For More Than A Century, Americans Fine-Tuned The Rules Of Democracy. Why Have We Stopped? | Talking Points Memo

The following is the first installment in a TPM series, Not Safe At Home. The series takes a look at fixes the next Congress and President should consider to how our democracy works. This essay is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

What happened?

Mitch McConnell happened…


Working as designed. The Koch brothers, et al, have been working for years to hamstring our government and “drown it in a bathtub.” Now that we need a strong, competent response to disaster, we are floundering. Thanks, GOP! Heckuva job.


Part of the issue is that the electorate seems to mobilize itself only out of fear…whether that is fear of communists, liberals, homosexuals, coloured people, Asians, socialism, pandemics…I could go on. Fear is not a foundation for a democratic society or the basis to establish an economy that does its best for the greatest number of people. It’s sad to admit but I sometimes feel that the USA has lost its way.

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Our problems started long before McConnell stepped onto the stage.

TPM is correct, the problems plaguing our government are structural rather than political. The partisanship we see is just the symptom of our political and electoral systems.

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What happened? In 1965 the rules of democracy were fine-tuned to include African-Americans. That was just one tune too many, it seems. When Saint Ronnie of the Wonderful Hair said, “…the Democratic Party left me”, that was what he was referring to.

Incidentally, if you want to compare today’s Democrats to a Civil War Era figure, don’t look to Lincoln. Look instead to one of his contemporaries.

George McClellan.


The National Popular Vote bill is 73% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

It requires enacting states with 270 electoral votes to award their electoral votes to the winner of the most national popular votes.

All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.

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While this preference for stability may be justified as strategy, it is vacuous as history.

Nor is it justified as strategy, either, unless we ask whose strategy.

the past can provide some guidance as we do the painful but necessary work of expanding our sense of the possible, of assessing the problems in our political system, and of devising solutions sufficient to address them.


One party wants status quo because of their greed for power & money and they have a stronghold in the electoral college because it is NOT easy to relocate for electoral votes!

And another party is too cautious or fearful to make bold changes because the American polity has been dumbed down and anthropoid politically!

Moreover, a portion of the fourth estate are spreading lies and propaganda instead of real news or investigative journalism and some of them has done it for decades like Fox News. Some even have synchronized news like Sinclair!

That said, one can only hope that the silver lining of this pandemic will further awaken and strengthen everyone’s political will and fight for our diminishing democracy!

The GOP is committed to democracy as the problem not the solution.

“A Republic, if you can keep it”. --Benjamin Franklin

From a lifelong academic friend of mine:

There is a new book getting a lot of attention: Hitler’s First Hundred Days by Peter Fritzsche. The topic fascinates me for three reasons. First, for most of my adult life, as a person who reads smart, liberal sources, Hitler has been portrayed as a buffoon, a clown, a figure of fun. But he achieved great power in the most sophisticated country in the world, so how could he have been as stupid as liberal historians have portrayed him? Second, in recent years, a consensus has emerged that Hitler was the creature the conservative elite in Germany who thought they could use him for their purposes but he somehow slipped the leash or they lost the plot. In any case, Hitler was depicted as a run away former puppet who somehow got lucky. Third, the rise of Trump and American populism has caused some people to rethink all this. The liberal elites (think the Political Science Department at Harvard) thought Trump was a joke, a silly man, who had no chance of getting elected. They (Peter Fritsche) use this as an analogy to explain Hitler’s rise. In their view, Hitler and Trump caught a populist wave that complacent liberals never took seriously. I think they still miss the point and dismiss both Hitler and Trump far too easily. On the one hand, Hitler and Trump didn’t catch a populist wave, they created one and then used it. On the other hand, they used the wave quite expertly because both are/were way more talented than the liberal elite thought, and way more ruthless than anyone could really imagine. A good example of a silly but lucky populist is Bolsonaro in Brazil.

All of this is true, though I think Trump has been getting a lot of direction by people who are actively encouraging him to be as authoritarian as possible - some not necessarily American.

It is a convenient fiction to think that politics is resolved by people staking out positions and collectively deciding on strategies. I would hope now that intellectuals would recognize that this kind of snobbery towards non-intellectuals leads to hopelessly inadequate analysis.

Boris Johnson isn’t a buffoon - he just plays one on television. Trump may be a buffoon, but he is surrounded by a huge number of like minded people, many of whom are not.

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There were those who knew enough to take Hitler and Mussolini seriously.
Churchill is the most notable. There was a Dorothy Thompson, famous political writer of the 30’s, who met him for minutes in 1931, said he would become a powerful dictator and shake the world. Today, people who find parallels between Trump’s behavior and that of all nascent autocrats are treated as hysterics. I hope Josh doesn’t fall into that group.
So, I think we’re on the same page, but I’m not sure. If this guy gets a 2nd term, we’re fucked.

Where did that sense of boldness go? In 2009 the Democrats possessed for a time a 60-seat bloc in the Senate, yet barely considered the obvious (in retrospect) move of adding Washington D.C. as a state, much less investigating the addition of Puerto Rico or the creation of multiple states out of California or New York. Of course Democrats look timid today next to Abraham Lincoln; what’s astonishing is how timid they look compared to Benjamin Harrison.

This. As a resident of DC, which I very much believe deserves the rights of statehood, I can’t help but grow irritated when I hear chatter on the Hill these days about DC statehood. There was a window when it could definitely have happened, and it didn’t even come up. There is no way that Republicans would have let an opportunity pass.

It was the right thing to do, it would have expanded representative democracy and with two more Democratic senators seated would most certainly would have changed the landscape of the past decade. Hello, Supreme Court.

But, no, nothing happened. Not even a peep.

Democrats must learn to respect democracy, and that includes employing the tools of the democracy to expand representation, rather than knee-capping it as the Republicans do.