“The Only Way to Save American Democracy Now”

I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:


What’s next to save American democracy?

The events of the past week have left many in this country reeling and worried seriously for the fate of democratic governance in the United States. In one of the most destructive acts in American political history, President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday exhorted his supporters, some armed, to march to the Capitol as Congress began the formal task of counting Electoral College votes to confirm the election of his opponent, Joe Biden. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, leading to a bloody rampage and the death of a Capitol Hill police officer and four others. Members of Congress, staff, and journalists rightly feared for their lives from this domestic terrorism, as gangs of masked Trump supporters swarmed the House and Senate chambers carrying zip-tie handcuffs intended for our nation’s leadership. The Senate chamber was desecrated, as was the office of the speaker of the House. Trump supporters smeared feces in the halls of Congress. National Guard troops were delayed as reinforcements, reportedly because the president refused to authorize them, increasing the terror and damage. And after order was restored following this unprecedented assault on the seat of American governance, eight Republican senators and 139 Republican members of Congress still voted to sustain bogus objections to the Electoral College votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona. The Trump-based objections were based upon false claims of voter fraud and election irregularities.

All of this occurred in the aftermath of the Georgia Senate elections, in which voters elected a Black preacher and a Jewish son of immigrants in runoff elections on Tuesday, flipping control of the Senate to Democrats—and after which Georgia Republicans plotted ways to make voting more difficult in future elections.

It goes without saying that Trump needs to be removed from office immediately for plotting insurrection and for acting at every turn to thwart the will of the voters, including through a likely criminal attempt to get Georgia’s secretary of state to commit voter fraud to flip the Georgia presidential election from Biden to Trump. But removing Trump is far from enough to excise the cancer on our body politic. Instead, we need bold changes to deal with the threat to democracy from an authoritarian wing of the Republican Party that appeared ready to abet Trump’s stealing of the election, as well as the separate problem that the Republican Party can continue to consistently win elections with minority support thanks to backward American election rules we have in place….

If Democrats can partially kill the filibuster, here’s what should be on the agenda in terms of voting reform: First, Congress should vote to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico (assuming its residents approve) into U.S. states. Had D.C. been a state, it would have almost certainly been easier for the District’s leaders to call up the National Guard to help put down the insurrection. More fundamentally, there is no reason that residents in these two U.S. areas should be denied full representation in the Senate. Adding additional states would help tilt the balance in the Senate, giving a better chance for the body not to reflect minoritarian Republican preferences.

Next, Congress needs to provide greater protection for voting rights. Although there will be great pressure to do so, Congress should not first try to pass H.R. 1, the massive voting reform bill containing some proposals that are very controversial and could well split the narrow coalition it would take to get things through the current Congress. Instead, focus should be pinpointed more directly on protecting the right to vote in the states. A John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore federal preclearance of voting changes made in states with a history of racial discrimination in voting, requiring states to show that the changes would not make minority voters worse off. It would also require states to provide easy access to online voter registration for federal elections, block the kinds of voter purges that could disenfranchise legitimate voters, and assure that all voters in federal elections have easy access to early voting, both in person and by mail.

Making these kinds of changes will help assure that elections are fairer and that results will more likely reflect the will of the people. But they won’t do enough to deal with the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party, which needs to be weakened to re-create a system in which both political parties are led by responsible actors, and where leaders cannot be held hostage to a radical minority within the Republican party.

To that end, we need structural change to help Republican moderates fend off primary challenges from Trumpians in the House and Senate. There are a number of forms such changes can take. As the Supreme Court recognized in Rucho v. Common Cause, Congress has broad power to set the rules for congressional redistricting even if states object. Congress can require districts to be drawn with bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions, which can help eliminate some of the more extreme forms of gerrymandering that lead to the election of more extreme Republican candidates. In light of the fact that moderate Republicans fear getting primaried by more extreme insurgents within the party, Congress can require the use of ranked choice voting, or other methods of voting that require winners to represent true electoral majorities….

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