It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. Larry Lessig (Whom God Preserve) is the latest scholar to chronicle and explain what’s happening. He has a long and depressing essay in the current edition of the New York Review of Books which I fear may be behind their paywall. If it is, here’s his conclusion:
For most of this year, President Biden defended the filibuster and stood practically silent on this critical reform. He has focused not on the crumbling critical infrastructure of American democracy, but on the benefits of better bridges and faster Internet. Democratic progressives in Congress were little better on this question. Although Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all supported the For the People Act, in the public eye the issues they’ve championed have overlooked the country’s broken democratic machinery: forgive student debt, raise the minimum wage, give us a Green New Deal…. As a progressive myself, I love all these ideas, but none of them are possible unless we end the corruption that has destroyed this democracy. None of them will happen until we fix democracy first.
It may well be that nothing could have been done this year. It may well be true that nothing Biden could say or do would move Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, the two who are apparently blocking reform just now. Yet we have to frame the stakes accurately and clearly: if we do not “confront” those “imperfections” in our democracy, “openly and transparently,” in the State Department’s words, we will lose this democracy. And no summit will bring it back.
I’ve known and admired Larry since the 1990s, and will never forget the sombre telephone conversation he and I had in 2000 just after the Supreme Court had given the Presidency to George W. Bush. His 2011 book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It was a prescient warning of the dangers ahead, and things have got steadily worse since it was published.