This is not representative democracy

By | February 9, 2021

Dahlia Lithwick writes:

[B]eyond the political message that House impeachment managers and Senate Democrats will convey at trial—that Republicans have opted, once again, to be the party of Trump and violent incitement and that his efforts to overturn both the vote and the Constitution are just fine—there is another vitally important message that will be conveyed this week, no matter the outcome. That message is less a political signal about the difference between the two parties so much as it is a five-alarm warning about how representative democracy is working for Americans right now. Because in spite of the certainty with which I can predict that Trump won’t be convicted, recent polling shows that the majority of Americans want to see him convicted. ABC polling released on Sunday shows 56 percent of Americans saying that Trump should be convicted and barred from holding office again. Only 43 percent say he should not be. That means that most Americans watching any part of the impeachment trial could reasonably ask themselves why, um, yet again, 56 percent of the country is held hostage to a 43 percent minority. This is not representative democracy working well.

But this isn’t just about minority rule. Because beyond possibly reconsidering the archaic constitutional strictures that require a two-thirds majority to convict the president, Americans might reasonably look at the disastrously malapportioned United States Senate and try to understand why this sober, deliberative body intentionally distorts the will of the people even as it purports to represent the will of the people. And that means those same people who might scratch their heads in an effort to understand how the Republican Party has morphed from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Space Lasers could also reasonably wonder why it is that views that don’t command even a minority of the minority views of most Republicans seem to be privileged on the Senate floor over the rational conservative values they themselves espouse. They might, for instance, wonder why the GOP is condemning Liz Cheney while offering a standing ovation to Marjorie Taylor Greene. And they wouldn’t be totally insane if they then started to think about what minority-rule structures and incentive systems have brought them here.

In short, in addition to using this impeachment trial to create a historical record of four years of GOP support for a president who tried to violently overturn an election, this impeachment can also stand as a record of how staggeringly broken electoral politics are when the preferences of the clear majority of Americans are being subordinated by the very systems of government itself. The GOP isn’t just committed to ignoring the insurrection at the Capitol this week. It’s also increasingly committed to ignoring the majority of Americans who found the insurrection abhorrent. This, then, is what minority rule looks like in political theater form: a Senate trial in which the clear will of the people can be sidelined because the clear will of the people does not determine who governs, or what those who govern must do. [Continue reading…]

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