The roots of America’s democracy problem
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The roots of America’s democracy problem

October 9, 2019


America has a democracy problem. Take a look at this chart. Over there on the left, that’s how many people each member of the US House represented in 1790. There’s now one representative for every
747 thousand Americans. That makes the US a crazy undemocratic outlier internationally. But it also makes us different than what we were supposed to be. The founding fathers, they wanted that number to stay small. James Madison wanted to make sure that it would never be more than one House member for 50,000 people. I bring this up because it’s one of a lot of ways in which our system has become different than what the founders intended. Which maybe is ok – I think it’s ok – but it’s also different than what we may have intended or what we may want. People ask me sometimes what I actually worry about in American politics – what makes me afraid – and it’s this: A political system needs to be legitimate to be stable. People need to feel that it’s fair. But is that true right now? Two out of the past three presidents lost the popular vote for the first term in office – two out of three. House elections are utterly warped by gerrymandering and geography. The Senate gives six hundred and twenty-three thousand people in Vermont as much power as more than 19 million people in New York. And meanwhile, five dudes in robes,
who are politically appointed, by parties looking for ideologues – they made it legal for billionaires to spend as much money buying elections as they want. And here’s where undemocratic becomes actually dangerous: The American political system was built around the fear of disunity. The fear was that the states would pull apart. We weren’t supposed to have political parties. The founding fathers thought they were bad – or at least they did before they started some. But now we do have political parties, and the competition, the core competition, the disunity in this country, is between them. We don’t worry about the political divisions between big states and small states, we worry about the ones between red states and blue states. And the particular ways in which America is undemocratic is making that core competition less fair, is making that political disunity more serious. The reason for that is not one anybody saw coming. Democrats cluster in big cities.
Republicans are more concentrated in rural areas. The average state is six points more Republican in the country as a whole. Which gives that party a huge advantage in the Senate. and in the House, well Democrats are feeling pretty good about the House right now. But to win the House, they couldn’t win by one or two or three percent. They had to win a landslide – six or seven or eight percent. Or else they’d still be in the minority because of gerrymandering and geography. And Republicans, they’re using that advantage in elections to write the rules to give themselves more advantages in elections. They’re using it to win the Supreme Court for a generation, and that Supreme Court in turn is giving them rulings on gerrymandering, on money in politics, on
unions, on voter rights that are helping them with more power. As the left realizes it’s playing a rigged game they’re already becoming determined to rewrite the rules. If you want to see where this is going, look at this book by David Faris called ‘It’s Time for Democrats to Fight Dirty.’
It’s a playbook the left can use to get more power without having to change the Constitution – and they can do a lot. He recommends statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, he recommends breaking up California into seven states in order to add at least a dozen new Democratic Senators. He tells Democrats to pack the
Supreme Court by increasing the number of justices in order to crack the
conservative majority. He wants winner-take-all elections to be replaced with ranked-choice voting in the House and to increase the number of Representatives to 870. And look – some of these ideas they’re actually just good ideas. It would make politics more representative – I mean DC and Puerto Rico should clearly be states that’s just fair. And then some, like the California thing, they’re just power grabs. But that’s the thing, as Democrats feel the right has been engaged in one long power grab, they’re starting to feel like suckers for not
grabbing more power themselves. And it’s why you see the rise of street fighter, do-anything Democrats like lawyer Michael Avenatti. When they go low I say we hit harder. Even Eric Holder, President Obama’s
former attorney general, has taken up the battle cry. When they go low we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party’s about. But imagine just imagine Democrats take power and run some version of the Faris playbook in 2020 or 2024. There will be an equal and opposite reaction among Republicans. Now the system will feel unfair to them. And you could just see a cycle of escalation here that destroys the basic legitimacy on which American politics rests. We need something better than that. We need more than power grabs on both sides. We need actual principles we can use to build a political system that works better. We treat our political system as if it were etched on stone tablets and carried by George Washington down from Mount Sinai. But it wasn’t. We’ve changed it a lot, but we haven’t changed it recently. It’s weird – the further we get from the founding, the more afraid we are to touch the system. There are 27 amendments to the Constitution before ’92. There have been zero since
then and there’s not like this one on the horizon. That’s not how we do things
anywhere else. States routinely amend and even rewrite their constitutions. On average each state has had three constitutions and Louisiana, they’ve had 11. It’s only at the national level that we’ve come to believe our political system should be frozen in amber. That however we’re doing things is how we should keep doing them. And puzzlingly, we’ve decided that not when we think our political system is great, but at the exact time that Americans are losing faith in our political institutions. I suspect our true belief is not that our
system of government is performing so well that it should be immune to change, but that we that we are performing so poorly that we don’t trust ourselves to change it. Which is sad, but this is our political system. We can’t run away in self loathing. It needs to work for the country we actually have. We can’t have an old compromise between states leading to a civil war between parties, but to change it we need a theory of what makes a political system legitimate in the first place and that means we need some criteria by which to judge it. Robert Dahl, one of the most respected political scientists of the 20th century, he believed the ideal US Constitution would one, maintain democracy. Two, protect fundamental rights. Three, ensure fairness among citizens Four, encourage forming consensus and five, provide a government that is effective in solving problems. I like that as criteria. I think that would make sense. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. What you need then is to come up with something better. The one thing we can’t do is just stay still. America is in an unstable equilibrium. Its current political system is producing outcomes they feel illegitimate to the left. Any effort to reform that system, feels like it would produce outcomes that feel illegitimate to the right. We need something deeper than that. We need something that would feel legitimate it to both sides and would actually work. We can’t stay right where we are, so that means the answer is simple. We must move.

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  1. If you want more analysis and insight straight from Ezra himself, subscribe to the Ezra Klein Show podcast! New episodes each Monday: http://bit.ly/2oiIsle

  2. America is not a democracy… we are a constitutional republic. Nowhere in the constitution does it say the word "democracy"

  3. We don’t need something that “feels” legitimate to both sides. We need something that is legitimate and fair and only one party is willing to do that.

  4. The United States is not a democracy….we’re a constitutional republics. We made this choice because democracies never succeed. It always ends with the majority over powering the minority. Also the reason Rhode Island has the same power in the senate as NY is so states with bigger populations can’t push through what they want without consulting smaller states. The founding fathers new the problem and they compromised where every state gets 2 senators but the house of reps is proportional to your population size

  5. This is a genuine question: why is everyone operating on the assumption that America should be united? Maybe it’s time to let that notion go. They Founding Fathers feared the disunion of 13 states. Maybe America as an idea just can’t function past that? Perhaps a better way forward would be to replace the federal government with a large trade union until states negotiate their own regional unions? Just to be clear, this is just a few questions I want to pose. They’re not my personal opinions. Please feel free to discuss, but do it in a civil manner.

  6. the problem with you is you are wrong about this democracy is we are not one we are a constitutional republic

  7. This might be an unpopular opinion but what America really needs is a moderate democrat or republican. Today you’re either right or left there’s no middle ground and it’s tearing us apart.

  8. Get money out of politics like it was in the past. Money is a root of evil. If no one can bribe people then votes will finally count

  9. The roots of america's democracy problem is the diminished capacity of our representatives and the influx of graft and corruption.

  10. The problem is the sentate. Where the two Dakota's with less than 2m people get 4 senators, whereas California with 40 million people get two senators. It's the small state oppressing the majority of America. How are you still ok with this?

  11. The real solution is to not break up California, its to break up the entire country. States rights would go a LONG way in addressing much of the problems with the current incarnation of the the United States.

  12. “Republicans are using that advantage in elections to write the rules”
    How have they actually changed the rules? Gerrymandering has existed for centuries, being used by BOTH political parties. The Senate being “one state, two votes” was part of the Great Compromise that made our nation what it is in the first place (without that compromise, the US wouldn’t exist as we know it, if at all). The popular vote for president has no legal or constitutional weight; why is it only now that the left is complaining about that?
    The problem is how Democrats view the country: we aren’t a single direct democracy; we are a federalist conglomeration of states.

  13. I have democracy problem because I am not a democracy. According to Article IV Section IV of my constitution:

    " Republican government

    The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of

    Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the

    Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against

    domestic Violence."

    Therefore, I am a constitutional republic not a democracy.

  14. Neither party wants to throw out the current system. They are too vested and masters at it.
    Republicans have ZERO interest in any sort of compromise. They have proved that time and time again. Until they feel pain, they wont come to the bargaining table.
    In order for the system to work there needs to be more, not less involvement. That means making it easier to vote. And again that's the opposite of what Republicans want. They want less democracy not more. Until they fundamentally change or are made irrelevant, the nation will continue to decline.

  15. There are good reasons why the founding fathers made sure presidents were not elected by popular vote. America was never meant to be a Democratic state it is meant to be a Republic. When it comes to gerrymandering both parties do it without shame.

  16. Use ranked choice popular vote for POTUS, used the same for Senate. Use proportional representation for the house. Require a super majority vote of two thirds to confirm supreme Court justices and Attorney General. (I add the AG in there because we have nothing if we don't have the law applying evenly to everyone. So a supermajority should express confidence in the person running the justice Dept.)

  17. He didn't talk about the oligarchy. Money in our politics.
    Didn't talk about a proper educational design that is funded well, that is helping to develop a population that is enlightened and informed.
    Didn't talk about the right wing takeover of one of our political parties…he was doing that thing that public radio and tv does, staying neutral and not offending anyone.

    This was fluff.

  18. "It would make politics more fair" he said. Sounds to me like giving the left more power. Let's not mince words!

  19. The root of the American democracy probl is capitalism. Crooked investors are in control of big businesses. They change numbers to steal money from other smaller investors. They give bibery to the politicians, and the politicians go a long with those crooked big investors. The crooed politicians get worse. They stolen tax money. They involve in gang illegal drug network. They are in control of the media, so the media say what the big investors want them to say. The people in election board are also under the control of big investors. They cheat the election to put the crooked politicians who listen to the big investors in goverment.

  20. Never understood how the US calls itself democratic wen it's basically always a two party system these days. Meh. American politics makes for great late night TV comedy.
    In Canada we have at least four prominent parties. Five for the times we consider the Bloc Quebecois in the situation. Makes it harder for any current leader as they don't have just one sworn enemy to deal with.

  21. An Brazilian opinion:
    The best thing of America’s constitution is the difficulty to change it. In Brazil, in 30 yers of constitution we had 129 new amendment since the constitutional assembly. And the country is a mess.

  22. Democracy is broken in so many ways. It would work best if all involved had similar understanding of the topics that they are working on. You don't even need a high school diploma to become a senator. You can also vote even if you can barely read. I have even seen seniors with dementia vote and they don't even know what day of the week it is. These people with dementia sometimes believe Reagan is still in office and vote for his party. Politicians should be the best and brightest of are society but the reality is that they are far from it. I don't even understand why we need democracy at all. Most of the time, less than half the population votes and the country seems to manage in spite of such a low interest in this flawed system. I wonder would happen if not one person voted? I bet life would go on, without too much turmoil.

  23. Republicans can't get much more power grabby than they already are. Republicans only ever cry foul play so the other side backs off and they can use that same foul play for themselves, they live in perpetual hypocrisy.

  24. Great video guys ! I only notice maybe oke mistake at minute 1:51: the Republicans won in the state of Kentucky in 2016 , they didn't ? However this video is beautiful! 🤣🤣

  25. Way to just gloss over the fact Obama promised hope and change and gave us Drones and Guantanamo Bay. Or the Dems making the Trump presidency inevitable.

    It's not just Republican's fault that we feel like the system isn't fair, it's everyone's fault, and that's why it feels SO unfair. Even the left is waging war against poor people every time they dedicate their time to niche identity issues or impeaching the president instead of income inequality, or the rich not paying taxes, or minimum wage never increasing enough to catch up with inflation, or war spending, there's so much the Dem's could be doing to win our votes that the very obviously do not care to do.

  26. The historical perspective is very interesting.

    The conflict between the political parties masks the class struggle, which can be denied rhetorically, but not in reality. It becomes all the more implacable the longer its existence is denied by the media. Rural, industrial, and urban areas also compete for financing. The “system” is only as fair as the people who run it – and they AREN'T.

  27. This guy obviously hasn't read much history for the time period right before the ratification of the US Constitution. What he is proposing here would surely tear the country apart before fixing anything. The bit that many people seem to miss is that without the provisions in the constitution, such as the electoral college and bill of rights, there wouldn't be a United States because the colonial states would have never ratified it nor would any of the territories become part of it. Have any of you even read the Federalist Papers? This here is just another example of blaming the constitution for problems that are really only problems because politicians are not observing (defending) the constitution. If they followed the original intend of the federal government as set forth by the constitution then we wouldn't have this mess or a big monster federal government that so many people think is the solution for everything.

  28. It's not a democracy. It's a republic.

    And that's exactly the problem. The system was meant to preserve the power of the elites from the beginning.

  29. Remembering when, Patrice O’Neal presented the idea of breaking up the country. In these times, it doesn’t seem far off.

  30. this man trying to tell us it's unfair for there to be more Republicans than Democrats. And bro. There has to be some way of deciding on a close call and of course GOP will always win. ITS A DEMOCRACY.

  31. We were never planned as a Democracy but a Republic. Democrats have a hard time learning and understanding the definition. Democracy can be expressed as "Mob Rule". There is a reason that the founding fathers set up an electoral college and that is so, states like Idaho have the same say as California. Which being a Californian I would vote for a breakup of the state into several new states. The founding fathers were afraid of a low information public that was swayed by emotion and lies. Guess what, that is just exactly what we have now. The left is the most dangerous force in our nation today. It will tear the nation apart in the name of "fairness" if we allow it. There is much trouble on the horizon and I am not sure we can weather it. I am afraid the Great American experiment is failing, just as Alexis de Tocqueville predicted.

  32. "democrats cluster in big cities, republicans are more concentrated in rural areas" – exactly why we need an electoral college, which you forgot to mention is a crucial part of our DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC

  33. I hope he's not ignorant of the fact that the United States was never meant to be a democracy, in fact, the word democracy isn't in the Constitution or any of the amendments but the word Republic is. We are supposed to be a limited constitutional Republic. People who claim to support the minority would be in favor of a republic over democracy. In a democracy the Mob Rules, In a Republic the minority is protected by the law.

  34. If we want any new amendments. We have to get rid of those Commiecrats and Nazipublicans! Or at least allow third parties like the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution Parties.

  35. I have an idea Reconstruction should have reconstructed literary everything. Like you can’t create a whole new society in 12 years. The Economy effects the political system so when an Economic powerhouse and America gains 4 million new citizens and not change and develop over 12 years.

  36. But the Republicans DO NOT want a more fair and representative forn of government because they know they'd LOSE ! ! ! That's why they cheat !

  37. We just need to get rid of the single district representation and move towards proportional representation on a federal level

  38. Politicians need two things to gain political power. Money to campaign, and the majority of the moves. We provide the votes, and whoever has enough wealth provide the money. So we have 1/2 the power, and the wealthy have the other 1/2. If we create a system where the money is provided in the same way the vote is – small amounts distributed across all constituents, then we get all the power. A constitutional amendment to establish this system is what we need.

  39. Republicans when the democrats win:

    Democrats when the republicans win: UGHH WE NEED TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM EVEN THOUGH MORE PPL ARE CONSERVATIVE WE SHOULD HAVE MORE POWER REEEE

  40. Mandatory third party representation will solve 90% of the problems. No individual party can control more than 1/2 of the seats, and there must be a minimum of 3 parties. All votes must pass a 2/3 majority, forcing negotiation between parties. No change can be a good thing if the majority wants to rule with an iron fist over minorities, and minorities will have extra power to stop a ruling majority, as disagreeing minorities can occupy the power of two separate parties in a percentage greater than 50%

  41. usa does not have a democracy problem. because it is not a democracy.
    perhaps it has an elective aristocracy problem, but you are unlikely to think of a solution if you imagine you have democracy, and don't.

  42. Vermont has two senate votes because that way they can be equally impactful (or at least attempt to be) as New York City

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