Even as Democrats denounce President Trump for violating political norms, some of their number are saying that they need to do the same thing once they get into power.
The main norm they want to break is the one against using your time in power to establish permanent advantages for your party. Some Democrats are advocating using FDR’s precedent of having Congress vote to expand the number of Supreme Court Justices, then packing the court with liberal judges, thus eliminating the current conservative majority.
Another idea, in the event of a Democratic presidency and congress, is to admit Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as states, thus ensuring two more Democratic states with four Democratic senators. Some Democrats are calling for breaking California into seven states (!), giving the party 14 senators and a permanent majority of electoral votes. (Maybe conservatives could counter by splitting up Texas, but under these schemes they would never get into power again.
From Rob Goodman, Hey Democrats, Fighting Fair Is for Suckers: in Politico:
Democrats should plan to treat political norms, when and if they’re in charge of a unified government, the way Trump and the Republicans do. They should be readying a program of systematic norm-breaking for partisan advantage—but only if they are willing and able to follow it through to its conclusion. . . .
We could look to a left that is already buildingthe case for court-packing, envisioning a Democratic president and Congress exercising their legal power to add two or more new justices to the Supreme Court. Or we could watch an activist base that is pushing the Democratic Caucus in Congress, however haltingly, toward procedural confrontations over immigration and court nominations. But the most detailed case against the Return to Normalcy—let’s call it the Normal Is Over side of the debate—is advanced by the political scientist David Faris in his new book, It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics.Faris’ response to the Normalcy program is that there is no value in conserving a burning house. The endangered state of American liberal democracy, he argues, calls for emergency steps from Democrats and the left. They should take advantage of legal and constitutional silences to “transform American politics in a lasting progressive direction,” Faris writes. “Doing so will require party leaders to pursue policy changes that will be ridiculed by their opponents as outrageous affronts to democratic decency and received by their own voters with puzzlement or even shock. They need to do it anyway.”
The list of those changes is dizzying. Grant statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico, and break California in seven, with the goal of adding 16 new Democrats to the Senate. Expand the Supreme Court and the federal courts, packing them with liberal judges. Move to multi-member House districts to roll back the effects of partisan gerrymandering. Pass a new Voting Rights Act, including nationwide automatic voter registration, felon enfranchisement and an end to voter ID laws. Grant citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants, creating a host of new Democratic-leaning voters: “Republicans have always feared that immigration would change the character of American society. Democrats should reward them with their very worst nightmare.”
All of these steps, Faris points out, could be achieved without amending the Constitution. They would rely on new legislation, but more important, on Democrats abandoning any lingering commitment to a norm about power: That legislation cannot have the explicit goal of securing a lasting partisan advantage.
This is not some fringe proposal. Eric Levitz at New York magazine has plausibly argued that Trump’s broad use of executive powers is laying the groundwork for an “imperial socialist presidency.” If Trump can slap tariffs on imports on national security grounds, why couldn’t the next Democratic president establish a sweeping green energy plan with the same rationale? On the scale of national security threats, doesn’t climate change rank above Canada?
“An imperial socialist presidency”! The rhetoric calls for these extreme measures to restore democracy, but, of course, what it would really do is eliminate democracy altogether. A system in which there is only one ruling party is authoritarian, not democratic. Authoritarian regimes still conduct elections, but they are not democratic, offering no meaningful choices and having a pre-ordained outcome.
It’s remarkable that Democrats are floating these ideas openly. And it’s a reminder that, throughout history and around the world, political liberty is rare and fragile. It might not last even here in the United States of America.
Illustration via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons