Air Date 12/11/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall take a look at the many structures of American government that tilts to favor minority rule and conservatism, which in our case is one and the same. Some structures like the Senate and the filibuster were intentionally designed to give extra weight to the minority, while others, like gerrymandering and the influence of large dollar political donors were -- well, no, I suppose they were also designed for about the same reason, but in a different way.
Clips today are from Network for Responsible Public Policy, AJ+, Battleground, The Humanist Report, CounterSpin and Amicus, with an additional members-only clip from The Muckrake Political Podcast.
Lawrence Lessig on Unrepresentative Democracy - Network for Responsible Public Policy - Air Date 10-1-21
[00:00:49] LAWRENCE LESSIG: Now the idea behind a representative democracy is that the system is representative. It's kind of built into the word, right? Representative democracy means we are represented equally. Our system is unrepresentative because of the many ways in which it renders us unequal as citizens. So think about a couple of dimensions of that.
Do we as citizens have an equal freedom to vote? The answer is we have no equal freedom to vote because states administer voting systems to make it harder for the party that just doesn't happen to be in power. Typically as African-Americans in states that have Republican administrations, because African-Americans vote primarily Democratic, but you don't have to see it as racism, it's just politics. But what that means is that those who are in the party out of power find it harder because of rules designed to make it harder for them to vote, or inequalities in access to voting machines or the capacity to vote. That inequality suppresses the vote of many. Charles Stewart at MIT estimates in the last election, 16 million Americans found their vote suppressed because of this inequality.
Or do we have an equal freedom to vote for precedent? We do not. Not so much because of the electoral college, more importantly, because of a system called winner-take-all built into the electoral college. All but two states allocate all of their electoral college votes to the winner of the popular vote. So if you win the plurality by even five votes, by even one vote, you get all of the electoral college votes in that state. But what that means is that this is not the country that picks America, that picks our president, this is the country that picks our president. This country. This country is the country made up of these so-called swing states, because if you're a candidate running for president it makes no sense to campaign anywhere except in this country, the country of swing states.
In 2016, 95% of campaign appearances were in these states, 99% of campaign spending. The only time candidates went out of these states is when they went to New York or to California to raise money. This is the country that picks our president. These are the swing states, let's call them the swingers in America, but here's the thing, the swingers don't represent America. They're older, they are whiter, their industry is a kind of 19th century, early 20th century industry. There are seven and a half times the number of people in America working in solar energy as mine coal, but you don't hear of solar energy in presidential elections because those people come from Texas and California. You hear about coal miners because coal miners are in these swing states.
So what that means is if you don't come from a swing state, your vote doesn't matter. And even if you do come from a swing, if you happen to vote for the minority, your vote will not even be registered because all of the electoral college votes will go to the person who won the majority. So that means in the last election, 85 million people went to the polls to have their vote just not matter in the selection of the president.
Or do we have an equal vote in the House of Representatives? And the answer is obviously no, because of gerrymandering. States work hard to draw their districts. I know New Jersey has had a recent fight about whether this would be true or not, and I was very excited to see the extraordinary citizens movement in New Jersey that stopped partisan gerrymandering in New Jersey. But most states draw their districts to produce safe seats so that they can guarantee which party will win in a particular district. And they draw these districts in this extraordinarily creative way, christopher Ingraham calls these crimes against geography, as you draw the district to guarantee it will produce the result that you wanted to produce. But the thing about safe seats is that though they guarantee which party will win, what they also do is mean that the only politicians who can challenge the incumbent are politicians who are even more extreme than the incumbent.
So if you're a safe seat Republican congressperson, what you're fearful of is an even more extreme right wing Republican challenger, because it's the base which is typically polarized to the extreme that's going to show up in the primary. Or if you're a safe seat, liberal Democrat, what you're worried about is an even more liberal Democrat who will show up and challenge you, because you know that the base in the democratic primary will be the most liberal base.
So what that means is Congress, people are constantly looking to the extremes, because they are constantly fearful that the extremes will challenge them, which produces a system that empowers the extremes relative to the rest of those who would vote, which is why Congress, right now, is polarized far more than America is polarized. That's a product of the system of gerrymandering. And if you add up those whose votes therefore don't matter, it's about 89 million Americans on this dimension who don't have an equal place in our democracy.
Where the most extreme, the most grotesque, the most obvious of inequalities is the inequality in the way we fund campaigns. We take it for granted in America, that congressional campaigns will be privately funded. And what that means is that candidates for Congress and members of Congress spend their time raising money. Now you think how much time do they spend raising money? The answer is they spend anywhere between 30 and 70% of their time raising money. 30 to 70% of their time dialing for dollars, calling people up. Today when I talked to the kids, they weren't quite sure what this technology was, but seemed to be familiar. But the point is they're calling up these people, sucking up to people with power to raise the money they need to get their party back into power, to themselves back into the office.
Now, when they're calling for half their time, they're not calling the average American, they're calling about 120,000 Americans who are the Americans who give enough to be worth their time to call. Those 120,000 Americans then have enormous power relative to the people who are not called. And as they do this, as members of Congress do this, it affects them. BF Skinner gave us this image of the Skinner Box, where any stupid animal could learn which buttons it needed to push to get the sustenance it needed to survive, this is a picture of the life of a Congressperson right now, is they learn through this process which buttons they need to push to get the sustenance they need to survive. It has an effect on them. They develop a sixth sense, a constant awareness about how what they do might affect their ability to raise money.
They become in the words of the X-Files, "shapeshifters", as they constantly adjust their views in light of what they know will help them to raise money. Not on issues 1 to 10, but on issues 11 to 1000. Leslie Byrne, a Democrat from Virginia, describes that when she went to Congress, she was told by a colleague, "always lean to the green." And to clarify, she went on, "you know, he was not an environmentalist."
So this dynamic means some people have enormous power, the funders, and the rest of us don't. Which means about 139.5 million Americans have less power because of this feature of our system, while a tiny fraction don't. And if we had to make this actually proportionate we'd have to cut off 4/5 of the head of this person to make the numbers actually fit the graph.
Okay, so add all these together, and it's pretty obvious, but the consequence is they don't represent us. In each of these dimensions, they don't represent us. It's not just the money, it's the extremism because of partisanship. It's not just the partisanship, it's the inequality and suppression of vote because of the way administrators make it harder for the other party to vote. It's not just the suppression of vote, it's also the fact the President doesn't care about America, the President cares about that weird country that I showed you by linking together the swing states. Add these all together, they don't represent us.
Why Wyoming Has More Power Than California in the Senate - AJ+ - Air Date 10-14-20
[00:10:02] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: In the United States, every citizen has, technically, the right to have their voice represented in Congress, but not every vote is equal. Take a look at this. This is the population of California, the biggest in the country. And this is the population of Wyoming, the smallest. But in the US Senate, this is how many representatives they each have, 2. California actually has the same population as these 22 states combined, meaning that while these 39 million people have two senators, these 39 million people get 44.
While the presidential election always takes up the most attention, the Senate is where a president's policies and laws can be passed or blocked. This is the first part in our series, Looking at You Versus the System. We'll be diving into how American political and financial systems work against you and sometimes your vote. So let's look at why the US Senate is the way it is and what can be done to make it more fair.
The federal government is divided into the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. Laws have passed here, in the two houses of Congress. The House of Representatives has 435 members, each one representing around the same number of people across the country. As we've seen though, the Senate has only 100 members--two per state, regardless of how many people live in those states. This system was designed at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where the US constitution was drawn up.
[00:11:41] DAVID FARIS: The main point of contention at the convention, in terms of representation, was whether the legislature would reflect population differences between the larger and the smaller states, or whether all the states would be represented equally.
[00:11:53] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: So they came up with a compromise, two legislatures--one represent the people and one to represent the states.
[00:12:01] DAVID FARIS: So the larger states get more representation in the House and the smaller states get less. And then they created this second body. The US Senate is... the principle is equal representation of the states.
[00:12:11] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: That makes sense when you think about how, back then, the political divide was between states, not political parties like it is today.
[00:12:18] DAVID FARIS: One of the biggest problems is malapportionment. That is the extent to which the representatives represent the same number of people. And the US Senate is actually the most malapportioned legislative body on the face of theEarth.
[00:12:31] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: That malapportionment is also demographic. The smallest, most overrepresented states are whiter, while the larger, more underrepresented states are more ethnically diverse. And that has real consequences, because the Senate passes laws and it confirms presidential nominees, including cabinet members, ambassadors, and importantly Supreme Court justices, but we'll get to that in a bit. For now, think about this.
[00:12:58] DAVID FARIS: If you add up the population of the 26 smallest states and that they can control 52 seats in the Senate, that represents 18% of the population. So it's possible for a political majority to emerge in the Senate that represents less than 1/5 of the American people.
[00:13:13] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: Basically, you can win a majority in the Senate while only winning a minority of voters nationally. And that has a big effect on how the US is governed.
[00:13:22] DAVID FARIS: This era that we're in, where we have really strong partisanship means that the Senate can be a place where a political minority clings to power and thwarts progress that maybe the political majority would like to make.
[00:13:35] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: That's why popular progressive policy ideas, like the Green New Deal, a wealth tax, legalizing marijuana, a $15 an hour minimum wage, free college, and so on have so much trouble becoming law. So whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins the presidential election in 2020, the way they would govern will be shaped by who controls the Senate.
But the Senate doesn't just grant a minority blocking power over legislation and give more weight to some people's votes over others, it denies some Americans any say at all. Washington, DC, his license plate say "taxation without representation," and with good reason, DC has just over 700,000 residents, more than Wyoming and Vermont, and just a few less than Alaska and North Dakota. Puerto Rico, meanwhile, is home to more than 3 million Americans. That's more than the population of 20 different states, but the two territories have not been granted statehood, meaning the total number of US Senators for DC and Puerto Rico is zero.
And the Senate has one more rule that's used to check popular policy ideas. Almost every bill needs a super majority of 60 votes to pass. It's not enough to have more votes than the other side. You need a lot more votes.
[00:14:49] DAVID FARIS: The super majority requirements in the US Senate, I think, breed a lot of cynicism and hopelessness about American politics, because frequently you see either Democrats or Republicans, they take the presidency, they take the House, and they take the Senate, and they still can't get anything done because it's very rare for Democrats or Republicans to control 60 votes in the US Senate.
[00:15:08] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: Now let's step back to this. Unlike the President or Congress Supreme Court judges, aren't elected. They're appointed, for life, by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Their decisions shape laws on voting rights, the right of workers to unionize, reproductive rights, who can finance elections. That's why in 2016, the Republican controlled Senate wouldn't let President Obama nominate Merrick Garland, his candidate for the Supreme Court. This kept a Supreme Court seat vancant, and that strategy paid off when Trump became president and nominated conservative judge Neil Gorsuch for the open position. The Senate, still controlled, by Republicans confirmed course search. And then the following year confirmed Brett Kavanaugh. Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amy Coney Barrett is likely to become the third conservative justice to join the Supreme Court under president Trump. That would cement the court's conservative character for decades to come.
So we've established that the Senate doesn't count everyone's vote equally, shuts out millions of Americans, can be controlled by a small minority of voters, has a built in mechanism for blocking popular legislation, and can through, the Supreme Court, shape laws far into the future. So, does it have to exist? Abolishing the Senate would require a rewrite of the constitution, meaning the Senate would need to vote to end itself--unlikely. But there are other things that can be done to make it more fair. For example, there's nothing in the constitution that says Senate bills need a super majority. That rule can be changed by a simple majority vote in the Senate itself.
[00:16:41] DAVID FARIS: The rule still exists because both parties are sort of looking at the future and thinking, "well, the next time I'm in the minority, I'd like to be able to block the majority from doing anything," and just personally, I feel like a healthier dynamic for our democracy, let's compete and try to beat each other in the elections, but then if we lose, the other party gets to govern.
[00:16:59] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: Another improvement would be granting DC and Puerto Rico statehood. In 2020, the House actually passed the bill to make DC the 51st state, but with any future DC senators likely to be Democrats, that bill is unlikely to get through a Republican controlled Senate for now. David Faris actually wrote a book with these other more radical solutions.
[00:17:20] DAVID FARIS: I have a proposal to break California into seven pieces, all of which would be democratic leaning, presumably would produce 14 Democratic Senators instead of two out of California, but it would also lessen the difference between California and Wyoming in terms of the voting power of the citizens. You could do that to Texas. You could do that to New York.
[00:17:37] MOHAMMAD ALSAAFIN - HOST, AJ+: Now breaking up states would require those states to first accept the idea, which seems impossible, but that might change when people realize the Senate's inequality is actually getting a lot worse.
[00:17:48] DAVID FARIS: By 2040, 70% of the population will live in just 16 states. This problem, this malapportionment problem in the Senate is only going to get worse, because people seem to be migrating towards the larger states, and so a problem that we feel acutely today, and that's a big problem in our politics, actually will get significantly worse over time.
Perpetual Minority Rule with David Faris - Battleground with Amanda Litman and Faiz Shakir - Air Date 6-10-21
[00:18:08] FAIZ SHAKIR - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: You mentioned in 2010, that that was essentially the watershed year for Republicans. Coming off a tea party wave; Obama's, his first few years in office; basically, we reduced our state legislatures by half, if I remember correctly, right?
We just lose tons and tons of state, legislative seats and governorships.
We are now at that moment, again. We're 10 years later. It's 2020. We have a census year. What the heck is going on right now around the country with these maps? Give us a state of play of what you're observing.
[00:18:39] DAVID FARIS: I mean, Republicans are preparing to administer a very aggressive gerrymander. And they have the additional bonus of gaining seats from the reapportionment of the House of Representatives.
So I live in Illinois. Every 10 years Illinois just loses another seat, because no one wants to live here, I guess, even though it's actually really nice. I live one mile from an inland ocean, you should come here. It's great.
But we lost a House seat, and it's going to Texas. And it's going to Florida. So, texas got two, Florida got one, and they have Republican trifectas in both of those places. And they have the additional benefit of knowing that Democrats have been gaining strength than some of the suburban areas, particularly in Texas, but also in Florida.
So they know where the Democratic voters are. They're going to draw those districts as aggressively as possible without running a foul of the few remaining protections against it. Uh, in other words, they can eliminate some Democratic seats so that our four seat majority at this point-- like, just rerun the 2020 election on the new maps. Democrats would lose the House.
[00:19:34] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: We've talked about, like, the cardinal sin of Democrats in 2010. It wasn't even against a plan that was a secret. Like, Karl Rove took an op-ed in March 2010, ahead of the election, and said, "Here are the hundred or so seats we're going to target. We're going to flip them. We're going to spend X amount of money doing it. And we're doing it specifically for this goal." It was never even, like, low key under the radar.
You know, you mentioned Secretaries of State as one of the roles that we can control; you know, county elected officials was one of the roles that we can control; we could repeat the same mistakes of 2010 again, if we're not careful.
[00:20:08] DAVID FARIS: I mean, in some ways we already have. 2020 wasn't a redistricting year election, and Democrats, to their credit, invested a lot of money in state legislative races, and just lost them anyway. In some places, really shocking outcomes, like in New Hampshire, where Republicans gained seats, even though Biden did really well.
I personally think that was because Biden did not demonize Republicans enough. And that's my pet theory, is he gave people, like, this permission structure to say, like, "Vote for me to fix the country, but feel free to go vote for your Republican friends in the state legislature, because they're fundamentally harmless people who appeared several times at the, uh, at the DNC."
But yeah, so we, we didn't do what we needed to do last year, in terms of recapturing enough state legislative chambers,
[00:20:49] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: Any! Any state legislative chambers!
[00:20:51] DAVID FARIS: Not a single one. But yeah, so that already happened. Right? And so that... that ship has kind of sailed.
And the scary thing is that, like, everybody's talking about HR-1 as if this can fix the problem. But it has to happen pretty soon, because these maps will get made, people will start running for those seats.
It's not like if Manchin and Sinema come around next summer, and pass HR-1 they'll be like, "Okay, stop the presses. We're going to redraw all the maps, and just hang with us."
It'll be too late. You know, it'll be too late to fight the 2022 midterms on fair ground.
[00:21:18] FAIZ SHAKIR - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: This is a critical point. Walk people through that, just for a second, David. So, you're saying that we need to pass it, let's say this year, before the end of the year, need to change the filibuster in order to do that, so, everyone understands, you gotta change the Senate filibuster.
And if we were to pass this voting rights bill, then it would mandate that all of these states would have to create independent commissions in order to redraw their congressional maps. Is that right? And you're saying, in order to stand all of those up, across 50 states, it'll take some time. And if we wait another year, those maps will have already been drawn.
[00:21:53] DAVID FARIS: Right. So, I think you could get it done if the bill was passed by the end of this year, I think it would be doable.
[00:21:59] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: It'll be tough.
[00:21:59] DAVID FARIS: It'll be tough, but, like... you remember when Pennsylvania... the Supreme Court redrew the Pennsylvania state map, and they did that, actually, fairly early in 2018, in time to have that be the map for the 2018 midterms.
Now, the laws vary by state, right? So that might not be possible in every single state.
The other problem is that Democrats could pass HR-1 tomorrow, and the nonpartisan redistricting stuff is going to end up in court. They have no leg to stand on, but they're going to sue anyway. And some crazy judge in, like, the Fifth Circuit is going to smack it down. It's going to end up in the front of the Supreme Court.
And while that's all happening, some of the Republican states could just say, "Well, we're not going to do it." And Florida could say, "We're not going to do it anyway. Like, how are you going to make me redraw the maps?"
And so, we need enough time for those legal battles to play out in court, in order to actually get this maps in place. And if we don't do that, you might as well just wait until 2023, and take your chances next year, because it won't be enough time to do it.
So time is of the essence; like, the clock is ticking, and that law needs to be passed well before the midterms really start to ramp up.
So I just don't see the urgency among Democrats, that they understand that.
[00:23:00] FAIZ SHAKIR - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: Uh, to that point, I assume... I assume your prognostication at this juncture is that, let's assume the voting rights act, the HR-1, S-1, is not passed, For The People Act.
Right now, if you had to run the 2022 elections, the congressional elections across the country, you're assuming that we just lose the House because of the way that those districts have been carved up.
[00:23:25] DAVID FARIS: Yes. So there haven't been a ton of special elections, but there've been a few. The vibe that we get is that the national environment, interestingly, seems relatively unchanged from November, 2020.
So Democrats have done a couple of points better in some of these races, couple points worse; we're not seeing what we saw in 2017, which is, like, republicans getting, like, blown out of the water, or falling way, way short of expectations in some of these special elections.
But if you take Biden's approval rating, which remains pretty good for the polarization era... Like, not historically, but, like, for the last 20 years, okay, that's pretty good.
The generic ballot number where they ask people, you know, Republican or Democrat next year? Democrats have maintained a reasonable edge in that number, that's similar to 2020.
And so you might think, wow, we're doing good! You know? And in some ways, the early days of the Biden administration had been, I think, better than some people thought. COVID relief bill went well beyond some of my expectations personally.
But even taking all that into con... like, we have the same advantages nationally that we had eight months ago, I think that we would still lose the House.
So, primarily we're going to lose seats in Florida and Texas. Those are the big ones. Now we may get a seat in Colorado. Maybe you get a seat in Arizona. Well, they're probably not, because Republicans control the architecture there. But then you also have, like, all of these Republican trifectas that have another opportunity to redesign the gerrymander from 2010, because that gerrymander has expired. Right. That's why Democrats were able to seize the House in 2018, even though some observers, you remember, back to 2018, some people were like, "Democrats have to win the hospital by 10, 11 points in order to take the House." And that turned out not to be true, because Republicans were bleeding support in the suburbs, and they were bleeding support from college-educated white voters, and that has changed the maps a little bit.
But now we're giving them another crack at it. You know, they know where they've lost support, and where they've gained support, and they will draw them maps accordingly.
And Democrats have tied their own hands, in their biggest state of California. Like, we can't do this to them, because we got behind a nonpartisan redistricting measure there, which of course is the right thing to do. But it's like we're surrendering unilaterally.
[00:25:23] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: And let's play this out to the following Election cycle: so Democrats lose the House, very likely, in 2022. Senate, let's assume we lose the Senate as well. We then have a 2024 presidential election, along with another congressional and Senate election, in which, is compounded by four years now of voter suppression laws being passed on the state level, and more rigging of the architecture of these elections in a number of key battleground states.
So what happens in a 2024 election, do we have one?
[00:25:52] DAVID FARIS: Yeah, that's a good question. I think we'll still have an election, right? The question is whether the voters of this country will have any meaningful opportunity to have their voice heard as a majority.
You know, the electoral college advantage of the Republican party-- I was shocked by this, honestly, and it got worse between 2016 and 2020-- so that the tipping point state, the state that provided the 270th electoral votes to Joe Biden was over four points more Republican than the rest of the country.
So, that's the baseline. And then maybe it will change between now and then, but you don't generally get huge demographic shifts between elections, they unfold over a longer period of time.
So, let's say for the sake of argument, that the natural advantage of the Republicans in the electoral college is four points. That means Biden could win the national popular vote by three and a half points; you know, I don't know what that would be, seven, 8 million votes-- and just lose. Like, they don't have to steal it if they just win.
And the fact that some of these voter suppression laws are on the books, or are being pushed in states that will actually be competitive in 2024, it gives them an even greater advantage.
So, this is happening in Arizona, which is a very closely divided state.
So that's scary. Right? And so, Republicans could just win it outright on the basis of their structural advantages, and the voter suppression laws that they've already put into place.
And I think that's the hope, right? I don't think anybody in the GOP actually wants to have to steal the election. Like, that would be too much hassle.
[00:27:06] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: Some of them might.
[00:27:09] DAVID FARIS: Some of them might. Um, that'd be a thrill ride for them.
But, um, let's say that something similar to last year happens in 2024. You know, let's give Biden the national vote by five points, and he wins very narrowly across Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.
Let's take a state away from him just to be realistic. Okay, let's say that T____ just wins Arizona. You know, you have three, four, or five states that provide Biden the margin of victory. They're all very close, within tens of thousands of votes. And they are all controlled by Republicans, because we lost the governorships in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin next year. We lost the Secretary of State offices there. They usually vote the same way, but rare... with rare exceptions. But we lose all those offices. So we have no control over what happens in these states.
And two days after the election, it looks like Biden has won all three of them.
And then you start to see the claims of fraud from, I don't know if T____ is going to run, or DeSantis, or Ron DeSantis, or whatever maniac that picks up this nomination, right.
And they say... the drum beat of fraud, you know, like, "I saw in Detroit on election night, some brown people were voting. It's not right."
And the legislature just appoints T____, or DeSantis's electors. And the Republican governor signs it and the Secretary of State signs off on it.
Who's going to stop them? They will forward those electors to Congress; perhaps the Democratic minorities and those legislatures will send alternate slates of electors. So that when Kamala Harris goes to count the electoral votes on January 6th, 2025, she'll have two sets of them, from multiple states. And a strict reading of the Electoral Count Act says that she has to open them if they purport to be legitimate.
This is what happens when you allow the democratic architecture of your country to be steered by 140 year old laws. It's so crazy, but that's what would happen.
[00:28:45] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: The underlying tension of all this is that Democratic policies are more popular; that the demographics are in our favor; you know, you've also written a much about how, like, young people are trending more Democratic, and that only continues over time, because your political ideas are basically formed in, like, your early twenties.
So that, structurally, Democrats can never win; but mathematically we should win, and quite handily.
[00:29:11] DAVID FARIS: Yeah. I think that there is, probably today, roughly, like, a natural four or five point Democratic advantage in the country as a whole. You know, I don't know what we're going to call it, fifty two- forty eight? Something like that.
It's getting more pronounced over time, because Republicans have been losing incoming eighteen-year-old voters for close to 20 years now. And some of those voters are now my age. They're in their early 40s. And they're not making any inroads with young people who are entering the electorate. So, the strongest Republican voters are dying off slowly.
If you want to feel good about something, look at the exit polling from 2020. Now, I know exit polls are not perfect, right? But, like, you can see trend lines, even if the data's not perfect. T____ got slaughtered with voters under 45 in Ohio. He got slaughtered with voters under 45 in Wisconsin. So some of these states that are presumed to be moving in a Republican direction are actually dependent on these older cohorts who are dying off.
And so, in the medium term, I'm very confident that Democrats will enter the 2028, 2032, 2036 elections with pretty significant advantages in the national popular vote. And the thing that I'm most worried about right now is, will American democracy survive until that time? Until young people have entered the electorate and large enough numbers to flip some of these states that have been voting Republican? Or to reinforce some of the Democratic leaning purple states like Georgia or something. It's a Republican leaning purple state right now. But like the trend line is in one direction.
So, the smart Republicans know this, okay? They know that demographics are working against them. And, of course, you can see shifts in each party's coalitions that can cut into some of these trends. Democrats lost some ground with Latino voters last year, it almost cost us the election, but you take the last forty years, Biden's performance among that group was pretty much middle of the pack, right?
So you need to see these things happening in more than one election to draw some firm conclusions, but fundamentally, Republicans are facing a longterm apocalypse, and that is driving, I think, their short-term turn to authoritarianism, because they actually don't really think that they can win elections free and fair anymore.
And so the only choice left is either to accept that you now live in a multiracial democracy, and you have to make some policy concessions, or you eliminate democracy and you live in some form of authoritarianism.
Or the country breaks up, right? Like, if they do this, I would want to secede. I would, you know, I would want my Governor to... to get out, you know.
[00:31:24] AMANDA LITMAN - HOST, BATTLEGROUND: I was just thinking the great nation state of New York will be really nice.
[00:31:27] DAVID FARIS: Right. And we're, you know, we're mostly contiguous, you know. Uh, but not entirely. And it would be a catastrophe, because, I mean, there's more Democrats in the State of Texas than there are in Illinois.
Right. I mean, like, people are not distributed evenly by state. It's so unfathomable to think about, but if Republicans succeed in this election theft plot, I really fear for the integrity of the United States as a polity.
Biden's DOJ is SUING Texas For Their Brazenly Discriminatory Gerrymandering - The Humanist Report - Air Date 12-7-21
[00:31:50] MIKE FIGUEREDO - HOST, THE HUMANIST REPORT: When it comes to the Republican party's ongoing assault on our democracy, we might not be seeing much movement in Congress.
However, thankfully, Biden's Department of Justice is actually going after Republicans who are functionally trying to rig elections in their favor by doing voter suppression and explicitly partisan gerrymandering.
So, as David Nakamura and Devlin Barrett of the Washington Post explain, the Justice Department has sued Texas for the second time in a month over voting related concerns, this time alleging that Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Latinos and other minorities, when they approved new congressional and state legislative districts that increased the power of white voters.
The Attorney General Merritt Garland's announcement on Monday marked the Biden administration's first major legal action on redistricting. It comes at a time when the US House is narrowly controlled by Democrats. Many GOP controlled state legislatures are tightening voting restrictions, and both parties are trying to draw maps to their own advantage ahead of the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.
While the Supreme Court has declined to put limits on partisan gerrymandering, it is illegal to draw lines that are unfair to racial and ethnic minorities. The 2020 census showed that the Texas population had grown dramatically over the past decade, by nearly 4 million people. Most of that growth was among minority populations, with white Texans accounted for only about 5% of the increase.
The growth means that the number of Texas seats and the US house of representatives will rise from 36 to 38. Texas is the only state to gain two seats. Rather than reflect the surging Latino voting strength in the state, the Justice Department argues, the new districts would unfairly and illegally dilute their representation.
So, they're pretty brazen about this. This is a very explicit attempt to disenfranchise Latino voters who would disproportionally vote in favor of Democrats, as opposed to Republicans.
Now, looking at a map, it really becomes even more clear how brazen they are. So compare the current map to the new map. And as you can see here, safe Republican seats have nearly doubled in Texas; but, if district lines were drawn fairly, they would not have that many safe seats. They would lose safe seats, given the demographic changes in that state.
So the fact that this happens in the United States, and it has always happened, and it's getting worse; I mean, it should worry people. This is an erosion of democracy. This is a watering down of representation. It's brazen, and it's not like Democrats don't also do partisan gerrymandering, but the solution is to just not do partisan gerrymandering.
There's a bill in Congress right now that the Democrats have not passed, because they are refusing to get rid of the filibuster, that's called the For The People Act, that would outsource the redrawing of district lines to independent nonpartisan commissions.
So, they're not trying to draw lines based on which party is going to be successful, they're trying to draw lines on how to best represent a particular district. That's the way that it should be.
And Republicans do not support this.
So, overall, even if both parties engage in gerrymandering, Democrats are the only one, to give them credit where it's due, who's trying to take action-- or, at least, they're signaling their support for action. But whether or not they're going to abolish the filibuster and actually get it done is a different story.
Now, aside from partisan gerrymandering, the DOJ has also targeted other states that have cracked down on voting rights, namely Georgia.
So, in June, the Justice Department sued Georgia over a new statewide voting measures that federal authorities alleged purposefully discriminate against African Americans. And last month, the Department sued Texas over a separate law that federal officials say would disenfranchise eligible voters, including older Americans and people with disabilities, by banning 24 hour and drive through voting, and giving partisan poll watchers, more access.
So it is important that the DOJ is taking action. But having said that though, I want people to understand that this shouldn't be the only avenue that Democrats pursue in trying to protect voting rights and further enhance democracy. They have to pass the For The People Act. They have to pass any voting rights reform, but who knows if they're actually going to get that done, given the limited amounts of time left.
I mean, 2022 is right around the corner, and going into this next year, they're going to be shifting gears. They're no longer going to be hyper-fixated on legislating, and instead, they're going to be thinking about their own electoral prospects. So, we're going to see a shift in priorities, and you can't just change priorities and focus on the election without getting really important things done. Like, the For The People Act, voting rights reform.
But I would argue that most Democrats will do that. But who knows? I hope that they prove me wrong. You have to fix this issue. Because the harder, or the longer that you wait to fix these issues that are plaguing our democracy, the harder it gets to actually fix them.
The momentum is rolling in the opposite direction currently, and we see a full on assault on democracy by Republicans, and Democrats-- most elected Democrats-- just aren't taking this seriously enough. I can't necessarily say that about the House, but Senate Democrats... I mean, if they truly cared, they would be calling on their colleagues to abolish the filibuster.
But we've come to a point where Democrats have chosen the filibuster over democracy itself.
And that may sound hyperbolic, but it's true. You're not going to have time again. In the event that Democrats lose in 2022... I mean, these districts will be redrawn for a decade. So you're likely not going to have full control of government for a very, very long time. Most likely.
So things that you don't get done now, I think it's logical to expect them to not be accomplished within 10 years.
So now is the time to act. Now is the time to not just do voting rights reform, and end gerrymandering, but, uh, pass a minimum wage increase. Do things that enhance democracy and make it so, that way, we're not constantly going backwards, constantly worrying about Republican stealing elections.
But they are just not serious enough about this. And it's because Democrats just don't have the desire to fight. They could be taking meaningful action right now when it comes to improving people's lives. Hell, who knows where build back better stands? Will we even see the investment in climate change that was promised?
We don't know, but what we do know is that the time to act is running out, and it's good that the DOJ is taking action, but this can't be the only route that you pursue. You've got to do more. You've got to protect the vote. You've got to expand voting rights and get rid of barriers to voting.
Voting should be easier, not difficult, but increasingly, that is, unfortunately, the case. Because of Republicans. So, you know, they're going to win by cheating.
And if you know this and you're not doing anything about it, I can't help but think that you're complicit here.
Andrew Perez on the Filibuster - CounterSpin - Air Date 6-18-21
[00:38:40] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: At Fair, we're not about blaming the people. You might remember your high school civics class, and you might read the Times or the Washington Post every day, and you can still be misinformed or under informed about, in this case, what the filibuster is, and what it does.
And so, just to start somewhere, I think many people, of a certain age, but even beyond that; I think, many people think about Jimmy Stewart, you know, and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and he's talking himself hoarse on the Senate floor in a fight against corruption and cronyism. Deadline ran a piece recently, noting that even when that movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," came out in 1939, the filibuster already had a history associated with blocking civil rights legislation. And, particularly, southern Senators, filibustering a bill against lynching, a bill that huge numbers of the public supported.
So if we're talking emblems of the history of the filibuster, maybe less Jimmy Stewart, more Strom Thurmond, would you say?
[00:39:54] ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah, today as is stands, the majority party in the Senate is required to find 60 votes to end debate on any legislation. But congress... or, the Senate has definitely limited the power of the majority to actually enact their agenda.
The minority party doesn't have to marshal all these votes on the floor. And they don't have to marshal people to talk indefinitely to try to filibuster a piece of legislation.
And instead, what basically happens is, the process will just continue. No... no legislation can advance unless the majority party can together marshall 60 votes on the Senate floor.
[00:40:39] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: So they don't have to talk until their hoarse. They just have to say "We're a'gin it."
[00:40:45] ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah. The onus is really on the majority party to produce their votes, rather than on the minority party to... to stand there on the floor to talk their faces off. Yeah, it's... the onus is completely on the majority party at this point.
[00:41:02] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Well, it's interesting. It's seen as protecting the minority, that's one sort of thing that you hear. And then it's also, maybe even more frequently, talked about as preserving bi-partisan collegiality, uh, or said differently, forcing Democrats and Republicans to work together.
But I mean, you know, is that what it is? I mean, it... it seems like, at this point, it's really more cynical and... and even more sinister than that.
[00:41:33] ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah. I mean, I guess, you know, some people like to think that the Senate is, just, intrinsically supposed to be this cooling saucer, as the way the founders intended. But yeah, it's... there hasn't been much collegiality between the parties for quite a while.
And, I guess it could work, you know, in theory, where, like, there's some give and take on legislation; but one of the primary issues here is that there's not any kind of agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the type of legislation, or, like, what the... what the broader issues are the Congress should be addressing.
It's not like, "Okay, we're going to take a certain issue, and, you know, let's hear your side of it, and let's hear our side of it." The issue is more that Republicans, just, are never going to agree to pass any, kind of. Priority agenda items from Democrats, even if it was a watered-down version.
And, I mean, I think we've seen that a lot. A pretty classic example of it, the Affordable Care Act debate under President Obama. Democrats proposed legislation that is actually fairly conservative. The Affordable Care Act was basically an outgrowth of the Heritage Foundation idea years ago. Mitt Romney had passed legislation as the Governor of Massachusetts enacting the, kind of, like, first test case for that type of legislation.
And there were zero Republican votes for it at all. No matter how watered down the bill got-- you know, Democrats didn't include ideas like a public health insurance option, or Medicare expansion, you know, stuff we're still talking about today-- those were on the table back in 2009 and 2010, and Democrats didn't include any of them; and there were zero Republican votes for the bill.
[00:43:28] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: And now, you know, we have Mitch McConnell saying, this week that he's 100% focused on stopping Joe Biden's administration. Very similar to what he said under Obama. So it sounds weird when you then turn to Joe Manchin who says, "Well, we can't give up on working together." It just seems like one of these things is not like the other.
But, I just, in terms of point of information, Democrats, if they wanted to, could end the filibuster tomorrow, is that right? And there are reasons that they should want to not kick it down the road. There are reasons that, if they really do want to put through their agenda, or what we understand to be their agenda, that now is a whole lot better than later.
[00:44:17] ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah, definitely. So yeah, it... Democrats can nuke the filibuster if they find 50 votes, plus the vote from Kamala Harris, as Vice President, they can nuke the filibuster whenever they want. They can attempt to do that on the Senate floor.
And yeah, there's very good reasons to do it now, which is that Democrats, right now, even though they have a very small Senate majority, they control both houses of Congress and the presidency, which means that they can actually enact whatever they want, in that case, without Republican input. And, you know, not to sound too partisan, but like, I think it's understood at this point, Republicans are not going to support any of Joe Biden's agenda.
[00:45:00] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: They've said it!
[00:45:01] ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah. They've been pretty open about it, and there's just a million different things that now's the time to pass.
For instance, we haven't had a minimum wage increase in... in 12 years. That just was never passed during the Obama administration. And just... and the reason, you know, in part, was because Democrats didn't start talking about it until after they lost control of the House, and Republican Speaker, John Boehner, obstructed the agenda and wouldn't have it.
So yeah, now is the time that Democrats actually have full power to pass Joe Biden's agenda. You know, whether it's one I like, or whether it's one that's weak, and moderate, and, you know, what have you, it's the only time any of that's going to happen. Because there's a very good chance that Democrats will lose control of the Senate soon.
And in fact, you know, they can lose control of the Senate next November, but that could also happen literally any day because they have a 50/50 majority there, and a whole bunch of old Senators.
[00:46:04] JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Not to put too fine a point on it, you know, it just is one health event away from a shift there.
A To-Do List for Senate Democrats - Amicus With Dahlia Lithwick | Law, justice, and the courts - Air Date 7-17-21
[00:46:10] DAHLIA LITHWICK - HOST, AMICUS: Adam, I have a question that I feel like could be a question about everything we have talked about tonight and everything we could talk about for the next six hours, which is just the tit-for-tat question. So somebody is essentially saying, Right, so we ditch the filibuster and then what happens when the Republicans win back control of Congress and the presidency? And by the way, we could have that conversation about court reform. We could have it about almost any sort of democracy reform we’ve talked about. What’s your back of the envelope answer for tit-for-tat or spiral-to-the-bottom?
[00:46:42] ADAM JENTLESON: Well, there’s sort of a brass tacks political argument, and then there’s a broader argument. And that the brass tacks argument is that if you don’t get rid of it now and pass the stuff that we want to pass, Republicans will just get rid of it when they’re in power and pass the stuff they want to pass anyway. And I think that’s a pretty solid bet that they’ll do that. You look at it from a strategic analysis by leaving it in place right now, we are guaranteeing that we will not pass things like voting rights, H.R. 1, gun control legislation, a whole raft of immediate urgent priorities. So you’re incurring a huge cost up front to yourself and to our democracy. You’re probably also making it easier for Republicans to get back in power faster by not passing voting rights and democracy reform. So you’re accelerating the doomsday scenario where they are in power. And so you’re incurring that cost and you’re doing it in order to maintain this defensive tactic that you hope will come in handy for us when the other side’s in power. So what happens though when you incur that massive cost to yourself up front? Then the other side gets in power and with a flick of his wrist, Mitch McConnell just gets rid of that defensive tactic that you incurred that cost in order to keep. So, you know, I think it’s a bad idea to incur that cost up front and sort of cross your fingers and hope that Mitch McConnell doesn’t yank that away from you when he wants to, because I think the overwhelming odds are that he will. So that’s that’s the sort of the brass tacks answer is that we have power now, Democrats do. So they should do as much as they can with it, because Republicans will probably just do all the bad stuff anyway when they’re back in power.
The more philosophical answer is just that actually on balance, the filibuster is a tool that benefits the conservative side of ideological spectrum far more than the progressive side. So on net, it is something that it overwhelmingly benefits progressives to get rid of. It is a tool that makes it harder to pass things. Progressives are the party that wants to pass big change. Conservatives are the party that want to stand athwart history yelling stop, in William F. Buckley's famous phrase.
You look and then historically, progressive benefits and expansions of rights have proven extremely hard to undo legislatively. They’re easy to do through the courts to roll back, but legislatively they’re extremely difficult to undo. You look at Obamacare, which after it passed, was extremely unpopular with the public. Republicans campaigned for seven years on repealing it. As soon as they got back in power, they tried to repeal it through that process called reconciliation, which means they only needed a majority to repeal it. So the filibuster was no help to Democrats in stopping the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans couldn’t muster a majority to repeal it because what happened, it got popular when they tried to take it away. When you try to take progressive benefits away from people, it becomes very hard because people realize they like it. So I think when you when you take the brass tacks analysis and you take the sort of larger strategic analysis together, the only conclusion you can really come to is that this is something that, while it does pose some risk in getting rid of it, overwhelmingly benefits Republicans more than Democrats. So Democrats should get rid of it, pass the things they want to pass, because that is on balance by far the best thing for them to do.
[00:49:40] DAHLIA LITHWICK - HOST, AMICUS: Elie?
[00:49:42] ELIE MYSTAL: I just want to add that the same argument basically works when you talk about court expansion. So you put four justices on the court and then the Republicans get in and they put eight justices on the court. Well, where does it end? Why does it have to end? Who cares? Again, in step one, if you put four justices on the court that are going to protect the Fifteenth Amendment, then it makes it much more unlikely that the Republicans ever take back all of government again, which is what they would need to repack the court. A. B, how is it worse if they repack the court? We’re already down. If something happens and now in six or eight years, the Republicans are back on top, that’s no worse than it is right now. And then C, as I've said, there are great reasons to have more justices on the court that go beyond partisan politics. And so even if you are talking about a court that is 50 people, 80 people, like that’s actually still better than what we have now. People forget, our Supreme Court is unique in the western industrialized world in that it is A so small but B so powerful. No other western industrialized Supreme Court can just declare an act of the popularly-elected legislature unconstitutional because five dudes say so. Are you kidding me? That’s not a power most other places have. That's a power that we have. So changing the bar to five dudes think that’s unconstitutional to I don’t know, 45, how is that bad? So like as Adam saying, with with the filibuster reform, yes, there are doomsday scenarios where Republicans grab all the power and use it to do awful things. But those things are awful. And a lot of times they’re unpopular. So do the things that you can do right now to do popular things and make it harder for them ever to win back power again. And if they do and they decide to do awful things, you’re in no worse position than you are before.
[00:51:36] ADAM JENTLESON: And if I could just add one point to it, to what Elie saying, I think he’s making I agree with everything he’s saying. I think the powerful points. And the thing about the filibuster is that by making the legislative branch of government dysfunctional, it is shifting power to the executive branch and to the judiciary. And so if progressives -- the thing the progressives want to pass are by and large very popular, the things Republicans want to pass are, by and large, unpopular. The easier way to do unpopular things is to have them be done through the executive branch and through the judiciary so that elected officials in Congress don’t have to vote for them. So by jamming up the legislative branch and dispersing more power to the other branches of government, you are making it easier for Republicans and conservatives to achieve the unpopular things that they want to do. You know, legislative change is hard to do, and members are very responsive to public opinion. So if you are the side that has the more popular agenda items and the other side has the less popular agenda items, you want that fight to happen in the legislative branch, because that is where people are most responsive to public opinion. That’s why Republicans couldn’t get 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, because it became extremely unpopular. So it is in our interest to sort of herd the action back to where it should be, which is the legislative branch, because that’s where public opinion, which is on our side, has the most impact.
[00:52:53] DAHLIA LITHWICK - HOST, AMICUS: So talk about big roadrunner clocks. We're ticking down out of time. But I want to ask you each, as briefly as you can, only because the hook is coming, to just give folks a sense of if you care about democracy reform, if you care about voting rights, if you can put effort into one thing or another, what should -- and I know Elie is going to say, walk and chew gum like all of it, all of it right now -- but I think people really, I think are overwhelmed by the sort of enormity of the structural challenges. What are you telling people to do as a sort of ask is an action item, Adam?
[00:53:33] ADAM JENTLESON: Well, look, if you if you live in West Virginia or Arizona, I would say call your Senators Sinema and Manchin immediately, because I think that elevating this issue -- filibuster reform is a weedy Senate issue that I think a lot of lawmakers don’t think grabs the public attention, but they listen to the calls to come into their office -- so calling them, meeting with them, demonstrating public support is important. But I also think it’s not just Senator Manchin, there’s a lot of Democratic senators out there that that that need to hear from people. If they’re on the right side, call them up and thank them, because that firms up their support. So make those phone calls, make those meetings. If we’re emerging and people are vaccinated and you can do in-person things again and it’s safe, do all that in a safe and covid compliant way.
But that is critically important, because this is an issue that even a few years ago was so far in the weeds that nobody was talking about. I think we’ve come a long way. It’s more front and center now than it has been in a long time. But we need to keep the pressure on, and we need to keep telling senators that we’re watching them, that we’re thanking them for doing the right thing. But if they’re not, that we are demanding that that they do the right thing. That those calls, those meetings, those text, those those emails really do matter. Having been on the inside, having seen how much senators pay attention to to the feedback they get from their constituents, it really does matter.
[00:54:47] DAHLIA LITHWICK - HOST, AMICUS: Elie?
[00:54:47] ELIE MYSTAL: I’ll go with obviously all of the above. But I’ll pick up where Adam said about what they’re actually afraid of. Right? This summer, they’re coming home. And we probably will not have filibuster reform or expansion or anything like that by the time we hit the summer. So I would say show up, show up loudly. They’re coming home, get your two shots, put on a mask and go out and show out and show these people what you think about these issues. Because Adam’s exactly right. They come this first break, this this summer break before which is the kickoff to their mid-term reelection campaign. They care about this break more than anything else. And if you yell at them, if you confront them, if you are in their face and say, where is my reform? I voted for you, where is my reform? That will matter to them. People forget why didn’t Republicans have enough votes to kill Obamacare after after running on it for seven years? Because people rose up. Because people rose up. Why did Derek Chauvin get arrested and charged and convicted? Because people rose up. At some point, it does become an issue of us, the people, ourselves, standing up, masking up and going out into the streets and demanding better from our elected officials.
Chauncey DeVega On Why Democracy Might Not Survive - The Muckrake Political Podcast - Air Date 12-7-21
[00:56:15] JARED YATES SEXTON: I think that it is more than likely that they will probably win in the midterms. After that, the hope that I have is that that might end up being some sort of a wake up call. Because I'm glad that you brought up Claremont, I'm glad you brought up Heritage, because I don't think enough people understand that these people, these think tanks, these organizations, and they operate -- for anyone who isn't aware, they operate, they are just fat on the money that comes in from the Kochs, that comes in from all of these right-wing billionaires who are obsessed. And this is what they're being paid to do: they're being paid to destroy democracy. They're being paid to roll back every single possible piece of regulation.
I was saying this last night: it doesn't end with Roe V. Wade, it ends with those children being born and forced to work in factories 12 to 15 hours. And if you think that isn't something that these people want, they designed the first, second and third world system, so that corporations could go around the world in order to do this.
Unfortunately, capitalism doesn't rest, you have to increase your profits and eventually the way that you treat the so-called third world, it has to come back to the first world with those people. That is what they're being paid to do. And I have to tell you, when you listen to them, they will tell you straight out that this is what they are doing.
They talk about dictatorships. They talk about legal ramifications of these things. They are completely focused on this. And so this isn't a false alarm. This isn't hysterical walking around, worrying about something that isn't coming into fruition. These are serious people. Donald Trump is not the person who's sitting around thinking of this stuff. He's a buffoon who is out front of it. The people behind the scenes who are actually laying the tracks on this stuff, they are serious, serious people. And they mean what they say and they mean what they do.
[00:58:11] CHAUNCEY DEVEGA: Well, look at Florida. DeSantis wanting his own private state militia. And he's also talked about having election police. The new Jim Crow in Texas.
I think it was Claremont where they basically had a paper where they laid out the claim for more of these state governor-controlled militias. Also at Claremont, I believe, or someone adjacent to it -- I'm sure you track this -- all they're writing about the need for an American Caesar. Connect the dots, folks.
[00:58:36] JARED YATES SEXTON: Yup. That's the main thrust now.
[00:58:37] CHAUNCEY DEVEGA: And also here's what your listeners may have encountered online, this is how powerful and how vast their tentacles are. When you have these right-wing bloviator fake smart people on these internet forums, even if they ain't in Russia, talking about Oh, America is a republic, is not a democracy. That's straight right-wing Claremont, Heritage, et cetera, Heritage Foundation, rather, talking point 101 right there.
This all comes from somewhere and they're excellent at disseminating their talking points. So when you hear the foot soldiers repeating these things, they didn't come up with these ideas. It was put out in the ecosystem, and it's internalized.
[00:59:12] NICK HAUSELMAN: Well, it's not even that they can create that whole line of reasoning. They also will take the argument that the left has legitimately against the right, and simply just change the words. Like they're going after NBA players who won't criticize China for instance, because, oh, they're too beholden to China and their money. And it's disgusting to hear those people go after somebody else because of money and because they're greedy about something. And yet it resonates -- not only does it resonate and you watch these people and their reaction -- it is like you said, it's the Wolverine moment. Any chance to get a chance to dunk on the left, it is, it's I don't even know what the word is, it's just hard to rectify and deal with. It kind of shuts you down. It's intimidating to see that kind of vitriol and that kind of energy poured into this.
And the wake up call I don't think happens. Jared, you were talking about like some sort of wake up call. There was a wake-up call in Germany in the thirties, and nobody even decided to listen to that for those years until Hitler took over.
[01:00:14] JARED YATES SEXTON: I'll I'll say this, because here is the thing, it is, there was a robust opposition to the Nazis. There was a robust opposition to all of these authoritarians. The question is whether or not it's going to be the left that does it alone. And most of the time, unfortunately, the bourgeoisie, what we would call died-in-the-wool liberal, some of these professional managerial-class people, they look around and they see which way the wind is blowing. And they're like, you know what? I'd rather go with these guys than with the left. Right? Because taking a chance on the left, taking a chance on societal change, means that you risk some of your money. You risk your house, you risk your car, you risk your career. A thing that I just found the other day which was a chilling to me was, there was this moment as the Nazis are taking over and as Hitler is becoming a full-blown dictator, this Nazi official goes into a university, he sits down with all the professors and he's like, listen, I got news for you: you either teach while we want you to teach, or you're going to a concentration camp. Not a single person walked out, not a single person said anything except for one guy that was like, are we going to get more money for our research now? That was the question. Because the system goes ahead and corrupts you.
The question for me is whether things will change. Because history is not static. History is not necessarily a slippery slope. There are moments in which there's a give and a take and things can change. Can there be a civic revolution in this country? Can there be a reformist revolution in this country? I think there's a possibility. The question is how fast it happens, when it happens, and if it will be enough. And as of right now, I find it lacking. But I do maintain a hope that maybe one day people will wake up in a white hot terror, the way that they do as they're driving for hours and they suddenly realize they're at the wheel of an automobile that can kill people and kill themselves.
[01:02:12] CHAUNCEY DEVEGA: Well, I tell folk as, you know, brother Cornell West told me, and I've been going back to it repeatedly: get your casket ready. Cause the casket or a coffin can also make a good life boat. But you gotta be ready to get in the casket and you gotta be ready to accept the fascist tide is here. Get your casket ready, get your cemetery suit ready, get in the casket, make your own 'cause they only so much room in mine, and maybe you can float out of this thing. But a lot of folk are going to stand there, wait till the last minute. And the water is already at their nose and then the water's going to be over their head.
And there's some folk, these Republican fascists and they're followers -- I wrote this a few weeks ago in Salon -- I said, you know what? They think they can surf on the fascists, like it's an amusement park, a water park. They're going to have fun, like action park back in Jersey. Uh-uh, they gonna drown too. Maybe they just drown a little later, but they gonna be drown too.
[01:03:01] JARED YATES SEXTON: Well, and they are. And by the way, I just want to point out fascism is a suicidal movement. If they weren't being killed in purges, if they're not being oppressed, eventually what happens with these groups? They have to expand. They have to create this movement outside of themselves, usually it's war. And do you know who goes into war smiling and thinking that they're serving a higher cause? The people who, as you said, John, think that they're going to ride the thing out or they're going to gain power. It is always an empirical death drive. It is the idea that by creating this new suicidal religious nationalist cult that somehow or another, it's going to turn into a rejuvenation, but it eats you up. It eats everybody up. Everybody it touches.
Final comments on public policy, human nature and Cold War talking points
[01:03:47] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with the Network for Responsible Public Policy featuring professor Lawrence Lessig explaining many of the ways our government functions to not represent the people. AJ+ focused on the Senate, how it came about, and how it works. Battleground pressed on the urgency of passing HR1 before Democrats likely lose control of the House of Representatives. The Humanist Report looked at the DOJ's effort to sue Texas, and Georgia over their gerrymandering efforts. CounterSpin focused on the filibuster. And Amicus ran down a list of democracy saving policies, and urged all of us to show up at town halls and and in Senate offices, demanding action.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from the Muckrake Political Podcast getting more than a little dark when discussing the fascistic movement behind the push for minority rule in America.
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And now today I have a bit more to say on human nature. In the previous episode, I responded to caller David from West Los Angeles, a conservative who was making a good faith effort to have some cross-partisan understanding. For instance, he's a long-time listener of the show, even though he generally disagrees with most everything we say, and he laid out the long-standing conservative idea that liberals simply don't understand human nature. And tend to try to create policies that won't work due to their fatal flaws relating to human nature.
For my initial thoughts on why it is not the right who seem to be taking their cues from passed-down folk wisdom, so-called common sense, and the deeply negative view of humanity informed by Christianity, but actually the left who tends to believe much more in experimentation and empirical evidence who is better suited to develop policy that fits the actual needs of people. Check out my final comments in the episode 1459.
But, after that, I got thinking more about the relationship between public policy, religion, and human nature, and thought back to a pretty recent interview on the Ezra Klein show that we featured, well I don't know when it originally aired but we featured it recently, and it was about a tribal society. An anthropologist was talking about a tribal society that had a culture of insulting the meat. And in short, the story is that this culture, they maintain a very egalitarian society, which is mostly not too hard, probably with not that much wealth floating around, but meat and the hunters who bring it tends to be one of the few things that really threatens to throw off the balance. Because people love the meat--high density protein, how can you say no? And so it would be very natural to praise and exalt the hunters, which would put them in a position of power and prestige in the community, and this seems like a very natural human instinct. Praise the people who bring the meat so they'll bring more meat. But counter-intuitively, it is in their culture to do the opposite as a strategy for maintaining an egalitarian society. They criticize the hunters and the meat as a way of preventing those hunters from sort of getting big heads or expecting special treatment or anything like that.
So here's the question, if their culture goes so obviously against their nature, does that mean that their culture and this policy of insulting the meat, is it wrong? In a sort of similar way that conservatives argue that liberal policies that go against human nature are wrong and wouldn't work. This is a policy that has worked for them. It has survived the ages and has helped maintain their society, and so in that way, it's clearly not wrong, but as a successful policy in their culture.
So that got me thinking about the relationship between human nature and government policy. Is culture and the policies we create in our culture merely there to uphold our human nature, or are those policies there to help alter our nature, at least to some degree? Because let's take David's supposition as granted for a moment, liberals attempt to implement policies that go against human nature. How would that be massively different than the church warning against sin, which it is in the nature of humans to commit? I would argue that the point of culture, religion, and government policy is to alter our individual natures in ways that are socially beneficial and lead to cohesion, which means that the conservative argument against policies that go against human nature is sort of on its face, kind of silly. Because of individual human nature was already in tune with the needs of broader society, there'd be no need for government policy or religion at all, which is an idea only adhered to by libertarians who, to put it delicately, are wrong.
Now that's where I thought I was going to be finishing with this thought, but then something else occurred to me. So this idea of liberals not understanding human nature, it's such a classic talking point. I've heard it so many times, and for so long that I started realizing it may fit in with the sort of collection of other talking points that goes back decades, and which we've mostly forgotten the original purposes of, or the origins of.
republic other that comes immediately to mind is "we live in a republic, not a democracy." Now to start off, that is a nonsense phrase. A republic is a type of democracy, just like a square is a type of rhombus. You would never say, "I've drawn a square, not a rhombus," you just wouldn't say that. Not all democracies are republic but all republics are democracies. A direct democracy isn't a republic, but a republic is a representative democracy, democracy is in the definition of it, you can't get away from that. So there's this nonsense phrase that has become pretty widely believed on the right, even if people don't fully understand what they mean when they say it. I mean, perhaps they think the left believes we live in a direct democracy, but I think that's being too generous. More to the point, I'm willing to bet that most of them have no idea where that talking point came from, but just sort of accept it as truthiness. Like it just sounds right.
The origin of the phrase, or at least the reason we've all heard it shouted by a conservative at least a few times in our lives is because of the cold war, and more specifically, the John Birch Society. If you don't know about them, think of the John Birch Society as the Tea Party of their day, but probably also with a dash of QAnon, but instead of trying to catch Democrats and drinking baby blood, they we're trying to catch communists. They were, and actually they still exist so technically they still are on the far right of American politics and are very prone to believing in conspiracy theories. So anyway, those are the guys who really catapulted the idea that the US is a republic and not a democracy. It's nonsense, but it's understandable considering the source.
The point of that phrase and why it only could have come from the right is to undermine the idea of democracy itself, and they're pretty upfront about this. They are not fans of democracy and they will tell you so. But they couldn't just go around telling everyone that we need to get rid of the democratic republic that our founders set up, that would never gain traction. Instead, they tried and have had pretty impressive success in convincing a large portion of the population that we don't need to change anything about our country to stop being a democracy, we just need to go back to the founding documents and understand, through their use of slight of hand and incorrect definitions of words, that we were never meant to be a democracy. That's the sort of idea that is capable of gaining traction among people whose ideas are so outside the mainstream that they could never be implemented through the democratic process.
So that talking point is really laying the groundwork for what we've been talking about all day today, minority rule. And why, besides their ideas being deeply unpopular, would the far right in America, during the cold war, need to start talking about the need for minority rule in order to save the country from the oppression of majority rule. It's basically one answer with two parts, actual communism and the New Deal Era, which they saw as communism. The left, they believe, should in no circumstances be allowed to control the country because they're all communist, according to the John Birch Society. And once you come to the conclusion that everyone on the left is a communist, then you come right back to where we started, the left clearly doesn't understand human nature, just look at communism. "'From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,' if that's what the left believes, then they must not understand anything about human nature," they will chant gleefully.
And from there, it sort of stuck. That idea remained in the conservative zeitgeist through the decades, right up until a week or two ago, when I receive a call from a very nice, very well-meaning conservative, who just wants to explain a few things about how the left doesn't understand human nature. And these kinds of talking points, "it's a republic, not a democracy," and "the left doesn't understand human nature" are actually strategies for not having to deal with issues and arguments head on. Not having to argue directly, but instead, simply undermining the legitimacy of one's opponent so that no argument is necessary. It's actually a classic logical fallacy of an ad hominem attack, but it's cloaked in respectability. It's not saying you're a terrible person so I don't have to pay attention to you, it cloaks it in this veneer of, "well, I'm just explaining some of the realities of the world, and according to the realities of the world, you are not someone who needs to be listened to."
The John Birch Society couldn't really argue against the success of New Deal policies that helped create a robust middle-class, so instead they tried to discredit it by calling it communism, and the right has never stopped doing that sense. After a while, when the hunt for communists was pretty well discredited in the wake of McCarthyism, they switched to saying socialism, but that was a distinction without a difference for their purposes. If you call universal health care socialism, then you don't have to debate the better health outcomes and lower price tag on the merits. Same with higher taxation of the rich and corporations, same with all of the actions needed to combat climate change, and programs to give housing to the houseless..
But then there are the policies that just don't quite fit the scary socialism framework, like redirecting funds from police forces to community improvement and support efforts. For those kinds of ideas, there's always the helpful fallback of "liberals don't understand human nature." And so again, there's no need to debate the merits or policies with someone who is so obviously unqualified to make policy that they live in a fairy tale world of everyone acting just as they should, just because we asked nicely, which is a very close paraphrase of like David actually said on his call.
But just to reiterate, I don't think David was doing any of those things consciously. He didn't invent those talking points, and I don't believe for a second that he was consciously trying to gaslight everyone with his comments. I think he fell victim to those talking points, was sort of infected by them throughout his political education. And the result of falling prey to talking points designed purely to discredit and opponent is that you turn your brain off and never deal with ideas, because the talking points have convinced you that there's no need. But this leads to lazy thinking, assuming the worst in others, and ultimately making strawman arguments like the ones made against defunding the police. I've never heard a conservative address the idea of redirecting funds in ways that would better serve the community. Something that many police are in favor of, by the way. Only the straw man idea that liberals want police to disappear tomorrow with the magical thinking that people would stop committing crimes. Discredit the source, turn off your brain, assume the worst, and ignore everything the other side says. It is a hell of a debate tactic.
Now as always, keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991 or by emailing me to [email protected] Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, webmastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through Patreon, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes.
So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.