In an aside in a recent column about the January 6th hearings, Jennifer Rubin really summed up the current crisis (or more accurately, crises) in American governance.
Trump utterly failed the country; his successor is stymied by a radicalized opposition determined to see him fail. The Senate is gridlocked by a minority party wielding the filibuster to, among other things, preserve voter suppression and subversion laws. The Supreme Court has been overtaken by rank, radical partisans whose decisions cannot be defended on the merits and whose public utterances and tone lack any semblance of “judicial temperament.” We seem stuck because structural advantages for the minority (the Senate, the electoral college, the right-wing Supreme Court) make real reform impossible.
Rubin’s main thrust was the meaning of the very real heroism displayed by poll workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. (The column was written before the even more impressive bravery displayed by Cassidy Hutchinson this week.)
Unlike a number of the witnesses called by the committee, these two women–mother and daughter–weren’t high-ranking members of the administration or Department of Justice, people who might lose a current job but would have little trouble finding new ones. Freeman and Share are ordinary citizens who were doing some of the low-paid jobs essential to the operation of democratic elections. Rubin is certainly correct in lauding the courage they displayed both in doing those jobs accurately and in testifying; her point was that they served the country just as surely as our military does, and that we need civilians “like Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss in public life if we are to muddle through a dangerous and disturbing period in our history.”
I don’t disagree, but I remain fixated on the quoted paragraph, because it succinctly sums up the challenges we currently face–and their magnitude.
I’ve written several times about the filibuster, and how its current use differs substantially from its historic one. The wrongheaded protection of what the filibuster has become allows a minority of lawmakers– who have been elected by a minority of voters– to veto the demonstrable will of the great majority of American citizens.
I need not reiterate the evidence showing how drastically the current Supreme Court has deviated from what was thought to be settled jurisprudence. To use a term beloved by a former vice-presidential candidate, the Court’s majority has “gone rogue.” To the extent that Americans were relying on the judiciary to protect fundamental rights, the Court’s current majority has signaled repeatedly that such reliance is misplaced–at least, so long as that majority fancies itself a religious tribunal rather than a court of law bound by precedent and serving a theologically and ideologically diverse population.
In the final sentence of that quoted paragraph, Rubin alludes to what has become my most pressing–and depressing– concern: the obsolescence of much of America’s electoral and governing systems.
I doubt we can ever do anything about the fact that electing two senators from every state, irrespective of massive disproportions in population, means that very soon 70% of the Senate will represent 30% of the population. So long as our rogue court continues to protect partisan gerrymandering, lawmakers in both houses will continue to be answerable primarily–indeed, overwhelmingly– to rural Americans. The difficulty of amending the Constitution means we are probably saddled with the Electoral College for the foreseeable future–I don’t hold out much hope that the National Popular Vote Compact will be ratified by states having the necessary 270 electoral votes. (I would love to be wrong!)
The only remedy I can see would be a massive turnout in November repudiating the GOP –turnout large enough to allow Democrats to get rid of the filibuster and pass a number of remedial measures–most importantly, the voting rights act. That law would–among other salutary consequences– outlaw gerrymandering. Congress could also add Justices to the Court, diluting the power of the Court’s radical theocrats.
Are the Democrats perfect? Certainly not. But they’e a thousand times saner than the cult that is today’s GOP. If that cult loses badly enough, it will either be reformed from within, by genuine conservatives like Adam Kitzinger and Liz Cheney, or go the way of the Whigs.
Either way, We the People could then go back to arguing over our policy differences, rather than the survival of the republic.
In a very real way, Rubin was right: America’s future depends on ordinary citizens–those who do their jobs, and especially those who cast their votes to rescue the Constitution and Bill of Rights from the autocrats and theocrats. I’m clinging by my fingernails to the hope that there are enough of those citizens…