselves the state’s permanent legislative rulers irrespective of the will of the electorate, it’s not really much of a stretch to apply the same logic to any other election.

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