American Democracy? (An Outsider’s View)

Michael House

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“If the United States were a true democracy, Donald Trump would not have become President. In 2016, Trump lost the presidential election by 3 million votes. (Why Democrats have not been shouting this fact from the rooftops for the past four years is a mystery, but it is rarely mentioned.) Trump stole the presidency through the corrupt and undemocratic system known as the Electoral College. I understand that this institution was set up after the Civil War to placate and reintegrate the slave states. Perhaps after 150 years, they have been placated enough.”—Michael House

The Polemicist

By Michael House, FRGS

Noose at the Capitol on 6 January 2021

Noose at the Capitol on 6 January 2021. (Photo: Shay Horse/NurPhoto/Getty.)

“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”—Joseph Stalin

Michael House

KING’S SUTTON England—(Weekly Hubris)—February 2021—What follows may seem trite and obvious to close followers of American politics. But close followers sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. An outsider’s view may be useful.

If the United States were a true democracy, Donald Trump would not have become President. In 2016, Trump lost the presidential election by 3 million votes. (Why Democrats have not been shouting this fact from the rooftops for the past four years is a mystery, but it is rarely mentioned.) Trump stole the presidency through the corrupt and undemocratic system known as the Electoral College. I understand that this institution was set up after the Civil War to placate and reintegrate the slave states. Perhaps after 150 years, they have been placated enough.

This loser-takes-all system enabled Trump to become President although the plurality of American voters did not want him. Finally, to get rid of him, they had to be even more emphatic in 2020. The same system led to disaster in 2000. George W. Bush lost the election, won in the Electoral College and then invaded Iraq, a country which had nothing to do with 9/11. It always seems to be the Republicans that benefit from the Electoral College anomaly.

So scrapping the Electoral College would be the first step towards a democratic system of government.

The most profound consequence of Trump’s stealing the Presidency (apart from the treasonous attack on the Capitol) was that he was able, with the assistance of the Senate, to inflict on the Supreme Court three extreme right-wing ideologues, one of them an attempted rapist, one of them a religious bigot. Those appointments will set back democracy in America for decades.

This brings me on to the next anti-democratic element in American politics—the Senate. There are 100 Senators, two from each state. Wyoming (three voters and a horse) has the same number of senators as California. Rhode Island (population 1.06 million) has the same number of senators as New York State (19.4 million.) How is this representative democracy?

Why are there two Dakotas, two Carolinas and two Virginias? Why have these areas four senators each instead of two? No doubt the Federalist Papers will carry some profoundly wise explanation as to why the Senate was set up the way it was, but 240 years later, it cannot hold good in a country that wants to be considered a democracy. Those three extremist Supreme Court Justices were confirmed by a Senate in which Democrat candidates won substantially more votes than Republicans. The new justices clearly don’t reflect the views of the voters as a whole.

So: first step to democracy: abolish the Electoral College. Second step: make the Senate a representative body. The first might happen one day, when the Democrats have a proper majority in the Senate. The second, I suspect, never. Certainly, nothing will happen in the next two years. The swing vote in the Senate is a man called Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, one of the Trumpiest states in the Union. He sits as a Democrat but is effectively a Republican. When Jake Tapper asked him whether he supported gun control, he nearly had a fit of the vapors. He has made it clear that he won’t support creating a Supreme Court that is representative of the country by expanding it. So, unless the Democrats harvest Republican senate seats in 2022, any sort of democratic reform is unlikely. As to reform of the Senate, turkeys rarely vote for Christmas. And of course, it is a long way up itself. If I hear another commentator calling it “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” I shall throw up.

So what is the path to reform? The first step appears to be to grant statehood to Puerto Rico and to the District of Columbia, which is more heavily populated than Wyoming and Vermont. That should go some way to solidifying Democratic control of the Senate.

Democrats must learn that power, once gained, must be used, ruthlessly if necessary. Power begets power. I’m sure we all had a little frisson of pleasurable smugness when Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” But she was wrong. A much better principle would be “when they go low, we go lower.” Don’t set a moral example to the deadly viper, kill it.

As Bill Maher said to Steve Bannon during an interview, “I wish we had someone on our side as evil as you.” The end sometimes does justify the means.

The third pathway to democracy in the United States is the elimination of voter-suppression. We shouldn’t get carried away in our admiration for the Governor and the Secretary of State of Georgia, who bravely refused to be intimidated by a low-life mobster. By all accounts, they did their utmost to put barriers in the way of Black and poor would-be-voters. And Trump’s criminal threats are likely to ensure that voting in Georgia will be made more difficult than ever. There are two routes to eliminating or neutralizing voter-suppression. The Stacey Abrams method is to inspire people to work tirelessly to get the vote out. But not every state is lucky enough to have a Stacey Abrams. The other method is to take control of state governorships, state Senates, and state Houses. I read about Republicans being elected unopposed in red areas. Every seat must be contested.

Trump leaned on Vice President Mike Pence to take some ill-defined course in the Electoral College to steal the election. He said in a speech that if Pence didn’t come through, “I will like him a bit less.” He sounded like the president of the Friends of Italian Opera talking about Spats Columbo. But his audience got the message. The dog-whistle was heard loud and clear. Hence the chants in the Capitol building of “Hang Mike Pence.”

So, my advice to America—become a genuine democracy. Then you will lessen the risk of being saddled with a president who is a traitor, a criminal, a racist, a congenital liar, a sex-pest, an adulterer, probably a rapist, an ignoramus, a psychopath, a narcissist, a vulgarian, and not a very nice person, generally.

Michael House

About Michael House

Michael House was born, of rural, peasant stock, in Somerset, England. He read law at Exeter College, Oxford and was elected President of the Oxford Union. In 1974, along with five colleagues, House started up a set of barristers' chambers in three little rooms in Lincoln's Inn, London, specializing in human rights and in representing the poor and dispossessed. The set now comprises 170 members and occupies a 17th-century building that was home to the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated (Spencer Perceval, 1812). In 1987, depressed by Mrs. Thatcher's third election victory, House fled to Greece for three years, where he was published in The Athenian and The Southeastern Review. He also there met his archaeologist wife, Diane. The pair returned to England in 1990 after a half-year, round-the-world trip, and settled in London and Northamptonshire. Since then, by way of escape from humdrum criminality, House has traveled in Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Ladakh, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, Syria, Jordon, Libya, Mongolia, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka, where only the stout walls of Galle Fort saved him and his spouse from being swept away by the tsunami. House returns to Greece, his second home, almost every year. He has written for, inter alia, History Today, the Universities Quarterly, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Rough Guide to Greece and House practices criminal defense law from Garden Court Chambers, Lincoln's Inn Fields, in London, and hopes that if he keeps on practicing, he may eventually get the hang of it. His yet unachieved ambitions are: to farm alpacas; see Tibet liberated from the Chinese jackboot; and live to see Britain a socialist republic.
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9 Responses to American Democracy? (An Outsider’s View)

  1. Avatar Di Drymoussis says:

    Oh wow! Michael House – absolutely love your post this month and agree 100%!! Thankyou!

  2. Avatar Michael. says:

    Thank you. That’s very kind.

  3. Avatar Jean says:

    As a Democrat, repeatedly bludgeoned by the Electoral College, I certainly agree that it has long outlived its usefulness. And, I agree on DC and Puerto Rican statehood. I would welcome a chance to discuss the question, When we become evil to do good, how long do we remain good?, but, overall, I take your point(s).
    I would note that Justices Robert’s, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have, with feet to the fire, adjudicated several cases correctly, (in my view), to the disappointment of the Trump crowd. But, yes, overall a far more conservative court than I would like.
    But, lamentably, I believe our worst problem is the abysmal ignorance of how the government works that permeates our society top to bottom. Whatever the founders envisioned, I don’t think it included willful ignorance.
    Great essay, and thought provoking. Thank you.

  4. Avatar Jean says:

    Damn autocorrect. Above, “…Justices Roberts…”, not Robert’s. Sheesh.

  5. Avatar Anita Sullivan says:

    Yes, and also it might be a really good idea to lay out some actual requirements for candidates aspiring to run for President in the US. Make the candidate (at a minimum) pass the same test required for immigrants to attain citizenship. Trump should never have been allowed to run, and now it may take 3 or 4 years for the Republicans to realize Trump never was one.

  6. Avatar Michael says:

    The system seems skewed towards conservatism and the status quo. It takes far more votes to elect a Democratic senator than to elect a Republican one. The conservative countryside carries more weight than the liberal cities. So the Democrats have a moral majority in the Senate even when they are in a literal minority. That should free them up to be ruthless.
    Anita I agree about the qualification test. At the moment, any clown off the TV or from Hollywood can win the presidency, whether a B-movie actor (Reagan) or a reality show buffoon. Ignorance is no bar. To many Americans, knowing stuff is a drawback.

  7. Avatar Michael says:

    Nostradamus predicted that in 2021, a virus would emerge from Russia which would turn people into zombies. He was only 5 years out.

  8. Avatar Michael says:

    Just as I expected, Georgia is bringing in new laws, inter alia, to prevent voting on Sundays. Pretty clear whom that is aimed at.

  9. Avatar Michael says:

    On another aspect of democracy, I would urge American readers to contact their senators to demand a Senate vote on extending the Equal Rights Amendment period, now 38 states have ratified.

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