Donald Trump, despicable demagogue, has been defeated. This is the victory of a lifetime for Joe Biden. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats.
Trump is two steps down from Richard Nixon. William F. Buckley gave an apt defense of Nixon. When someone called Nixon a tenth-rate politician, Buckley retorted that Nixon may have been a tenth-rate man, but he was a first-rate politician. Trump is a tenth-rate man and a third-rate politician. His one talent is fulminating.
His talent for fulminating was enough to make him president of the United States, and that is a fearsome revelation of the state of the States. A substantial minority of citizens is ready to burn the country down. And they are waiting for a man with a torch.
Why? Who are they? They are poor, uneducated, and asocial. They live in the big empty spaces of our country, where they eke out a living and glare enviously at the wealth of city-dwellers. When I write that they are willing to burn the country down, I mean they are willing to burn the cities down. Trump’s fulminations are a cocktail for them.
Well, it’s not that simple. They live on a political spectrum of the right from fascists through reactionaries to conservatives.
Biden won by soothing the fears of the conservatives. That wasn’t the only way to win, but that’s the way he won. As the Democrats always do, Biden made the calculation that the left would support him because where else are they going to go? And as they always do, centrist Democrats are now busy demanding that the left shut up and not upset the right.
If the nihilism of the right is a harsh kind of insanity, the appeasement of the center is a soft kind. It’s the insanity of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It’s Mike Dukakis thanking Reagan for not using the “L” word.
The centrists achieved a tepid victory. Considering the mortal danger we are in, the Democrats made a pitiful showing. They won’t have the strength to do much. How is it that when the Republicans win power, they can do tremendous damage, but when the Democrats win, they can barely manage to do some deferred maintenance?
A more perfect union: step by step. Republicans worked for two generations to take control of the courts. Democrats can take control of the House and the presidency in just one generation. And we can rein in the Supreme Court.
First, expand the House. It hasn’t been done in four generations. Even setting aside the improved representation, this solves several problems. It reduces gerrymandering. It changes the balance of the electoral college. It changes the number of state delegations controlled by each party. It shifts representation toward the cities, where the people are.
Second, expand the Supreme Court. It hasn’t been done in six generations. Also, limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. For example, take away the authority to invalidate acts of Congress. Also, rotate the membership on the Supreme Court among all the appellate judges.
The steps outlined above can be taken with simple acts of Congress. Of course, that requires that Democrats have full control of both the House and the Senate as well as the Presidency. What if we don’t win the two Georgia Senate seats? Below are two steps that might get through a divided Congress.
Third, develop the Dakotas. Three generations ago FDR flew over the South and saw its backwardness. He took the initiative to develop it. Now, three generations later, that investment is paying off. Developing the Dakotas would be the same investment, and because those states are basically empty, the investment required would be smaller and would pay off sooner.
Several developments can draw educated and diverse citizens to the Dakotas. First, establish a major city of at least half a million residents in each state. Make some land grants. Locate a substantial Federal government center there. Also, create an industrial center that would attract major employers like Amazon or Google or Apple. This would bring in educated residents who could have a major impact on the culture of the state. A large center for environmental stewardship of public lands could be a liberalizing influence. These moves would immediately pay dividends by providing employment and hope to the region.
Fourth, expand federalism. Renovate interstate compacts and floor pre-emption. Provide for a comprehensive system of interstate compacts that can handle issues on a regional level that don’t command a majority on the national level. With floor preemption, the federal government sets minimum standards, and the states, or the interstate compacts, set higher standards. This is already done in a hodgepodge fashion. Rationalize it.
Beware of nullification. Nullification is the theory that a state doesn’t have to follow an act of Congress that it believes is unconstitutional. It was favored by Jefferson until he was elected president. Then it was disgraced by John C. Calhoun, who used it to protect slavery. The right has used nullification to restrict abortion. The current very successful movement to legalize marijuana is basically an exercise of nullification. Regardless of federal law, the states are legalizing it. This is dynamite. Handle with care.
Finally, expand the Senate. This one requires an amendment to the Constitution. This is the long game. It can be incubated in the interstate compacts. Provide that every state will receive one senator for every two (or three) members of the House. Sure, keep the minimum of two senators per state. This will complete the democratization of our government.
Trump will leave fulminating against our democracy. It is up to us to choose whether we will simply stand pat on eroding ground or fix the foundation.