The biggest story in American politics continues to be the partisan fallout from the January 6th insurrection, this week manifesting as Congressional Republicans’ refusal to take investigating it seriously. On Friday, Senate Republicans filibustered a House-passed bill that would create a bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of the riot. It “failed” on a 54-35 vote in favor, as the filibuster prevents voting on most legislation without the 60 Senators voting to proceed past debate.
There are a few polls out this week that frame the vote as an issue of anti-majoritarian, conspiratorial revolt against American democracy. I would like to talk about this issue without being alarmist, but recent events nevertheless prescribe an impassioned response.
A new The Economist/YouGov poll finds nearly supermajority support for a Congressional investigation and other prosecution. Quoting from the article: The survey of 1,500 adults, conducted between May 22nd and 25th, found that 56% “somewhat” or “strongly” approve of the commission. Just 29% oppose it. There is even stronger support for prosecuting the rioters through the judiciary: 59% of adults told YouGov they agreed with prosecuting Donald Trump's supporters who participated “in the takeover of the Capitol building”. Among people who call themselves Democrats, 82% support prosecution, as do 56% of independents. Of Republicans, 39% agree (see left-hand chart), though slightly more (43%) say that the insurrectionists should not be prosecuted.
However, most Republican-aligned adults blame left-wing activists for the riot. To quote from this CNN article: A majority of Republicans, 56%, say they believe that the 2020 election was the result of illegal voting or election rigging, per an Ipsos/Reuters poll released last week, with about 6 in 10 agreeing with the statement that "the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump." Republicans also say, 54% to 30%, that they agree with the myth that the January 6 riot at the US Capitol "was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad."
Of course, the rioters who breached the Capitol were in fact Trump supporters. I blogged last week about how our collective failure to agree on a shared set of facts about events poses an even more serious threat to democracy than partisan factionalization over issues and agendas.
This threat is bad enough on its own to warrant some alarmism over the future of the country. Only before the Civil War was one party so committed to anti-democratic, minoritarian principles — including the idea that victories for the opposition are illegitimate, as the GOP appears to today.
But the threat is magnified further by the filibuster, which allows a clear minority of Republican Congressmembers echoing a clear minority of misled and misinformed voters to dominate over the rational and sovereign majority. This contaminates the democratic process and makes the outputs from our government less legitimate.
Decreasing the number of bad-faith actors in Congress and increasing their latitude to resist the misgivings of their base — which are currently driven mainly by a demagogic leader and right-wing news — are two ways to remedy this problem.
I write more on what can be done in the free newsletter out later today. For now, let me know what you think in the comments to this thread.
I know you tweeted about Madison yesterday and I looked up The Federalist Papers : No. 58.
Looking at the text below and based on what I read, it seems to me that the conventional take on Madison's tyranny of the minority is misplaced. Madison believed in governing by the majority and would be appalled by the filibuster.
"It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale.
In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority. Were the defensive privilege limited to particular cases, an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences. Lastly, it would facilitate and foster the baneful practice of secessions; a practice which has shown itself even in States where a majority only is required; a practice subversive of all the principles of order and regular government; a practice which leads more directly to public convulsions, and the ruin of popular governments, than any other which has yet been displayed among us."
As noted in Ronald Brownstein's article in the Atlantic, there are questions on whether Biden is doing enough to address these issues.
I'm in a pessimistic mood right now. I believe that President Obama was correct in saying "democracy is on the ballot" in 2016, and we got it wrong. I'm afraid there is no going back from Trump.
We're going to a safer bubble but we sure wish we could get out of this country - Costa Rica? Ghana? Canada? Scotland?