More than 74 million people voted in November 2020 to keep Donald Trump as our president. More than 74 million people watched him perform for four years and decided that they wanted more of that.
More of what? For those outside of Trump reality, it seems his supporters want more lying, scamming, undermining of political institutions, denigrating the press and journalists, scapegoating immigrants and people of color, pushing subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and misogyny, inciting violence against the left, abandoning allies, subverting the Constitution, sidling up to dictators, propagating wild and unsubstantiated conspiracies, ignoring longstanding political norms, rewarding cronies and loyalists, permitting by indifference and inaction the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans from COVID-19 — a pandemic first derided as a hoax — and scaring fellow Republicans into following whatever lunacy Trump orders that day and every day.
Within the evidence-absent reality of Trumplandia, Trump’s supporters seem to want more chaos; more middle fingers aimed at elites; more excuses to take their long rifles into the streets; more entertainment at Trump’s rallies; more thumbs in the eye of the left and the biased, lying media; more draining of the swamp; more tough-guy rhetoric; more fighting of every sort and on every level; and more calling out of the Democrats who are seen to lie, cheat, steal, and push our nation toward socialism and Antifa-led rioting with the police defunded.
Then there remain the few who straddle, or try to, both realities. These are Republican voters who don’t much care for Trump’s antics, Tweets, and abusive language, but who want tax cuts, conservative judges, deregulation, and a bolstered military. For them, it just so happens that the Republican Party has nominated Trump. So he’s our guy, even if he is rude and at times clownish. He’s how we hold power, fulfill our agenda, and prevent Democrats from controlling governance.
The cost of this straddling is the confirmation of judges, and justices, some of whom have been deemed manifestly unfit by the American Bar Association; the passage of tax cuts that do little, if anything, for anyone but the ultra-rich and corporations dedicated to short-term gains for their stockholders; the removal of regulations that protect our water, air, and workers; and the increase of military spending that results in the acquisition of weapons that in some cases don’t’ work and in other cases that the Pentagon doesn’t want.
Trump is more than clownish, however. He is dangerous. His refusal to deal with our nationwide pandemic, his repeated claim that we’ve “turned the corner” on COVID-19, has contributed if not caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Trump’s petulant refusal to acknowledge his loss and Joe Biden’s victory has led to a parade of frivolous and baseless lawsuits trying to overturn or discard votes that went for Biden. This parade has debilitated our democracy…permanently. As Richard Hasen wrote in The New York Times, the litigation has resulted in “the emergence of a voter-hostile jurisprudence in the federal courts.”
Who participates in this sort of jurisprudence? The very judges confirmed by Republicans in the Senate, some of whom, as said, have been judged unfit for their offices. That a few Trump-appointed judges have ruled in various states and at the appellate level against Trump’s suits positing voter fraud and election malfeasance says far more about the baselessness of Trump’s claims than about the judges’ judicial temperament. Indeed, these seemingly frivolous Trump lawsuits have established a precedent and, from Hasen again, “could give conservative courts an excuse to scuttle voter-protective rules enacted by state election boards.”
The leadership of the Republican Party, those elected or appointed to local, state, and federal offices and who hold positions of influence within the Party, have contributed to damaging our democracy by abetting Trump’s fanciful and dangerous attempts to overturn the election. Lindsey Graham, for one, worked to overturn the election results by trying to influence the Secretary of State of Georgia to throw out legitimate ballots to help Trump with that state. Meanwhile, only a handful (such as Trump’s hands) of Republicans in Congress has acknowledged that Biden is the President-Elect, while the rest of them suggest that Trump should continue contesting the election results in states where no evidence of fraud exists.
Of course, these Republicans cannot afford to offend Trump and anger his base. A 74 million-person base is a strong foundation for the Republican Party. That base right now is loyal to Trump in the extreme. Alienating that base by criticizing or crossing Trump will therefore result in lost elections. Republicans know that and play to the base.
Meanwhile, the Never-Trumpers and conservative intellectuals who abandoned the Republican Party when Trump became the nominee in 2016 now have nowhere to go. Their former party is wholly owned by Trump. The Party formerly led by George W. Bush, who himself acknowledged and congratulated Biden as the President-Elect, is kaput.
At the same time, the Democratic Party is broadcasting its own internal tensions between the progressive wing and the moderate-centrist wing. Moderate Abigail Spanberger garnered national attention when she warned the Democrats never to refer to socialism again, while progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proudly describes herself as a Democratic Socialist. I suspect this internal rift is serious and growing. Some progressive candidates claimed that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) told vendors not to work with progressives if they wanted further DSCC business. Post-election, each faction blames the other for the down-ballot losses in November.
So where does this leave us as a country, as a democracy? It leaves us in trouble. Some time ago I wrote a piece describing our country as occupying two different realities. I do not think that is an exaggeration, as my introductory paragraphs in this piece demonstrate. In addition, consider these words from the letters editor of the Los Angeles Times, which on November 14th, gave over its pages to letters from Trump voters: “In my decade editing this page, there has never been a period when quarreling readers have seemed so implacably at odds with each other, as if they get their facts and values from different universes.” There is no “as if” here. Quarreling readers do get their “facts” and values from different universes, different worlds, different realities. Cable news, social-media and Internet algorithms send Trump voters down one set of rabbit holes and send Biden voters down another set.
So where are we? I propose that our democracy, such as it is, can only be saved by one of two outcomes: Either the current Democratic and Republican Parties splinter, or we need to call a new constitutional convention to establish a new constitution that either will be ratified by all or will result in the breakup of the nation. I’ve written about the convention elsewhere. In this piece, I’ll focus only on party splintering and an alternative to that that is even more appealing.
You might think I’m being hasty and alarmist in my proposition. Conceivably, the country could unite around specific policy proposals and objectives aimed at the common good. Infrastructure focused on new technologies and green energy would be one such program. Granted, it undercuts one of the Republican Party’s largest donor sectors — fossil fuels. But why can’t Exxon get in on the green action? Because that requires a shift of resources and will cost money. Besides, one party has already declared and run for years on the idea that government can’t and shouldn’t run anything but the military — by the way, one of the world’s largest socialist organizations.
There cannot be unity between these two political parties when one side wants to use government to help everyone, regardless of political outlook, to earn a living wage; to have reliable health care; to breathe clean air and drink clean water; to be free of worries about food, shelter, and clothing; and to enroll their children in safe and excellent schools. Meanwhile, the other side relies on propaganda and not on evidence and wants these coastal elites, parasitic immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and pushy women and minorities to shut up and disappear.
All of these differences are to be moderated and united in one country? Like Noah trying to control the animals on the ark.
At the conclusion of his column in The New York Times on November 21st, Timothy Egan wrote that the Trump legacy will be the attempt to destroy democracy by undermining our elections. Cheating and suing are all that Trump has known as a failed businessman and is how he has operated as a politician and as president. Cheating and suing are the manual for his followers going forward. For Egan, at this juncture, “there is no going back” to a pre-Trump democracy.
I agree: There is no going back.
So, then, what might we be moving toward? The Trump answer is authoritarianism. On the other hand, if our parties splinter, then we could move toward real democracy.
Splintered parties bring us serious third parties, parties that speak more to voters’ interests. In such a multi-party system, rank-choice voting becomes a priority. Here voters list their choice of candidates in order of preference. Those candidates not meeting the agreed-upon threshold for votes would be dropped, and a voter’s second-choice candidate would move to the top and so on down a voter’s ballot. In that way, voters can choose candidates more representative of their values and interests without the fear that their votes on such candidates are wasted.
If activating voters’ interests is the goal of democracy, if we really want a democratic system closer to its definition as “rule by the people,” then a system even better than rank-choice voting is sortition. Stretching back to ancient Athens, sortition is the method of randomly selecting citizens to serve in government. In our democratic system, this would mean replacing currently elected members of Congress with citizens randomly chosen to serve in their positions.
The principal concern, of course, is whether our citizenry is up to sortition. After all, how many of the 74 million Trump voters live with him in a land of delusion and couldn’t function in a system built in part of sortition?
Still, random selection seems to work for our jury system, and certainly Trump supporters are eligible to serve. So why not for Congress?
Political issues are not beyond the average American’s comprehension. Political decisions and public policies don’t rest on technical and bureaucratic expertise, as much as they rely upon political and moral judgments.
To bring forth those judgments requires that citizens selected as Congressional representatives deliberate. Congress is supposed to be our deliberative branch — not a debating society with each side giving its opinions and talking points, but a deliberative body where members together weigh evidence and assess the consequences of different options. This isn’t what Congress is now, but citizen-members, without party whips to herd them into voting particular ways, would welcome deliberation. Indeed, they might well insist on it. So should all voters.
The value of deliberation is having participants discuss in detail the assumptions behind policies and the consequences of enacting them. As jury deliberations show, average citizens can make good decisions. In addition, citizen summits, citizen juries, participatory budgeting, legislative juries, and citizen assemblies — all happening throughout the country — provide evidence that America’s citizens are capable of understanding and dealing with the social and political issues that face our nation.. And in many cases, participants in such forums are randomly selected.
In sortition, citizen-members of Congress would be selected by a method similar to calling citizens to jury duty. Or each state could compile a large pool of candidates who have agreed to participate if selected. Making participation voluntary rather than mandatory seems more appealing, because selected volunteers would be both motivated and dedicated.
Would Trump supporters participate? After all, many of them think that the country is run by a deep state of schemers, if not Satan worshippers. Whether they participate is up to them. More important to ask, would they deliberate? Would they yield to the rules of effective deliberation? Again, that is up to them. Members failing to fulfill the functions of office would be removed.
So, ironically, perhaps Trump and his legal team have done the country a favor by trying to destroy our democratic system. What looks to be the end of the conventional Republican Party and a destructive confrontation between progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party could herald a move toward real democracy. Neither side thinks that the other side is ready or fit for sortition. Experience and evidence show that both are.