These issues were growing in importance even before the 2020 election. As Johns Hopkins political scientist Lilliana Mason explains in her 2018 book, “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity”:
Trump’s election is the culmination of a process by which the American electorate has become socially deeply divided along partisan lines. As the parties grew further apart racially, religiously, and socially, a new type of social discord developed. The growing political divide has allowed political, public, electoral and national norms to be broken with little or no consequences. Norms of racial, religious and cultural respect have deteriorated. Partisan battles have helped organize Americans’ distrust of “the other” in politically powerful ways. In this political environment, a candidate who raises the banner of “us versus them” and “winning versus losing” is almost guaranteed to tap into a current of resentment and anger across racial, religious, and cultural divides that have recently become clearly divided. by party.
More recently, these questions were brought to the forefront by two Harvard political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, who published “Tyranny of the Minority” a month ago.
In 2016, America stood on the brink of a truly multiracial democracy – one that could serve as a model for diverse societies around the world. But as this new democratic experiment began to take root, America suffered an authoritarian backlash so violent that it shook the foundations of the republic, leaving our allies around the world to worry about whether the country had a future democratic.
This authoritarian response, Levitsky and Ziblatt write, “leads us to another troubling truth. Part of the problem we face today is something many of us revere: our Constitution.”
The flaws in the Constitution, they assert,
are now endangering our democracy. Designed in a pre-democratic era, the U.S. Constitution allows partisan minorities to systematically thwart majorities, and sometimes even governs them. Institutions that empower partisan minorities can become instruments of minority government. And they areespecially dangerous when they are in the hands of extremist or anti-democratic partisan minorities.
Levitsky and Ziblatt’s thesis has both strong supporters and strong critics.
In an essay published this month, “Vetocracy and the Decline of American Global Power: Minority Rule Is the Order in American Politics Today,” Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, says:
America has become a vetocracy, or government by veto. Its political system distributes power very widely, in a way that gives many individual actors the power to make things stop. On the other hand, it provides few mechanisms for imposing collective decisions reflecting the will of the majority.
Combined with the extreme degree of polarization in the underlying society, Fukuyama continues, “this leads to a total impasse where basic functions of government, such as deliberating and adopting annual budgets, become almost impossible.”
Fukuyama cites House Republicans’ ongoing fight to elect a speaker — with the far-right faction staunchly opposed to a centrist choice — as a case study of vetocracy at work:
The ability of a single extremist member of the House to oust the president and prevent Congress from legislating is not the only manifestation of vetocracy that will manifest itself in 2023. The Senate has a rule that gives any senator the right to block any appointment to the executive branch for any reason.
Additionally, the Senate requires “a supermajority of 60 votes to put the issue to a vote, making routine legislation very difficult.”