American Democracy on the Brink

NEW YORK – The center is not holding. After US President Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, millions of Americans and others around the world took solace in the idea that strong institutions and the US Constitution would protect American democracy from his predations. But events over the past few days suggest that America’s institutional shock absorbers are not as robust as advertised. Within the Republican Party, which controls all three branches of the US government, the siren song of tribal politics is drowning out any remaining fidelity to America’s constitutional traditions.

The clearest case of institutional rot can be found in the US Supreme Court. In the space of just a few days, the Court has issued four divisive rulings that appear to have been designed to entrench illiberal Trumpism for years to come. Making matters worse, on Wednesday, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Court’s longstanding swing voter, announced his retirement, paving the way for Trump to appoint another justice who has been hand-selected by the right-wing Federalist Society.

The Court’s rulings this term have all but confirmed the widely held view that it is no longer acting as a wise and impartial adjudicator of the inevitable disputes that arise in any society. Instead, it has become merely another instrument for advancing an extreme right-wing agenda, one that has subjected the United States to minority rule.

Recall that, in the 2016 election, Trump received three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, and Republicans held onto the Senate, even though Republican candidates received fewer votes overall than Democratic candidates. Similarly, in the US House of Representatives, Republicans won a majority far larger than their actual share of the total vote, owing to partisan gerrymandering after the 2010 census. In 2000, the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George W. Bush, who, like Trump, won fewer votes than his opponent. Now it has upheld the Republicans’ gerrymandering, as well as Republican legislation that has suppressed voting among groups more likely to vote for Democrats.

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© Project Syndicate

© Project Syndicate

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