How will American democracy survive? | No. 188 – March 20, 2022
A multiracial, pluralistic society is "uncharted territory" for representative democracy
I am ending a week of vacation today, so do not have a long post for you, but I carved out an hour or so for writing because I wanted to send a short post commenting on this piece in the New York Times Magazine about the future of American democracy.
Among other things, Charles Homans asks six experts — among them political scientists, lawyers and activists — what they think about the January 6, 2021 insurrection and the anti-democracy turn of the Republican Party, the increasing radicalization of pro-democracy politics and attacks on equal representation and the Voting Rights Act, and about the political-psychological roots of American democratic decline.
The panelists present a truly grim portrait of the United States today. The critical mass of (lower-case “d”) democrats necessary to sustain the country’s current level of (comparatively restricted) political freedoms is under threat from multiple angles. With competitive Congressional and Presidential elections on the near horizon, one dangerous theory of state legislative supremacy over subnational executives and national institutions is particularly concerning.
But the interviews illustrate that our problems really extend beyond abstract wrong-headed judicial doctrines to fundamental rifts in society that prevent pluralistic government. As Steven Levitsky, the co-author (with Daniel Ziblatt) of the 2018 book How Democracies Die, says:” it is not easy to find solutions, best practices elsewhere; the creation of a truly multiracial democracy is uncharted territory.”
This is not, uh, exactly a fun vacation read. And little of the article is new. But it is clarifying to have so many smart people talk about this big issue in one place.
I will have a longer post to you next Sunday. But do read on for the usual links and recommendations.
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What I’m reading
This week, I have been re-reading (my notes on) Pauline Mayer’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. It seemed like a good decision at first, given how conversations around individual rights and state powers have become topical again lately, but then I remembered how looong the book is. It’s all good, but it’s also a lot to get through. That makes it better used as a reference than as a book you read all the way through in a few sittings.
Here is a useful report from Hart Research Associates on what Americans think about raising gas prices and how they connect those trends to actions from Congress and the Biden Administration
Confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, begin next week. Here is a good profile of what Americans think of her from the folks at the Pew Research Center.
That’s it for this week. Thanks very much for reading. If you have any feedback, you can reach me at this address (or just respond directly to this email if you’re reading in your inbox). And if you’ve read this far please consider a paid subscription to support the blog.
Elliott, I haven't read Levitsky or Pauline Mayer. I will, thank you. I have been reading David Graeber's The Dawn of Everything and Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry For The Future and just finished Michael Lewis' Boomerang. All three have insights into the current state of both the United States and the northern tier, including Russia. The lessons I take are that both Russians and Westerners are individualistic, and don't teach or practice citizening. And that FDR was right: https://tinyurl.com/2p89seae .