Tyranny of the minority

Our Republic’s burgeoning crisis

Hey Y’all - 

Tim Miller here, sending out a special edition on JVL’s feed.

Starting this week, and ending when I feel like our national emergency no longer requires working on Saturday night, I’ll be sending Bulwark+ members a Sunday Triad. All the darkness and despair of JVL’s newsletter… without the watch content. 

Hope you enjoy it.

Tyranny of the Minority

David Axelrod summed up much of the frustration, agita, and anger on the left about the state of affairs in our democratic republic in a tweet this weekend. 

On the right, even among some of the anti-Trump set, there has been a chafing to this frame. 

They argue that it is Axelrod and other Democrats who are using this argument to justify disruptive structural changes such as court packing and eliminating the Electoral College that are destabilizing to our politics.

Their case goes like this:

No matter what you think of the decision not to hold a vote on Garland, it was within the Senate’s discretion to not take up his nomination. And regardless of your personal view on the electoral college, each justice has been nominated by a duly elected president, in fact, the Bush justices were nominated after his popular vote victory in 2004. And in the narrowest sense they are right about this. The letter of the law has been followed. And delegitimizing court confirmations made lawfully by minority coalitions isn’t our path back to political stability. 

But, any good faith actor who doesn’t have their head in the sand can look around the corner and see the inevitable result of Cocaine Mitch’s Tyranny of the Minority...and it isn’t pretty. 

Last night in The Bulwark Adam White—who is no Miller-esque RINO squish—wrote about how in order to avoid this future Republicans should (but won’t), take the opportunity for restraint. You should read it all, as this is his wheelhouse more than mine. 

What I want to focus on is why Axelrod’s last point about the tyranny of the minority is something we are all going to have to contend with in the coming years. 

Anyone who has ever written about politics and has used the shorthand “democracy” for our system of government has received a lovely reader email reminding us that yes, America is a rEpUbLiC, not a democracy. And yes, dear reader, that is true. But a healthy and successful republic requires the faith and trust and consent of the governed. If, in large enough numbers, they believe the game is rigged or unfair the system begins to break down. For better (in most cases) or worse, our democratic republic over the last 250 or so years has inched more towards the democratic because it’s what the people demanded. 

Which brings us to a hypothetical world in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been replaced by a severely conservative jurist on a 50/50 party line vote in the days before an election. If that is to happen, even if that is an outcome you desire, I want you to step back and look at our republic through the eyes of a 21 year old who lives in a median American city and who wasn’t educated about our infallible nation by the new Patriotic Common Core Curriculum.

They were born in 1999. Two of the three presidents in their lifetime were elected by minority vote. The only one who was twice elected with a majority vote was denied the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice based on some quite shaky arcana and phony rule-making that they think was largely political bullshit. The president they know the best has a complete disregard for the law or political norms, received about 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, had the help of a foreign enemy, was impeached for soliciting illicit foreign help again and not removed from office. After all that, he did exactly the thing that his party said the black president who had actually received a majority vote couldn’t do in an election year. 

Pretty much every person this 21 year old knows is looking for a job in one of the dynamic largely democratic cities where all the growth is in the country but most of these enclaves have minimal national political power and their vote is irrelevant. In the Senate, the Republicans hold a majority of the seats representing states that make up a minority of the country. Nate Silver tells them that for Joe Biden to be assured to win the electoral college he needs to win the popular vote by about 5 points. 5 points!

So, I recognize things are cyclical and there are hypothetical political realignments that could benefit the Democrats. And, yes, I recognize and support our system of checks and balances. But we need to balance that structure against a body politic that believes they are represented or else they are either going to restructure it or burn the whole thing down. 

How is that 21 year old supposed to look at this system and think things are on the up and up? Just telling them that wE LiVe iN a rEpuBLic over and over again isn’t going to fly. They are going to demand change. And that reform can come the right way, respecting our norms and processes and basic fairness. Or, it can come from two increasingly lawless parties who care only about owning the other by any means necessary further tearing apart the fragile fabric of this democratic republic.

I know which one I think is coming, what about you? 


Speaking of the fabric of our republic collapsing last night… I was sitting on a hazy California patio having a rather rueful conversation with a couple friends. 

I was reflecting back on something that my former boss Jeb Bush said in the speech in which he announced his candidacy for the presidency.

“I am certain that we can make the decades just ahead the greatest time ever to be alive in this world”.

This, for Jeb, was not just some campaign pablum. It was something he believed to his core and was central to his view of the world. He is a tech-optimist who just fundamentally believes in American ingenuity and our political experiment. When he would say this stuff on the campaign trial, I would generally nod, agreeing with him. I’m not sure I ever really thought about it that deeply, but as a general matter at the time I believed 2015 was probably the best or one of the best years in human history and that 2035 would probably be even better. 

It occurred to me sometime in the last few months that I’m not sure I believe that anymore. And when I posited that dark premise to the group, I found that everyone else pretty much landed in the same place. Whether it was the increasing view that we have lost the rope on the climate catastrophe, or that our political system was faltering, or that some of our biggest tech innovators are actually doing more harm to society than good, or that the country poised to supplant us in global dominance is an evil and repressive regime or some combination of it all… There was just this sense that something has shifted, that we have crossed a threshold and maybe our best days are actually behind us.

And that we were all just kind of realizing it at the same time. 

Maybe we’re all just getting to the point that all nearly middle-aged dads get to and just want to reminisce on our glory days like Uncle Rico. But I don’t think so. 

I’d love to hear what you all think about this question and might share some responses next week. 

Nikola Jokic: Poetry In Motion

There is still some beauty in the world, and oftentimes it comes in the most unexpected packages. 

Nikola Jokic is such a package. Enjoy. 

There’s always a joker, that’s the rule, but fate deals a hand that I see.