Democracy fetishism at its worst. I really find it hard to give a more substantive critique as Levitsky and Ziblatt are so shallow in their analysis and recommendation’s it is kind of hard to take them seriously. More democracy at a national level would only make our situation worse as we are a big diverse country. Rule by a majority would cause more strife, not less. Each of their recommendations come off as very ill informed. Liberals use to worry about minorities, now liberals, particularly those elites, have deluded themselves into thinking that most people agree with them and with a little more power they can fix anything. It is madness.

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The is no serious question that under the Constitution rural area are over-represented in the Federal government. For example, Wyoming has the same number of Senators as California. However, the politics of contemporary America are quite different than what the authors fantasize.

1. The Senate is controlled by the more liberal Democrats. The more democratically elected House is controlled by the Republicans. This is the exact opposite of what the authors claim.

2. Pew has studied this is at length. Bottom line, conservatives have shifted moderately to the right. Liberals have moved massively to the left. See "Pew Research Center: Political Polarization from 1994-2017" (https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/interactives/political-polarization-1994-2017/). A quote here should help.

"The Pew Research Center does a poll asking Americans about their beliefs on a variety of issues. When plotted on a graph and then animated to show how ideologies have shifted over time, an eye-opening picture emerges. Since 1994, Republicans are only about 8% more conservative in their beliefs. Democrats, meanwhile, are fully 60% more liberal, with the median Democrat now closer to the far left than the center."

3 Elon Musk is now hate figure on the left. He is actually a moderate liberal who supported Obama and Biden. He is not far enough to the left to satisfy the extremists.

4. See https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1519735033950470144. The stick figures actually originated with Colin Wright. They are (according to Pew and others) roughly correct.

5. The far-left (clearly including the authors) control all of the elite institution in America, but not the people. DEI is the official mantra of K-12 education, academia, Hollywood, the media, NGOs, SV, Tech, Wall Street, corporate America, the FBI/CIA/military, etc. Only the American people disagree. In California, The public voted against racial quotas (Prop. 16). Note that elite wailing and nashing over the recent Supreme Court decision to abolish racial quotas. The American people might agree, but so what?

6. The elite believe (or pretend to believe) that biological males should compete with females in sports. The public strongly disagrees. So what? Has this altered elite opinion? Not at all.

7. The bottom line is that some liberals have moved to the far, far, left. Hence they view Republicans / white people as the ‘enemy’. This says a lot more about them that Republicans / white people.

8. Trump (of all Republicans) got more black/Hispanic votes than his predecessors. His share of the non-white vote, went up, not down.

9. Serious studies, show that ‘progressives’ are strikingly unrepresentative of America. The are far more white and elite than the norm.

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I haven't yet read the book, and intend to. But after this conversation, I will read it with a few questions in mind:

(1) I am not sure what definitions of "rural" and "urban" the authors use, but by the 2020 Census definitions, 80% of the US population is urban and 20% is rural. I can see some disproportionate effect by the rural population in the US government, but am not clear on how the Republicans can have been so politically successful without major urban percentage of voters. The emphasis on the rural/urban divide seems more complicated than the authors suggest in the interview, at least.

(2) While they temper their concerns a bit about the US Senate not being representative enough of a majority, the question is, "representative of what?" The House is representative of the interests of people, aggregated into districts. The Senate represents the interests of states, which is a very different matter. As a Californian, I am not at all concerned that my state and Wyoming have the same number of senators. Our large population of people is adequately represented in the House, and our state's interests are 1/50th of the national interest. I seem to disagree with the authors about the balance between these two kinds of representation, which was historically unique and something I continue to support as is.

(3) Finally, I would be interested in their approach to "majority" among the executive and the legislative branches. Divided government was designed to provide not just institutional checks and balances, but majoritarian checks and balances as well. When a party has unified control of the Executive and the Senate and the House, that is the kind of majority that deserves the power it has earned. That seldom happens, and is a good thing in my opinion, and something close to what the founders intended. When the national government is divided, the assurance of national support is lessened, and more caution and compromise is warranted. Similarly, when a party holds only a bare majority in either chamber, efforts to "push through" major legislation have the same lack of the strong support that national legislation should properly have. I look only at Obamacare, passed with no Republican votes by the sheer political canniness of Nancy Pelosi through an impossible maze of rules and procedures. It was signed into law, but has never had the full national support such a major change ought to have had, and it shows. While I think it was a fine compromise, I think it pushed the envelope too far politically, and was one of the major factors increasing the political divisions we've experienced since. In a government divided the way ours is, a bare majority can do such things, but maybe shouldn't. For national legislation, a momentary majority in three parts of the system is the minimum needed, but if it can only barely survive in the Senate, House and Executive, it is likely to need life support going forward too. So "majority" is certainly a numerical calculation, but it is also a prudential one, and while the constitution provides rules only for the numerical count, its divisions and non-majoritarian rules (including, but by no means limited to Supreme Court review) are there in part to account for the prudence that human representatives are often lacking.

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Levitsky and Ziblatt base their call for change to a large extent on what they believe is fair and unfair. Determining what is fair is rather subjective. For example, positions for raising or lowering taxes are usually geared to the audience's appreciation of fairness without concern for the revenue that is actually needed .

Further, protecting minorities from the whims of the majority may be seen as being unfair to many in the majority. Nevertheless, protecting minority rights is fundamental to our democratic constitutional republic. Is it time to remind people that our system of government was never intended to be a direct democracy?

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I'm missing something here. Didn't they keep saying that the last time a Republican president won the popular vote was Bush senior in '88? But didn't Bush junior win the popular vote in '04?

And given that there have only been two other Republican victories after '88 and the popular-vote went against them by .5% and 2%, by what statistical measure is this even a 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨?

Aside from that there was the conflation of the January 6th perpetrators with "The Republican Party" which, granting that the party has behaved 𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘳𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘺 in not impeaching Trump and brushing off 1/6, are hardly the same thing.

No need to continue pointing out failings. I didn't come away with the idea that it would be worthwhile to read the book.

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The discussion of the GOP usually revolves around the intractable base but there's another power center here that resists change: the donor base. The reason the GOP can't evolve is it would have to acknowledge the existence of climate change. Authoritarianism may flow from both the top and bottom.

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Good job by Mounk pushing back. These guys are clearly committed to their argument that the GOP needs to changes policies to their liking because it is too white. The counterpoint that the GOP is rapidly diversifying racially is therefore too inconvenient a truth to acknowledge.

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Sep 10, 2023·edited Sep 10, 2023

Good debate, and you upheld the side of the Constitution well, Yascha. Thank you.

I particularly enjoyed your response on the subject of the Senate, citing the example of the European Union. Professor Ziblatt says, "Let's just make it [the Senate] a little more proportionate. That would ascribe a little bit more to basic democratic principles. And it's really hard to imagine an argument against that." You gave the argument, and I think the decisive one: because the United States is a federation, not a unitary state like the models that the authors idealize, and the members of the federation want and are promised their equal say. And, while the professors say, "We are not advocating for a radical overhaul of the Constitution.", this would be one of the most radical changes imaginable, not changing just ANY clause of the Constitution, but one of its few entrenched clauses, the one that requires the explicit consent of any state to give up its equal representation in the Senate, not just the usual three quarters of the states for normal amendments.

If they were not so intent on a radical revision of the Constitution, Professors Levitsky and Ziblatt might at least have mentioned the suggestion of their Harvard colleague Danielle Allen, to take off the artificial ceiling placed on the House of Representatives by the Prohibitionists in the Reapportionment Act of 1929. By restoring the equal representation to each citizen that the Founders intended, this would not only fix the under-representation of urbanized states in the House, but the greater part of their under-representation in the Electoral College as well. And it would not require a constitutional amendment, just an Act of Congress passed as regular business. Here's Professor Allen's article:


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Worth noting that the Framers' original version of the Electoral College was such a disaster that it created a constitutional crisis in only the second contested election.

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