The Trends That Gave Us Trump — And What to Do About Them

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Shocking though Donald Trump’s victory was, looking back we can see how his presidency is the culmination of trends, some of which have been decades in the making:

  • Polarization: The sorting of American voters into two ideologically homogenous parties.
  • Urban-rural split: The Electoral College and Senate give more power to the conservative countryside at the expense of liberal cities.
  • Imperial presidency: The executive has accumulated power at the expense of other branches of government, raising the stakes in presidential elections.
  • Politicization of the courts: Presidential appointments of federal and Supreme Court judges undermine the perceived impartiality of the courts, which in turn weakens the rule of law.
  • Overreliance on the military: Foreign policy is now run by generals, not diplomats. The military has its own hospitals. It plays a crucial role in disaster relief. It may not be long before the Army Corps of Engineers is asked to fix America’s broken infrastructure. Read more “The Trends That Gave Us Trump — And What to Do About Them”

Consolidate Congressional Districts to Make Elections Fairer

The 111 Huntington Avenue skyscraper in Boston, Massachusetts, October 22, 2010
The 111 Huntington Avenue skyscraper in Boston, Massachusetts, October 22, 2010 (Thomas Hawk)

Last month, I made two arguments for a more proportional voting system in the United States:

  1. Politics should not be reduced to two options.
  2. Proportional representation discourages regional factionalism.

I recognized at the time that a full switch to proportional representation is unlikely but argued that adding runoffs could allow third parties to flourish without playing spoiler.

Another, easier way to accomplish the same goal would be to combine single-member congressional districts into multi-member districts. Read more “Consolidate Congressional Districts to Make Elections Fairer”

Two Arguments for a More Proportional Voting System

United States Capitol
The sun rises on the United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Itzá Villavicencio Urbieta)

Democrats could win 54 percent of the votes in next year’s congressional elections and still fall short of a majority.

G. Elliott Morris reports for Decision Desk HQ that because Democrats are clustered in America’s cities and face harsh gerrymanders, they aren’t likely to win a proportionate share of the seats.

We can debate at length whether this is unfair or by design, but that discussion isn’t changing Republican minds.

Advocates of a more proportional system should try two different arguments:

  1. Politics should not be reduced to two options. There is no major party for Americans who are economically as well as socially liberal (“libertarian”). Nor was there, until recently, a party for nativists. Republicans are turning into one, but that will leave conservative internationalists on the outside.
  2. Proportional representation would discourage regional factionalism. Jason Willick argues in The American Interest that if one region of the country drifts too far from another politically, and the minority region is out of power at the federal level, that could set the stage for secession or civil war. At a time when political violence in the United States is rising, it’s not hard to understand the perils of balkanized political coalitions. Read more “Two Arguments for a More Proportional Voting System”

Immigration Lessons from Canada

A Canada Day celebration in Ottawa, July 1, 2013
A Canada Day celebration in Ottawa, July 1, 2013 (Adrian Berg)

Joseph Heath, a professor at the University of Toronto, sees five reasons why Canada has been more successful at integrating migrants than Europe and the United States:

  1. Very little illegal immigration. This helps explain the difference in attitudes with the United States but not with Western Europe, where illegal immigration is also low.
  2. A political system that encourages moderation. I think this has more to do with political culture than the system. Heath argues that first-past-the-post makes it difficult for nativists to prevail. Parties need to appeal to the center. But it doesn’t stop nativists from influencing the mainstream right, as they did in the United Kingdom. To stem defections to UKIP that could split the right-wing vote and allow Labour to sneak into first place, the Conservatives felt they had to become more insular. And clearly in a two-party system, like America’s, nativists can come out on top.
  3. Immigrants are part of larger nation-building project. Immigrants ended up strengthening Canadians’ sense of nationhood because, unlike the First Nations, Westerners and Quebecers, they embraced national symbols. Persuasive, but it’s hard to see how other countries could mimic this.
  4. Protection of majority culture clear from the start. This is rooted in Canada’s unique history but could be a lesson to others. Heath argues that the need to appease Quebecers led to equal cultural and language protections for the English and French, as a result of which the majority felt unthreatened by newcomers.
  5. Bringing people in from all over. I think this is the key. There is no “majority minority” in Canada. Heath reports that, in a typical year, no group makes up more than 15 percent of the total number of immigrants. Hence no parallel societies could emerge in Canada, like the predominantly Muslim banlieues of Paris, immigrant-heavy neighborhoods in Amsterdam and Latino districts in major cities across the United States. Their existence hinders assimilation and makes visible the threat immigrants pose to the dominant culture. Read more “Immigration Lessons from Canada”

The United Republics: A Peace Plan for America

Clare Trainor's proposal for high-speed rail connections between seven American megaregions
Clare Trainor’s proposal for high-speed rail connections between seven American megaregions

The 2016 election was a turning point in American history. Cultural, political and regional differences have become so vast that the American political system is becoming unsustainable. There are two fundamentally different visions of what this country should be and the current federal system does not allow these differences to be reconciled.

For these reasons, I am proposing a new political system that would transform the United States of America into the United Republics of America.

This new government would still allow nationwide coordination of domestic and foreign policy, but it would devolve power to newly created republics. Read more “The United Republics: A Peace Plan for America”

French System Encourages Temporary, Not Permanent, Polarization

French National Assembly Paris
The sun sets on the Bourbon Palace, seat of the French National Assembly, in Paris, June 8, 2007 (jrrosenberg)

Matt Yglesias of Vox points out on Twitter:

You see in Trump vs Le Pen once again that authoritarian nationalist movements only win with the support of the establishment right.

There are two particular reasons why this may be the case. Read more “French System Encourages Temporary, Not Permanent, Polarization”

Maine Is First State to Consider Ranked-Choice Voting

A couple of months ago, I wrote here that the United States should consider switching to an instant-runoff voting system. It would break the Democratic-Republican duopoly and perhaps help rehabilitate the compromises and horse-trading that make politics work.

A few cities, including Minneapolis and San Francisco, already use such a system in their local elections.

Now a state is pioneering reform. Read more “Maine Is First State to Consider Ranked-Choice Voting”

Americans Love Elections. Why Not Have More?

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)

The number of things Americans can vote on is bewildering to a European. From county coroners to judges to the head of state, there’s scarcely an office that’s not elected in the United States. Their counterparts in Europe are more often appointed by whichever government happens to be in power.

In contrast to their proliferation of elections, Americans don’t usually have much choice. In most places, most of the time, they can only pick between a Democrat and a Republican. That’s not something Europeans would put up with!

This year’s presidential election is even less of a contest. With the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, so unfit for high office, sensible Americans really don’t have a choice at all.

A switch to European-style proportional representation, which would open up the political sphere to more parties, is unlikely. But there is room for reform inside the current American system. The trick is adding another layer of elections: runoffs. Read more “Americans Love Elections. Why Not Have More?”

Hillary Clinton and America’s Need for a Female Victory

Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks with New Jersey senator Cory Booker in Newark, June 1
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks with New Jersey senator Cory Booker in Newark, June 1 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

John Marshall has been writing at Talking Points Memo about how this year’s election in the United States is a particularly gendered one. It’s not just that one of the two major political parties has for the first time nominated a woman for the presidency; it’s that the other party is about the nominate a caricature of an alpha male whose promise, at a deep level, is to put women and other minorities in their place.

It is within this context that you need to read Ezra Klein’s feature about Hillary Clinton in Vox.

Klein determined to find out why the former first lady and secretary of state is perceived so differently by those who know her personally than by the wider public and believes he has found the answer: Every single person he talked to brought up, in one way or another, the exact same quality they feel leads Clinton to excel in governance and struggle in campaigns. “Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens.”

That sets her apart from Donald Trump in a way that will decide not only the outcome of this election but what sort of a country America is going to be. Read more “Hillary Clinton and America’s Need for a Female Victory”

Let’s Stop with the Referendums

Athens Greece protest
Greeks demonstrate outside parliament in Athens, February 16, 2015 (Lefteris Heretakis)

Britain’s accidental withdrawal from the European Union should give other countries pause before consulting their own voters directly in a referendum again.

The problem with referendums is that complicated political questions don’t usually lend simple “yes” or “no” answers.

The whole point of parliamentary democracy is that we can elect people to make such choices for us; to weigh the costs and benefits, to think through the long-term consequences, to make sure one group isn’t disproportionately affected over another. Most voters don’t have the time nor the interest to be part-time politicians themselves. Read more “Let’s Stop with the Referendums”