Before we start: As of today we have four years to fortify American Democracy before the next authoritarian tide comes in.
This is the time to roll up our sleeves and work. I hope you’ll labor with us. Because freedom isn’t free.
1. The Party Line
After the trial concluded on Saturday, Marco Rubio released a statement explaining that he was Very Sincerely Outraged by what happened on January 6—but that he had no choice but to vote to acquit because he didn’t want to be party to establishing “dangerous precedents.”1 And so on and so forth.
One passage jumped out though:
The election is over. A new President is in the White House and a new Congress has been sworn in.
Let history, and if necessary the courts, judge the events of the past.
That construction is really something.
In October I wrote that Donald Trump was going to lose, that he would claim to have been cheated, and that Republicans would be forced into one of three camps concerning the state of reality:
Trump will say that he was cheated and was the rightful winner. Some percentage of R’s and conservatives will rally to this standard. Devin Nunes. Matt Gaetz. Sean Hannity. You know the type.
Another group will do everything they can to elide the question of whether or not the election was “rigged.” They’ll say they can’t tell. Or that no one will ever know. Or that they don’t read Trump’s tweets. Or that they want to focus on the future, not the past. And they’ll fast-forward straight to yelling and screaming about Joe Biden and the Dangerous Democrats. This will be Hugh Hewitt, Ted Cruz, et al.
A third group will try to evaluate what went wrong and how the party/movement needs to change, but without casting much actual blame and certainly without blaming any of the establishment Republicans who went along with the program. There will be a lot of concern about “The Tweets.”
Rubio’s Saturday statement is what the maneuvers of that second group look like.
There is a new president. But how can anyone know who won or lost in the epistemological sense? It’s a mystery! But the Democrats and the media and the left are super-double dangerous, so let’s all move on.
A proposal for reporters covering Republican candidates and officeholders over the next four years:
Every interview should begin with two questions.
Sir/Ma’am, I need one-word answers from you:
Who won the 2020 U.S. presidential election?
Was this the legitimate result of a free and fair election?
This shouldn’t take long. The questions can be asked in less than 5 seconds. The answers are one word each: “Biden” and “yes.”
Any Republican candidate or officeholder who refuses to answer, or who tries to elide the question by saying something like, “Joe Biden is the president,” should be asked again. And again. And again.
The reason for this is not spite. It’s level-setting.
We now live in a world where some large percentage of the population has chosen to live in a fantasy world.
If went to see a doctor, and I told you before he walked into the exam room that he believes the earth is flat, then that information would be useful to you. It would help you evaluate his diagnosis in a different way. It is something that you, as the patient, would want to know before you followed his advice.
By the same token, it is important for the public to know how politicians perceive reality. Because that information will inform how we evaluate their statements on economic theory, or foreign affairs, or the law, or what have you.
“Who won the 2020 election?” is pretty good political shorthand for “Is the earth round?”
Of course, some very large percentage of the Republicans know that the earth is round, but will do everything in their power to not say this fact out loud.
And that would be useful information for us to have, too.
2. More Democracy, Please
To the extent that I was/am “conservative,” it’s mostly in the temperamental sense: Our understanding of complex systems is highly imperfect. Unintended consequences and opportunity costs can swamp just about any project. Rather than assuming that we can make things better, I tend to worry that we’ll make them worse.
All of which are the general attitudes I bring to most of the big-ticket democracy reform projects.
But David Frum has an important piece making the argument that if we don’t take action to expand American democracy, then we face tremendous peril.
I’m going to give you a long excerpt, because it’s important:
American anti-majoritarians have always promised that minority privilege will deliver positive results: stability, sobriety, the security of the public debt, and tranquil and peaceful presidential elections. But again and again, those promises have proved the exact opposite of reality. In practice, the privileged minority has shown itself to be unstable and unsober. . . .
The architects of the Electoral College imagined that indirect election would ensure a careful and thoughtful decision “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station [of the presidency], and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice,” as Alexander Hamilton wrote in “Federalist No. 68.” The mass of the people might be distracted by a lying, vulgar, criminal demagogue, but the select few of the Electoral College would be undeceived by such wiles. They would choose the candidate of dignity and worth over the candidate who crudely appealed to rancor and resentment.
Except, of course, that’s precisely the opposite of what happened in 2016, when the plurality of ordinary citizens made the sensible choice, and the anti-majoritarian Electoral College installed a flimflam man in the Oval Office.
Removing the presidency from majority control was also supposed to create elections that would “afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder,” Hamilton wrote in “Federalist No. 68.” . . .
In 2020, Trump lost the presidency by more than 7 million votes, an even larger margin than the nearly 3-million-vote deficit he suffered in 2016. In a “rank democracy,” to borrow Lee’s language, that would have been the end of the ball game. But the mechanics of the Electoral College allowed the defeated president to incite his followers into mounting the first attempt in U.S. history to seize the presidency by violence. Far from preventing them, the anti-majoritarian mechanisms of presidential elections were the crucial culprit in creating the “tumult and disorder” and the “heats and ferments” that so worried the authors of the Constitution. . . .
James Madison and his colleagues believed that by deviating from theoretical majority-rules principles, the American republic would benefit from more stability, a better protection of rights, and generally a higher quality of person in positions of authority. But ironically, it is precisely where minority rule bites deepest that this promise is revealed to be most false. . . .
Instead of upholding law and order in the states, gerrymandering has proliferated terroristic armed gangs that try to impose their will by intimidation. The Senate filibuster, as it has evolved over time, leads to wilder gyrations of public policy than would Senate majority rule. And the Electoral College elevated the most corrupt demagogue in the history of the presidency—who was installed not by the unpropertied urban mobs feared by the founders, but by wealthier voters in more rural places. (People who earned more than $100,000 a year were likelier to vote for Trump than for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and they swung even further toward Trump in 2020.)
Policy continuity, the security of public debts, the peaceful transfer of power by legal means: These are upheld by the American majority. But a political minority is pushing the country toward the evils supposedly associated with pure democracy: extreme ideologies, the normalization of violence, and the insecurity of public debts.
Reforms that strengthen majoritarianism will no doubt have unintended consequences.
But at this point, they’re needed not because we’re trying to perfect our society, but because we’re trying to conserve—literally—the liberalism which we’ve fought so hard to establish over the last 250 years.
We live in a new era and there is no going back. I tend to agree with Jonathan Rauch that Trump’s presidency has added at least five de facto amendments to the Constitution. These changes in custom—if not law—amount to a ticking bomb which has been placed at the center of our political system.
And people who refuse to grapple with this new reality, who think that there’s no reason to rethink old ideas and alliances, are, either intentionally or not, complicit in the threat we now face.
3. Not a Game. Not a Game.
Buried in an episode of Ted Lasso is a joke about Allen Iverson’s once-famous “practice” press conference. And I thought I was the only one who remembered:
Instead of getting the opportunity to announce that everything was all right, that he and Brown were staying to make another title run, Iverson found himself on the defensive as journalists questioned his dedication to practice -- one of Brown's frequent and public gripes about his star player.
"We sitting in here -- I'm supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen: We talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talking about practice. Not a game. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last. Not the game. We talking about practice, man."
His words were electric. Babb writes:
Some were amused, and others watched the trainwreck unfold -- knowing from experience that Iverson was drunk. "He was lit," said [Philadelphia Daily News' John] Smallwood, who attended the conference. "If he had been sober, he would have been able to get himself out of that. He never would've gone down that path. Maybe you had to have been around him all the time to know the difference, but we all knew."
The other part few remember from the practice rant is the raw and lingering wound Iverson still suffered from the death of his best friend. Rahsaan Langeford was shot and killed seven months earlier, an event with which Iverson struggled to cope. All throughout the '01-'02 season, Langeford's death hung over Iverson, and just days before his interview, the murder trial for the man accused of killing Langeford began. . . .
"Nobody looks at the whole comment Allen made," Scoop Jackson says in the film. "He was talking about his boy dying ... [The media] would not play that full track."
In truth, minutes after he jokes about practice, Iverson becomes more serious and vulnerable.
"I'm upset for one reason: 'Cause I'm in here. I lost. I lost my best friend. I lost him, and I lost this year. Everything is just going downhill for me, as far as just that. You know, as far as my life. And then I'm dealing with this. ... My best friend is dead. Dead. And we lost. And this is what I have to go through for the rest of the summer until the season is all over again."
As time goes by, the lasting memory from that day will be Iverson's charming incredulity. But, as has always been the case with Iverson, there are more sides to the story.
Amen to that. Read the whole thing.
The actual text of the statement here is kind of breathtaking. The real villains are . . . Democrats and the media and “the left”:
The lead manager admitted today that for the Democrats and their enablers working in the legacy media the purpose of this trial was not to hold the former President accountable.
The real purpose of this trial was to tar and feather not just the rioters, but anyone who supported the former President and any Senator who refuses to vote to convict.
I voted to acquit former President Trump because I will not allow my anger over the criminal attack of January 6th nor the political intimidation from the left to lead me into supporting a dangerous constitutional precedent.
I hope one of the Trumps comes for his seat.