Removing Trump Won’t Fix American Democracy

The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012
The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, July 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Carlos Delgado)

Dylan Matthews cautions in Vox that ending the Trump presidency will not fix, or even substantially ameliorate, most of the problems plaguing the American political system.

They were mounting for years before he took office — indeed, they made him possible — and they will continue to plague us for years after he leaves.

Matthews shares some of my ideas for fixing American democracy, including abolishing the Electoral College and moving toward proportional representation. He also suggests eliminating midterm elections and introducing public financing for elections.

Don’t tell conservatives, but what we’re talking about is making the United States more like a European democracy.

Are any of these reforms likely to happen? No. But even one or two would make a big difference. Read more

In Defense of Multiparty Democracy

Scale model of the United States Capitol
Scale model of the United States Capitol (Andy Castro)

Scott Lemieux sees two problems with ending the two-party system in the United States:

  1. It would split the Democratic coalition and do nothing to remedy conservative overrepresentation in the House and especially the Senate.
  2. What do you do about presidential elections?

As somebody who believes strongly in multiparty democracy (read my case for constitutional reform), let me respond. Read more

Americans Want Voting Reform, Analysis of Trump’s Attack on Syria

An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008
An old-fashioned lever voting machine used in New York City, New York, November 4, 2008 (Caren Litherland)

A Voice Of the People poll has found (PDF) majority support in the United States for introducing ranked-choice voting.

Also known as instant runoff, it would allow Americans to vote for third-party candidates without wasting their votes. Maine is the first state to consider it.

Another way to break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly would be to consolidate congressional districts.

I would support either. The two-party system has polarized Americans. We see in Europe that multiparty democracies are better at managing tensions. Read more

The Rent Is Too High, Partisanship Versus Democracy

Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010
Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Center tells The Washington Post that expanding affordable housing in America’s major cities is the key to reducing inequality.

Wages have barely budged in decades, yet housing costs have soared due to restrictive zoning and land-use policies. Young and working Americans are now unable to save. Homeowners are getting richer.

Kevin D. Williamson, a conservative columnist who was recently hired and then fired by The Atlantic for his right-wing views (more on that here), has similarly argued in National Review that working-class Americans left behind in the Rust Belt need to move to the coasts. He partly blames them for staying put, but recognizes that policy plays a role.

Consider California, where so many of the jobs in the new economy are. Its housing crisis (you can buy a private island or a castle in Europe for the price of a San Francisco apartment) is entirely man-made, “a result of extraordinarily restrictive zoning and environmental codes and epic NIMBYism of a uniquely Californian variety.”

A Republican Party wishing to renew its prospects in California (which it once dominated) or in American cities could — and should — make affordable housing the centerpiece of its agenda for the cities.

More on why Republicans ought to compete in American cities here. Handelsblatt reports that Berlin fears San Francisco-style housing problems. Read more

Orbán’s Rebellion, Liberal Democracy and Trump’s War in Syria

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin answer questions from reporters in Moscow, February 17, 2016 (Facebook/Viktor Orbán)

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is likely to win reelection on Sunday. The Washington Post has a good story about the rebellion the EU faces in Central Europe. For more on the political trends Orbán embodies, read:

  • Jan-Werner Müller: We are doing Orbán a great favor by accepting him as any kind of democrat. It is democracy itself — and not just liberalism — that is under attack in his country.
  • Tom Nuttall: Orbán’s depiction of himself as an illiberal democrat is largely window-dressing. Were his pollsters to discover that voters were no longer animated by immigration, he would manufacture a different foe. Orbán’s ideologues assemble theoretical scaffolding to justify the channelling of state resources to favored businessmen under the rubric of “economic patriotism”. The EU harbors not an illiberal democracy, but a semi-autocratic kleptocracy in which loyalty offers the quickest route to riches.
  • Dani Rodrik: Liberal democracy is being undermined by a tendency to emphasize “liberal” at the expense of “democracy.” The European Union represents the apogee of this tendency: the delegation of policy to technocratic bodies.
  • Philip Stephens: The West misread the collapse of Soviet communism. It was not, after all, the end of history. Happy assumptions about the permanent hegemony of laissez-faire capitalism and the historical inevitability of liberal democracy were rooted in a hubris that invited nemesis. For all that, the end of the Cold War did produce a big idea. Now, as we are daily reminded by Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, it is being swapped for a very bad idea. Read more

No Clear Evidence for Either Democratic Strategy, Politics as Identity

The suburbs of Columbus, Ohio seen from the air, July 12, 2007
The suburbs of Columbus, Ohio seen from the air, July 12, 2007 (Pierre Metivier)

The big debate in America’s Democratic Party right now is whether it should attempt to win back working-class white voters, especially in the Midwest, who defected to Donald Trump in 2016, or if it should attempt to win over more middle-income, suburban voters, some of whom switched from voting for Mitt Romney in 2012 to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I suspect the latter and I’ve made that case recently here and here.

Short version: the interests and views of middle-class, suburban voters align more closely with those of minorities, millennials and the urban upper class, which is the Democratic base, than they do with rural, small-town, reactionary voters, which is the Republican base.

Whether this is a winning strategy, though, is still up in the air. Nathaniel Rakich point out at FiveThirtyEight that special elections so far support both theses: Democrats have overperformed in the suburbs as well as among white voters without college degrees. Read more

Learning the Wrong Lesson from Weimar

President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany en route to a May Day celebration in Berlin, May 1, 1933
President Paul von Hindenburg and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany en route to a May Day celebration in Berlin, May 1, 1933 (Bundesarchiv)

Tyler Cowen argues in Politico that fascism cannot happen in America because its government is too large and too complex:

No matter who is elected, the fascists cannot control the bureaucracy, they cannot control all the branches of American government, they cannot control the judiciary, they cannot control semi-independent institutions such as the Federal Reserve and they cannot control what is sometimes called “the deep state.”

Cowen then bases his argument on the size of government relative to the economy, citing estimates that Weimar Germany taxed and spent about a third of GDP.

I think this is misguided. Read more