This article from Ron Brownstein points out an important and disturbing fact. If Republicans succeed this year in seating a new Justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a majority of the Supreme Court will have been nominated by Presidents who lost the popular vote and confirmed by Senators representing less than half the country. Decades of Supreme Court decisions — not to mention countless other laws and executive actions — will flow from the flawed, deeply undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College, which now routinely permit the few to rule over the many.
That’s not how things are supposed to work. Democratic institutions are supposed to provide for the orderly conversion of majority will into public policy, while also protecting minority rights. The stability and success of democracy depends on all sides perceiving this process as just; the winners demonstrating restraint in the knowledge that power is impermanent, the losers accepting government action as legitimate, even when they disagree with the specifics.
By contrast, America is suffering today from something like a national auto-immune disorder, with the core principle of majority rule coming under assault from the very electoral and legislative institutions that are supposed to protect it. Our democracy is broken.
What’s more, it’s broken in ways that warp the character of our two major parties. In a healthy system, parties would work symmetrically to change minds and win votes within a democratic framework to which they are equally committed. Instead, one party is frighteningly open to authoritarianism and voter suppression, perceiving its partisan interests to be in conflict with democratic norms. The other is increasingly disillusioned and desperate, as its voters become functionally disenfranchised.
What’s the answer? Here are some possibilities:
• Popular Election of the President
• Election of the Senate by National Party List
• Fixed Terms for the Supreme Court
Fundamental Constitutional reforms like these are sometimes thought to be radical solutions, but, given the present crisis, defense of the status quo strikes me as more radical and dangerous by far. Our democracy will not survive a persistent and widening gap between popular will and the exercise of power.