They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

For the past several years, political scientists and pundits have published articles bemoaning the erosion of democracy and democratic norms, and Americans who follow government and politics have nodded in measured agreement.

I say “measured” because we still retain the trappings of democracy–campaigns, elections, the free press that so annoys Donald Trump. But this year, we are coming face-to-face with a reality we’ve been avoiding: our elections are mostly a sham, and legislators–who haven’t felt the need to reflect the will of those who voted for them for quite some time–no longer are bothering even  to pretend that they are “representative.”

David Leonhardt has noticed.

In November, the people of Utah voted to provide health insurance for about 150,000 state residents who lacked it. Last week, Utah’s legislators overruled their own constituents and took away insurance from about 60,000 of those 150,000 people.

The legislators claimedthey were trying to save money, but that’s not a credible rationale: The federal government would have covered the bulk of the cost. The true reason — which the legislators weren’t willing to admit publicly — was a philosophical objection to government-provided health insurance.

Utah’s turnabout is the latest worrisome exampleof politicians rejecting the will of voters.

The offending politicians have been mostly Republican, as they are in Utah. “You see a rising, disturbing trend here of equivocation, if not worse, in the commitment to democratic norms on the part of a growing number of Republicans,” Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert, told my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick. “Is this what the Republican Party wants to be? The anti-democracy party?”

Leonhardt provides examples from Idaho, Maine and Michigan, and notes that, In Missouri,  legislators are attempting to subvert a ballot initiative that would reduce gerrymandering.

In Utah, the legislature partly overturned a new law allowing medical marijuana.

These examples involved lawmakers ignoring the results of state referenda. Indiana doesn’t allow referenda, but our lawmakers have been equally willing to ignore the clear wishes of their voters.

This year, both the Indiana and Indianapolis Chambers of Commerce have made passage of bias crimes legislation a priority. Business and civic leaders throughout the state formed an organization, Forward Indiana, to support the bias crimes bill. The governor has asked the legislature to pass it. In a poll of Hoosiers on the issue, 84 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Republicans supported passage of a hate crimes bill focused on marginalized Hoosiers.

The Senate GOP eviscerated the measure, gutting the language that made it legally effective. All indications are that the House–which, like the Senate, has a Republican super-majority with a history of homophobia–will concur.

If Indiana lawmakers actually represented their constituents, passage would have been a no-brainer. But thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana lawmakers feel free to ignore the wishes of the public they ostensibly serve, and they do so with some regularity.

As Common Cause has explained, we have a system in which the legislators choose their voters rather than a truly democratic system in which voters choose legislators. And until that  changes, lawmakers will continue ignoring We the People.

Like the lawmakers in Utah and other states, they don’t even bother to pretend any more.


  1. What are we to do? I’m infuriated that no matter how many petitions I sign, postcards I send, and in the case of my neighborhood, meetings I attend the people holding the purse strings and hence the power nearly always prevail. Seriously, what???

  2. I guess the only available option (for now) is to work for the defeat of EVERY Republican in government. That might be a good start.

  3. Should we pretend far too much that we have a democracy? Our expectations stretch the dangling rubber band between the current reality of our state republic and the enduring values of a more pure state of democracy. I learned to spell gerrymandering in the 5th grade when LBJ was masterminding Democrat control of larger sections of my childhood Texas. That was long before he was an understudy of Rayburn. Now the tables have turned. Partisan politics of every stripe contaminate the intent of the democratic republic. Pretend? Be careful what horse you name you may have to eat later on the trail.

  4. Mr. Leonheardt’s claim regarding Utah: “The true reason — which the legislators weren’t willing to admit publicly — was a philosophical objection to government-provided health insurance.”

    Here in Indiana, in 2013 when the ACA went into effect, applicants were NOT allowed to apply to the ACA unless and until they had been denied coverage by every provider in the Indiana Health Care System (I have forgotten the title it operated under). Noting philosophical about that demand; imply GOP rule in this state. They timed the application process to stop providing application status to all applicants until May or June of 2014, long past the ACA application deadline. Is this not “government provided health care”…is this not FORCED “government provided health care”? Those who applied hoping for better coverage at a lower cost or lower annual deductions, and those who had no coverage, were caught in this Indiana health care time warp and left with no legally required health care for 2014 resulting in stiff fines.

    The fact that the Indiana GOP has eviscerated the Hate Crime Bill comes as no surprise to anyone living in Indiana; cheered on by those staunch Republicans following Pence’s evangelical lead and the lack of strong Democratic candidates to oust Republicans. As far as voting in Indiana; for reasons I will not repeat at this time, I am quite sure my 2016 vote was not counted and, having chosen to Absentee Vote in 2018, have no way to know if that vote was counted. The media reported some Absentee Ballot Applications were invalid, making that entire process questionable.

    “Like the lawmakers in Utah and other states, they don’t even bother to pretend any more.” Here in Indiana we have Senator Jim Merritt and Rep. Brian Bosma as prime examples of that lack of pretense in positions which appear to be “life appointments”.

  5. Another mea culpa on my part due to poor editing. “Noting philosophical about that demand; imply GOP rule in this state. ” should read “NOTHING philosophical about that demand; SIMPLY GOP rule in this state.”

  6. Parties hold monthly meetings in the townships. At least we Democrats do. It’s a monthly meeting to commiserate about the terrible actions of Republicans in the Stste House. Instead, we should attend the Republican monthly Township meeting to politely speak our mind directly to Republican elected officials. Maybe our Republican neighbors need assistance confirming what polls show on some issues, that a majority of people are fed up with a tone deaf Legislature.

  7. We are experiencing the end of the rein of straight, white male supremacy and the Party that represents that perspective will do whatever it can to hold onto to power as long as it can. As President Obama said, “Donald Trump is a symptom, not the cause.” I continue to hold onto my belief that Trump will be the tipping point that leads to a new trajectory.

  8. It’s hard to see the reasoning when balancing budgets become the main goal. Safety nets are necessary with our current healthcare system, but our system should make businesses pay increments of safety nets as businesses employ people /them on a part time basis. Amazon uses private contractors on a regular basis without paying for their insurance, for example, if that contractor does not have insurance Amazon should pay a small tax to fund the state safety net, not a federal which is in my mind unconstitutional.
    Huge corporations bypass on a federal level and states need to gain access accross state lines to make it more competitive as Obamacare failed us this way.

  9. Down here in the Sunshine State, we have referenda galore. Each of these goes into effect as an amendment to the Florida Constitution. The legislature has chosen to do as little as possible with every amendment the party doesn’t like. Medical Marijuana? Local control and you can’t smoke it. The latest was the return of voting rights to convicted felons who have served their term and completed probationary requirements. This is proving to be too hard for our legislature to deal with in just this one session. It may take years. Thank God for the courts.

  10. Virtually every Republican and too many Democrats are owned and operated by corporate/banking America. Part of that conspiracy comes from the pharmaceutical and health care insurance industries. Those fundamentally corrupt politicians have virtually no sense of civic duty and are in it only for the bucks. It’s that simple.

    What this is really building toward is an outright rebellion. If Republicans are allowed to continue to employ the tactics called out by “Dark Money” and “trickle-down” dogma, they will fulfill Marx’s prophecies about capitalism destroying itself. Clearly, this dystopia is lost on them.

    I agree with patmcc. Let’s vote out all Republicans and see what we can do before the next cabal of corrupt idiots get themselves elected. Oh, and by the way, it might help for so-called conservative voters to look at what they’re putting in office. Meanwhile Democrats need to get off their asses and campaign like crazy in red states.

  11. I’m almost finished with my 8 week intensive German classes and my instructor and I have become friends. She’s in her mid-thirties and speaks fluent German, Swiss German, French, English and is teaching herself Swedish. Anyway, yesterday we were having an impromptu chat after class and somehow got on the subject of the homeless. (She was homeless about a decade ago). I told her the biggest homeless city I’ve seen is in LA near Compton. She has never been to the US but is worldly by being a prolific reader. She was asking me why Americans weren’t marching/protesting and demanding that our government work for us. I said, most everyone is just trying to survive. She could understand that.

    My outrage fatigue is so bad, that I have to limit my time on the computer. I just can’t believe that those Utah citizens put up with that crap.

    By the way, we’re having a heat wave in Switzerland lately. It’s been in the 50-60s for over a week with more of the same in the 10 day forecast. I see storm after storm hitting the states and it snowed again in Tucson yesterday. Saw a mosquito last night in the parking garage. There is lyme disease here too. sigh. If a revolution doesn’t happen, climate change being ignored will certainly ruin most of our lives. That is, if the homegrown terrorists don’t kill you first. 🙁

    Have a nice weekend everybody.

  12. I would agree with Vernon >> “Virtually every Republican and too many Democrats are owned and operated by corporate/banking America. Part of that conspiracy comes from the pharmaceutical and health care insurance industries. Those fundamentally corrupt politicians have virtually no sense of civic duty and are in it only for the bucks. It’s that simple.”

    There is the interlocking defense among corporate America and the 1%. These Corporatists are very concerned at the rise of Progressive Democrats. The Corporatists are already on the counter-attack telling us that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are too far left.

    Those Republicans in safe districts will continue to do all they can impede any Progressive Policies. The Koch Bros via ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) will continue to provide them with the script.

  13. Pretty much the same here in snowy, cold Arizona.

    Ballot initiatives pass. Under Arizona’s Constitution, the legislature is strictly prohibited from changing an initiatives’ provisions. Surprise, the “republican” Majority House and Senate Legislature fall all over themselves passing bills to try to limit or stop the will of the people.

    Arizona does have an “independent” redistricting commission; put into place by a ballot initiative, of course. The “republicans” have tried every trick in the book to eviscerate that commission, and have repeatedly sued over the commission’s drawing of the districts — even though due to registration patterns the majority of the districts are strongly “republican” or lean “republican.” They are pissed that all the districts aren’t majority “republican.” How dare there be a district where a Democrat has a chance to win.

    Things started to change a bit in the 2018 elections. Guess we will see if that momentum will continue. The only hope any of us have left.

    This happened to me in Texas in 1959-1960. A man named Westberg, a college history professor, running for US Representative as a republican in the primaries, asked me to join his team and help with speech writing. After our first strategy meeting, I asked him, “A lot of your policies seem the same as democrat policies, am I wrong?”

    He chuckled. “You have a lot to learn, son. Just keep in mind that none of the big money republicans are going to bounce any of that dough our way if we already agree with them. If we already advocate their favorite policies, we have nothing to sell.”

    A week later, I resigned. Westberg lost by a landslide. Six years later, he ran for US Representative in Arizona as a democrat spouting republican policies. He lost again.

    At about that time, he joined RAMPARTS MAGAZINE, a liberal publication, in some editorial capacity. He wrote one piece in which he called the US Congress the second greatest bazaar in the world, next to the stock market.

  15. Unh… pardon me: but we do have another resort. It very clearly states in the founding document of this country our Declaration of Independence: that whenever the government becomes destructive of these ends – it is the right – THE DUTY – of the PEOPLE to alter and or abolish such government… etc., etc., – this can be done by the individual states starting at the local level – all we have to do is get a majority of states and principalities to STRIKE – NO MONIES TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WHAT SO EVER UNTIL THE GOVERNMENT (THE PRESENT ADMINISTRATION) LEAVES AND WE ARE ABLE TO HOLD A NEW ELECTION. I all cap this to emphasize that that power rests in all of US. It is OUR duty. Do you understand that: not your representatives except to reflect your voice. But in order to do that – you have to get the little bastard’s attention… as the old joke goes about the teacher of the year recipient . It is time that we enjoined legal struggles against the Administration – sign the petitions and then if they still will not listen, we strive to shut it down! This is our livlihoods our neighborhoods our country we are talking about here – and the future of all you offspring. Do what ever it takes to make them listen – within human reason. We are human afterall – not wild beasts, like some.

  16. “They” don’t even have to pretend anymore because voters don’t control their campaign expenses. Until we have public financing of political campaigns and repeal or targeted narrowing of Citizens United we will, I think, see money control politics. 2018 was an anomaly, one in which people were so upset they went to the polls and overwhelmed Koch and Mercer money. Let’s hope they do the same in 2020, and for all subsequent elections pending reform and repeal of the process.
    Legislative rewording of initiatives passed by the people is intolerable. Why have referenda and initiatives if the legislature may effectively ignore the will of the people? The problem in this connection is as a French citizen noted in comparing politicians and people in France and the U.S. He noted that in our country the people are afraid of the politicians whereas in France the politicians are afraid of the people, hence the success of general strikes in France etc. We seem to have forgotten that those elected are our employees and represent us, not their own party or ideology, and certainly not the interests of the Kochs and Mercers, whose interests are rarely in accord with the common good.
    Perhaps we need to start bringing miniature guillotines to congressional town halls.

  17. Thank you Sheila,

    We still as Americans and as individuals cannot bring ourselves to understand just how serious this situation is in regard to the future of this Republic and life in the United States as we have known it all our lives. I wish that Marv Kramer was involved in this conversation because he’s been trying to warm is all about this for months if not years. There are all sorts of historical parallels that we can draw upon to gain insight into what is happening in this country right now and the dreadful seriousness of it all with Germany in the late 1920s-early 1930s being the most readily usable comparison. It’s almost like we’re watching a great big television show, reality TV at the most extraordinary level where we are all cast members in one way are another awaiting direction as to what to do but not finding it anywhere.

    We’re off the rails. We see that, here, and experience things in each and every day that should stand our hair on and given what is coming out of Washington, DC, particularly the White House, yet we seem to be moving in slow motion in grappling with just how very serious are circumstances are. More and more people are tuning things out because there are concerned about their own level of sanity and these are the very people we need to have remaining alert and involved as participants in preventing a further erosion of our culture and government close our ability to influence events worldwide.

    We find ourselves under constant attack by the Russian government which is already been gearing up to do another big whammy on our political system in the lead up to our 2020 election. We have a president that is very likely going to be found time to those efforts was also put together a government that is jam packed by crooks. The Chinese are working up to do the same thing and the whole global order that has existed throughout our lifetime is under grave threat which will in turn threaten it costs and our safety here at home. We are so far short of where we ought to be in demanding answers to questions that we all have regarding the competence of our current national government extending to all three branches of it at those questions are not being asked.

    What the hell is wrong with us? We had better figure that out very soon if we want life as we have known it in this country during 253 years of freedom to continue.

  18. Tom Lund:” We had better figure that out very soon if we want life as we have known it in this country during 253 years of freedom to continue.”

    Thank you,Tom. Yes,we must do everything we can to stay on top of the hierarchical pyramid of our population. We are entitled to our supremacy. We have enjoyed our decades and centuries of freedom, as you have correctly suggested. Long Live The Bourgeoisie! It’s imperative we vote straight Democratic ticket. We must also court suburban Republican voters and leave behind the FDR Democratic voter. The DNC deserves our support. Wall St MUST come BEFORE Main St. Money matters!! Money = influence.

    Finally,we MUST go to war against Russia. We must also face the reality that Putin’s influence upon the SCOTUSA brought forth the Bush/Cheney administration. Come to think of it,it’s entirely plausible that it was Putin that brought forth the pervasive influence of Rap Music and the popularity of Justin Bieber_-besides the Trump administration– upon the nation. Unforgivable.

  19. huff post,, russian interferance,and muellers invest, time line story,,just out.court records in plain sight…

  20. Here is a health care bit of information which might provide a surprising explanation for the increase in medical costs. I have IU Health Care Medicare Advantage Plan; in 2012 I transferred from one IU Health care facility at 9600 East Washington to 2400 East 10th Street; this was done by a company in Atlanta, Georgia for a fee of $32. I became very ill with bronchitis at the end of December, on Friday night before the New Year weekend; on Monday, December 31st my son and daughter took me to the IU Health Care Urgent Care facility in Lawrence, 56th and Post Road area. Today I received the bill; $315 total, my co-pay is $65; the Urgent Care facility is actually operated by a company whose main office is somewhere in Louisiana, my check is going to their district office in Chicago, Illinois. This appears to carry outsourcing to a ridiculous level resulting in additional costs for medical care; especially considering Indiana University Medical School is nationally known. There is no way that out-of-state organizations can do anything but increase medical care costs for patients only.

  21. Hmmm would shooting every Republican be considered a hate crime??? 😉 😉 🙂 :0 😉 😉 Just a joke folks! LOL

  22. I was thinking defenestration, Phil, but too many offices are on the ground floor. Besides, it only partially worked in Prague that first time.

    I will continue to hope that the country, after wistfully looking back to the 1880s or 1780s, is ready for the 1940s and those Democrats who want to return the party to the spirit of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. You know, those radical left-wing Commies that Trump and media pundits warn us against — people like me 8)>

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