Democrats have a point when they complain that our elections are rigged against them. They have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential contests but secured the White House just three times. Those Republican presidents have translated their victories into a decidedly conservative Supreme Court. Although Democrats largely control states where a majority of the population lives this millennium, they have only controlled the Senate about half the time and the House roughly one-third.
Their beef, however, is not with fervent Trump supporters but the U.S. Constitution and the pillars of representational democracy. The Electoral College is, of course, the reason they win the popular vote and lose elections. The Founding Fathers’ design of the Senate, which gives sparsely populated Wyoming as many representatives as mighty California, frustrates their desire for power. And, as Democrats increasingly cluster in urban areas, while Republican voters are spread more widely in suburban and rural areas, the GOP enjoys an advantage as districts are drawn to represent local communities. (Recall that Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden by 8 million votes but won almost five times as many counties).
Republicans may be thrilled, but they should ask themselves how would they feel if the tables were turned? That so many of them are outraged by the results of the 2020 election is a good indication.
It is no surprise, then, that Democrats have been challenging the results of elections at least since Bush vs. Gore in 2000. Seen most generously, liberals’ unmoored complaints about corrupt voting machines (2004) and international conspiracies (2016) speak to the truth that they have been getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop for years. Demographic trends – which can change – suggest that it will only get fuzzier.
In a sober world, this might lead to thoughtful discussions about remedies. Amending the Constitution is a nonstarter – small states will not surrender their power. Nor should they. Letting voters in a handful of megalopolises run the show would create its own type of tyranny, one in which the needs and interests of too many citizens would be ignored. Our system has always been “unfair” but it has worked in large part because it has (race excluded, until recently) managed to protect the interests of the minority.
In this context, making a reliably Democratic area like the District of Columbia a state is not, as some conservatives portray it, an insane power grab. Nor is a review of the winner-take-all system for state electors in presidential elections. These are possible solutions to liberals’ underrepresentation in our election results, and thus worthy of discussion.
But we don’t live in a rational world – which helps explain why Democrats seem bent on destroying the filibuster to pass an election bill that will only sow more division. America today is a poisonous psychodrama where the parties and their supporters embrace divisive narratives that make communication, much less compromise, all but impossible.
Rather than acknowledging their opponents’ legitimate grievances, too many Republicans embrace Donald Trump’s narcissistic fantasy of a stolen election – though even there, I have yet to hear a serious argument that a majority of Americans wanted him to have a second term. To appreciate how self-defeating this is, consider that Trump’s best shot at winning in 2024 would be to drop his focus on 2020 and continuously assail President Biden’s underwhelming performance in the White House and the overreach of congressional Democrats. Trump has a strong record to run on, and Biden is proving an easy act to follow. The fact that not just he but millions of his supporters are incapable of recognizing this obvious truth shows how polluted our politics have become by the pathologies of victimhood, grievance and division.
The Democrats are equally at fault, preferring bogus narratives to reasoned debate. The party that lost fair and square under the rules in place in 2016 spent four years trying to essentially overturn that election by falsely claiming that Trump colluded with the Kremlin to steal the race. Now, they claim that anyone who questions the results of the 2020 contest poses an “existential threat” (they love that phrase) to the republic. A more honest way to view 2020 is that there was much to question about the radical, last-minute changes imposed during the election in the name of COVID, though there is zero evidence any of it would have changed the outcome.
Democrats and their media allies advance deranged narratives that only further poison the well. How else to describe journalistic offal such as the New York Times editorial “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” and NPR’s recent story “Imagine another American Civil War, but this time in every state” and the Atlantic article “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun”? While they claim to be defending democracy, their real strategy is to subvert the will of the people by using the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol to preemptively disqualify Trump and his allies from running for office. Sounds extreme? Sure. But on Dec. 21, the party’s top election lawyer, Marc Elias, tweeted this: “My prediction for 2022: Before the midterm election, we will have a serious discussion about whether individual Republican House Members are disqualified by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment from serving in Congress. We may even see litigation.”
The efforts by both parties are repugnant, but the fault lies with we the people. Bottom line: They are salespeople who peddle this poison because we keep buying it. Decades of ultra-divisive politics – and the rise of party affiliation as a primary marker of tribal affiliation as other personal connections have faded – has made many of us eager to feel good about ourselves by demonizing the other side. We may know that our side is not well, but the alternative seems so beyond the pale that we think we have no alternative.
This is madness. The sickness of our politics is obvious. Our leaders are not going to stop until we say enough.
J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.