People Without Power

I’m old enough to remember the 60s slogan “Power to the People!”  And I’ve lived long enough to see “the people”–at least the people who vote– overpowered.

I’ve written periodically about the various ways in which America’s systems have become undemocratic–about gerrymandering, vote suppression, the Electoral College–but Ezra Klein puts it all together in a truly chilling essay for Vox. 

Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by an unpopular president who won 3 million fewer votes than the runner-up. He was confirmed by a Senate majority that represents a minority of the country. He was confirmed despite most Americans telling pollster after pollster they did not want him seated on the Supreme Court.

As Klein points out, a constitutional system built in America’s founding era, structured to address the issues of that era, is currently making the country both less democratic and less Democratic.

Since 2000, fully 40 percent of presidential elections have been won by the loser of the popular vote. Republicans control the US Senate despite winning fewer votes than Democrats, and it’s understood that House Democrats need to beat Republicans by as much as 7 or 8 points in the popular vote to hold a majority in the chamber. Next year, it’s possible that Republicans will control the presidency and both chambers of Congress despite having received fewer votes for the White House in 2016 and for the House and Senate in 2018.

Kavanaugh now serves on a Supreme Court where four of the nine justices were nominated by a president who lost the popular vote in his initial run for office, and where the 5-4 conservative majority owes its existence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s extraordinary decision to deny Merrick Garland a hearing. This Court will rule on the constitutionality of gerrymandering, voter ID laws, union dues, campaign finance, Obamacare, and more; that is to say, they will rule on cases that will shape who holds, and who can effectively wield, political power in the future.

When it is all put together, it amounts to a bloodless coup. (“Bloodless” in the sense that the GOP has taken power without force of arms. Not so bloodless if you think of people who are dying for lack of access to medical care although majorities favor Medicare-for-All, or consider the rising suicide rate being attributed to despair, or factor in the deaths that will occur as a consequence of ignoring climate change.)

Sandy Levenson teaches Constitutional law at the University of Texas, and has been warning about waning democracy and American government’s lack of legitimacy for several years. The article quotes him warning “At some point, people will get so angry that they will either talk about secession or start engaging in more direct measures, whether it takes the form of rioting or violence.”

Klein’s article goes into some detail about the original reasons for our unrepresentative systems–the compromises that were “baked into” the Constitution in order to get it ratified. As he points out, any free political system must determine how to ensure that different interests can engage in balanced competition. The problem in our system is that what we balanced for–large and small states– is no longer what’s competing.

The compromises made to calm the divisions between places is exacerbating the divisions between the parties, as Republicans dominate rural areas while Democrats cluster in urban centers.

By 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. That means 70 percent of America will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of America will be represented by 70 senators.

It is not difficult to imagine an America where Republicans consistently win the presidency despite rarely winning the popular vote, where they control both the House and the Senate despite rarely winning more votes than the Democrats, where their dominance of the Supreme Court is unquestioned, and where all this power is used to buttress a system of partisan gerrymandering and pro-corporate campaign finance laws and strict voter ID requirements and anti-union legislation that further weakens Democrats’ electoral performance.

For those inclined to dismiss this analysis as overheated, Klein says

If this seems outlandish, well, it simply describes the world we live in now, and assumes it continues forward. Look at North Carolina, where Republican legislators are trying to change the state Constitution to gain power over both elections and courts. Look at Wisconsin, where state Republicans gerrymandered the seats to make Democratic control a near impossibility. Look at Citizens United, which research finds gave Republicans a 5 percentage point boost in elections for state legislators. Look at Georgia, where the GOP candidate for governor currently serves as secretary of state and is executing a voter purge designed to help him win office.

Klein references a number of changes that are being proposed, but whatever we might think of those changes, they won’t even be considered unless Democrats can overcome the odds and win control of both the House and Senate.

Pundits are always insisting that whatever election is imminent is “the most important of our lifetime.”

This one is.

26 thoughts on “People Without Power

  1. After reading your post twice, let me reword the wise pundit’s proclamation, “this election is the most important of our lifetime IF we want to avoid mass rioting and violence.”

    Poor Jamal found out what happens to folks who hold truth to power but the bankers will still assemble in Davos lining up to do business with Saudi Arabia.

    Profit over people persists.

    And yes, it will come down to violence in the streets. If you know companies of any companies looking to manufacture guillotines, you might want to share this investment tip with your friends.

    But like I said, the CIA are experts in “counterinsurgencies”. They’ve built the most advanced system of surveillance (spying) the world has ever witnessed. And, it’s NOT to protect Americans from terrorists. We are the terrorists the world is afraid of. We don’t have a “defense budget”, we have an “offensive budget” which has been the rule since WW2.

    When we force our ways on other countries, as we did on the Native American Indians, they tend to react violently (defensive). The CIA and the Pentagon have perfected this strategy as Eisenhower warned.

    When Trump blurts out that he wants the names of people organizing against him, our Establishment finds those names. Jamal wrote a negative piece about Trump. He was tortured and dismembered in a Turkey consulate.

    Any use of communication is captured by the Fascist USA…Twitter, Facebook, and Google have all censored organizations and people from both the right and left the past two years.

    It doesn’t take an advanced degree in forecasting to see where this is heading. As I’ve said countless times, Trump’s poor leadership skills have only sped up the process because he’s not a polished liar like most in Washington. He’s an Egomaniac, not a Sociopath.

    I expect both political parties to come for social security and other social safety net programs in order to pay for this year’s tax giveaway to their Donors. That should pour gas on the smoldering flames.

  2. “As Klein points out, a constitutional system built in America’s founding era, structured to address the issues of that era, is currently making the country both less democratic and less Democratic.”

    “The Constitution is our conscience.” This line from a 2017 movie struck me; it explains the entire Trump administration and our current Congress…none of them have a conscience, making it easy for them to ignore the Constitution. I disagree that it was structured to “address the issues of that era”; much of it is open to interpretation making it a timeless document. We currently have no democracy; neither are we a republic, we have become a monarchy with the self-appointed monarch a neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, KKK 21st Century combination of Hitler/Mussolini/Idi Amin who has finally admitted to supporting Saudi Arabia who continues making him richer. Has it occurred to any of you that is an open admission by Trump that he has NOT divested himself of any of his questionable businesses?

    The regulars on this blog are aware of my comparing lines from movies with our past and/or current political situations. Yesterday I again watched the movie, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House” and was struck by comparisons regarding the Watergate investigation with the Russian investigation today. During one of bob Woodward’s meetings with Deep Throat, Mark Felt said their investigation is going too slow. Woodward stated, “Everything is lost in details.” to which Felt replied, “Confusion is control.” Sound familiar? We are currently a country of “People Without Power” as confusion reigns supreme and has spread throughout the world due to Trump who has never had an unexpressed thought.

    “Klein references a number of changes that are being proposed, but whatever we might think of those changes, they won’t even be considered unless Democrats can overcome the odds and win control of both the House and Senate.”

    Nixon was reelected. Another line from the Mark Felt movie (sorry I couldn’t keep up with speakers while trying to take notes); “Whatever there is in Watergate, American people don’t seem to care.” This should also sound familiar to all of us as Trump’s disastrous daily distractions and confusion rolls over we “People Without Power” day after day after day. We are faced with Democratic candidates who do not have our full support or our trust but if not elected or reelected we face the same outcome as the Nixon reelection and we will become “People Without Power” long into our future…a future which contains the probability of Trump “following suit” of his foreign mentors and nuclear war looms ever closer.

    VOTE BLUE! Vote for Senator Joe Donnelly to remain in the current enemy of the people Senate. I held my nose and gritted my teeth as I voted for Senator Donnelly, Representative Dan Forestal and City Councilor David Ray. We can strengthen the Democratic party only if the Democratic party gains power on November 6th. Let’s bring back “Power To The People”.

  3. So how do we force the issue of killing the Electoral College and changing the formulas for electing Senators?

  4. Todd,

    If 45 is not a sociopath, he must be a psychopath. He is also an egomaniac. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    Republicans have raised voter suppression to an art and Kavanaugh has already proven his worth by voting to uphold North Dakota’s street address requirement, disenfranchising Native Americans.

    VOTE BLUE!

  5. I am still predicting there will be violence. I truly believe this will be the only way that we citizens can take back our country. Being nice and patient is what has gotten us to the awful place that we are in.

  6. There is way too much talk these days about the possibility of violence breaking out in the country. Some on both sides of the political spectrum appear to be advocating for an armed take over in order to “take back the country”. Really?
    Let’s think about this for a moment. What would wide scale violence look like? Once let loose it would certainly not be like the Civil War or any other war this country has seen on its land. More like a prolonged gorilla war complete with multitudes of innocent victims, Marshall Law, and the end to our Constitutional Government. “Take the country back”? We would destroy it… and any re-building might well take a century or two to occur.
    Be careful what you wish for.

  7. I still remember the 60’s, the civil rights marches, the protests against the war in Viet Nam, and the rising of the 2nd wave of feminism If our country continues to move toward the far right, we will see that sort of massive protests again. Yes, we will. I will be voting blue but I think the Republicans have gerrymandered my district so that democrats will have a very poor chance of winning. Why is Pike Township in a district with Hamilton County? Corrupt gerrymandering.

  8. Let me put it this way: The ENEMY sits in our government’s highest office and both houses of our government… We have a wanna be dictator who is planting worms throughout OUR government, Now what are we to do?… Think about it – but not too long.., you neck is in the noose!

  9. New York Times, April 9, 1944 , by Henry A. Wallace Vice President of the USA had this to say about
    The Dangers of American Fascism. At the time Wallace wrote this the defeat of Germany and Japan was more than a year away.
    He wrote:
    What is a fascist?
    A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

    The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

    If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.

    Most American fascists are enthusiastically supporting the war effort. They are doing this even in those cases where they hope to have profitable connections with German chemical firms after the war ends. They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.

    American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.

    The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. https://truthout.org/articles/the-dangers-of-american-fascism/
    ***********************************************************
    There are several take away’s from Wallace’s article.
    “His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”

    President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence without a doubt have brought deception, and lies to height never before seen in the American Political System. Prejudice never was extinguished in America, it went underground and was whispered. President Agent Orange has provided his followers with a loud voice and in turn made civility a weakness.

    “They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.”

    Marine Corp General Smedley Butler echoed a similar idea about power and the dollar.
    “The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

    These last two paragraphs explain the kid gloves treatment or cover President Agent Orange has provided Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship devoid of human rights. However, a succession of American Presidents have ignored this. Saudi dollars in this case trumps (pardon the pun) American Values as expressed in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

  10. If my movie references don’t strike a nerve; rebroadcast the news films of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago to show violence in the streets and “People Without Power” and connect it to this coming mid-term election. To bring in voter discrimination and violence in our streets; let us again see the full films of the civil rights movement in our southern states to watch small children be beaten to the ground by police with clubs, set upon by police dogs and rolled over and over down public streets by fire hoses. We can also see it in rebroadcasting the shooting deaths of President Kennedy, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Rebroadcast the National Guard shooting unarmed Kent State students and the police killing of unarmed young Blacks on our city streets. The mass shootings of the past 2-4 years, and on and on and on. The violence in our streets has never ended. I watch the morning shooting reports here in Indianapolis on the news almost every day without fail. As Theresa said, “Be careful what you wish for.”

    VOTE BLUE! and hope to stop the violence before it escalates to war in our streets.

    Read Theresa Bowers’ comments again and decide if that is what “People Without Power” believe is the solution to our current national cold war.

  11. @Peggy Hannon – a minor correction: Kavanaugh was not party to the SC decision not to hear the North Dakota case, it was rejected (meaning the District Court hold on the Circuit Court decision remains in place) by at least 5/8 of the court before he was confirmed.

    @Jeff Neufer – Both the EC and the method of apportioning Senators are explicitly laid out in the Constitution so the only permanent fix is to change it. I don’t see that happening any time soon since the bar to change is so high (2/3 of each house, then 2/3 of the states) – can you imagine, for example, 16 Republican Senators agreeing with all of the Democrats on anything, let alone weakening the formula that keeps them in office and dominant in advancing their neo-feudalist goals (they filibustered just such a proposal in 1969)? And then getting 2/3 of the states to approve the proposed amendment(s)?

    A possible bandaid on the EC issue is the so-called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact proposed in 2007. This is legislation passed at the state level, where – once joined by states whose total EVs exceed 270, i.e. an EV majority – they direct their electors to cast their EVs for the winner of the national popular vote. They’re only about 2/3 of the way to that goal and no state has joined since 2013.

    Other changes are possible as well, for example getting rid of single-member districts in the House. Imagine if your district could send 3 candidates to the House, one might even represent YOU! Single-member districts, and the fixed size of the House at 435, are currently set by Federal legislation so they can be changed by Federal legislation but again that threatens GOP interests so that has no chance in the current political environment.

    Or fixing the mechanics of voting, like doing away with gerrymandering or getting money out of campaigning. How weird is it that someone living in the Mid-Atlantic is able to contribute to the campaign for a Texas Senator? or the Governor of Oregon? Or that some anonymous person/group can give unlimited money to a PAC with no accountability for their $peech? Of course it’s not even worth entertaining the idea of campaign finance reform for a generation, since the latest attempt (McCain-Feingold, 2002) has been gutted and the current SC will assuredly find any progressive legislation unconstitutional, particularly if it impairs the interests of corporations or the wealthy.

  12. The mindless attacks on labor unions by Republicans will be their undoing. They might be able to quash the unions for the sake of their donors, but the union members aren’t going away. When you corner anything, it will fight back with a vengeance.

    Yes, JoAnne, we must be careful what we ask for, but so must the Republicans. Those bastards are asking for total fealty to the monied classes. That has happened many times before and it has never ended well for the rich. This time won’t be any different.

    The lust for money and power ALWAYS blinds those who seek them to the point that their demise is unseen even when it’s right before their eyes.

    BTW, changing the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College or the number of Senators per state will require amendments and/or a Constitutional Convention. I simply can’t imagine that happening as long as Republicans exist in government. These wretched people must be voted into extinction before we can even begin to think about getting our country out of this current trouble.

  13. Will it come down to violence as it did in the 60s but worse? Many people who are thinking now that as a possibiltiy are among those of us who are being victimized daily by inexperience, incompetence and corruption from the highest levels of our government forced on us by a combination of anti democratic compromises by our founders to appease states who built economies on the backs of human livestock, Republican institutionalization of anti democratic means based on party over country, corruption of our public information system into pervasive fake news and propaganda that makes Orwell’s Ministry of Truth seem amaturist, and it’s all financed by oligarchs like Trump and the Koch’s and many others addicted to make more money regardless of the impact on others.

    I don’t think it will come to violence if we let them win. I think it will if we threaten their authoritarian grab for all of the wealth we produce and all of the power our Constitution allows and from there a short step to all of the power that our Constitution prohibits.

    Like so many before us that is the corner that we have been backed into. We either give up freedom or we can expect to be attacked by the only power play that they haven’t yet employed, violence. That explains our Revolution and Civil Wars, both World Wars, and all of the major human rights progress that we have accomplished over the last 250 years.

    Like all before us we have no idea of the outcome of that but it certainly may well be the price we have to pay for future generations to be as free as past generations bestowed on us.

    Like so many predecessors we are faced with an existential dilemma; try to live free and suffer violent opposition or live enslaved and suffer depravation of all we claim to hold dear.

  14. Can anyone confirm the news that Jamal Khashoggi was secretly being held incognito for ransom at Mar-a-Lago?

    Super crooks always figure out how to make big bucks.

  15. I find it interesting to note that a democratic republic, the United States of America, founded in large part by rich, white aristocratic males has now undermined it own ideals and is threatened by the distortion of its original document, the Constitution.

    The original founding fathers have been usurped by their grasping grandchildren (also “aristocratic” white males) and the grandkids don’t give a damn about ideals unless they produce profit. Win/lose is the end and win means not caring about anyone except oneself. Yay money!

    In order for our species to remain viable it has evolved.

    In order for science to remain relevant it has evolved.

    Religion, for the most part having refused to evolve, has become irrelevant at best, and even evil in its worst manifestations.

    Our constitution if it is to remain viable and relevant must evolve–instead it is devolving rapidly.

    It may be ironic, but for me the only salvation for our Constitution, once proudly proffered by aristocratic white males will come through poor, non-white, non-males and the children of our country.

    There are many problems with our system of elections/governance. Most you know well.
    1. Get rid of Ciizens United.
    2. Public financing of all elections
    3. Limit the duration of campaigns
    4. Make voting mandatory and election day a holiday
    5. Abolish the electoral college
    6. Automatic voter registration at age 18

    Here some may wish to require term limits. That, I think is an error. Instead I offer the following.
    7. Senators and congress to be paid minimum wage and be housed in public housing
    8. A lifetime ban on lobbying for any government official
    9. Assets of elected officials to be put in a public trust
    10. An age limit at 70 for all elected officials except that of President and Vice President
    11. Minimum age of 50 for Supreme Court Justices with and age limit at 70

    All of the above require elaboration , but for brevity these are the bare bones.

    Thoughts?

  16. Vernon; “BTW, changing the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College or the number of Senators per state will require amendments and/or a Constitutional Convention.”

    I doubt the founding fathers meant for either political party to make it law that every member of their state Electoral College vote for the leading candidate. Isn’t that voter suppression for those from red states who are Democrats and would prefer voting their conscience…the Democratic candidate? All I have read regarding Electoral College vote has only been the Republican states who enacted that law. I wonder if the average voter realizes there is one Electoral College member for each Senator and Each Representative from their state. Rudy Giuliani told us more than once the last 2 weeks before the 2016 election “…the Republicans have something up their sleeve and the Electoral College is in the bag”. He had become such a court jester in the political world that few paid attention to his warning. It worried me.

    VOTE BLUE!

  17. Reference the discussion in the the Federalist Papers article I cited above.

    The Electoral College is functioning within the Constitution. If you think the small and medium States are going to give that up by a constitutional amendment, you are “whistling Dixie”. Yes, double entendre intended.

    We need to win people over with policies and programs. The Democrats have been totally tone deaf to the economic and social distress of rural and “fly over” America.

  18. TRY ATTENDING SOME SCHOOL board trustees meetings in all your neighborhoods zoned residential for the 1980 Uniformed officials JUVENILE (not WEST NILE or any High School WEST)CODE BOOK [pl]. You cannot VOTE in Texas unless you filed for that State on or before THEIR MAY and yours, too. Since the clerks from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Schools have not had orders for years, they are handing out checklists at every vacant BANK lot, never looking at the TOP Floors or the OFFICES at the Court House, Annex, City of [YOURS] Building or that angled arrow to the floor that does not FLOOD: 2nd Floor [Clerks] and Gents Toilet. A lot of people are voting their consciences (CON Sciences) from those DATA DUMPS from EDUCATION RESEARCH IN COMPUTERS Silver Platter from Lilly Lib grants! ON AIR, too. Then if successful at ER, they get EP in which your Sorority-fraternity is P=R anyway (XP Houses).

  19. Pete,

    Your analysis is the most cogent. It reminds me of the German citizen who thought that the Nazi takeover was no big deal and that things seemed to be improving. Then, suddenly, he and his neighbors were standing in the queues to get onto boxcars headed for you-know-where.

    We are a bigger and richer country than neo-Nazi Germany in 1933, but we are headed in the same direction on a grander scale. The naked voter suppression by Republicans across the country is another of the canaries in the mineshaft keeling over from the poisonous gas of Republicanism. They MUST be voted into extinction, or the freedom of the people will be what becomes extinct.

  20. Vote Blue! Vote Red! What difference will it make? Whoever is elected will be bought by the same capitalist brokers who own the Congressbastards currently in office. Sheila’s blogs should attack EVERY DAY the fraud of money controlling policy. But, but, but: that would leave no days to attack white male preference, female oppression, children’s rights… I’m telling you that doing something about money dominance in politics is doing something about all the above. Doing mouth-offs about all of the above does nothing about all of the above. Follow the money! Or piss into the wind.

  21. Wray,
    Suggestions are excellent and they’ll likely never be acted upon. We’ve been reduced to Tiny vs Horseface here, and that’s the presidential pit we’ve fallen into. It’s unbelievable!

  22. Betty

    You are right. I’m just wishing on a star . . . and there isn’t a Tinkerbell in sight.

  23. kill,the electorial college,find a way before we see a consitutional convention of 38 republican govs,the way its going,the supreme court in now void of any changes if it comes to thier gates., again, take a friend to vote,help,someone to vote,give a ride. my wife is off nov 6 and she will be with friends who will help get a ride. we have same day registration,but,now were demanded to have a photo i.d. the local Native Americans at standing rock, many do not,have,or dont know thier so called street address,because its federal land,and no money to put the grid up,but they are demanded to pay for 911 service..hense,money for that need,but paper is paper,and trump is making sure,as the republicans before him,to suppress any way they can. but we will help.via,the tribal office. we have inititive 2 where the voting law if passed,only u.s.citizens would be able to vote in nodak. sounds like a good fight for the a.c.l.u.
    which we are paying members..
    p.s. on the second day of legal pot,canada ran out….imagine that? thanks justin,,

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