Why America Is Polarized

3-1

In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court by a 50-48 vote in the Senate, one of the narrowest margins in history according to The Washington Post, “an increasingly polarized nation” is pushed to the brink.

The words polarized and divided have become shorthand for these type of party line votes that end up almost evenly split. But this shorthand misses the bigger picture that helps to explain the polarization — America is not evenly split. Even before the allegations of sexual assault, Kavanaugh was one of the most unpopular Justice nominees ever. He was “rammed through” and installed on the highest court by a group of 51 Senators representing states with 46% of the U.S. electorate. Here are the seeds of the polarization.

It is difficult to admit, but Trump was right about something. In 2016, when he said the election was being rigged, he was right — just not in the way he meant it (unless he meant the Russian meddling).

Putting aside Russian meddling, the election was rigged to maintain a minority rule in our government. In an interesting parallel with the Kavanaugh vote, Trump became president with 46% of the vote, but won the electoral college because of 78,000 votes across three key states.

More importantly, 2016 was another year of a Republican “seat bonus” in the House. After winning just under 50% of the congressional vote, the GOP picked up a little more than 55% of the seats. I have written about this before, including here and here. This has been happening for the past several cycles. Gerrymandering is a part of this, but so, too, is the fact the representation is still based on the 1910 Census. This is increasing the power of rural, lightly populated — and generally Republican leaning — states.

The Senate is different, as it is meant to represent states, while the House represents people. Part of the concern around the disappearing norms of Senate behavior over the past decade or so is the way it has heightened partisanship in what was once a place of comity, that rose above narrow interests for the greater good, that embodied country over party. But that came from the traditional practices of the Senate, not Constitutional mandate. The Founding Fathers warned us about factions.

Now, the minority faction rules and it has stoked the “polarization” the press likes to talk about because the will of the people is not being met. Whether it’s on healthcare, regulating banks, paying to fix infrastructure, or many other key issues of the day, the position of the ruling Republican Party is the opposite of the majority opinion in the country.

For example, look at some of the hot button issues that Kavanaugh may decide on the Court, abortion and gun control. According to Pew Research, by a nearly 60-40 margin Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That stat is about the same as it was 20 years ago. On gun control, Gallup polling shows an even starker difference with 67% in favor of more strict laws, while 32% say keep as it is now or make it less strict (28% and 4% respectively).

The installation of Kavanaugh is the culmination of a decades long effort by Republicans to undermine democracy in favor of a “permanent majority” that I wrote about last month and looks to be a similar subject of the new Steve Kornacki book The Red and the Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism that I am looking forward to reading. For noted conservative Tom Nichols, Kavanaugh represented the “situational ethics” of the GOP that showed the “Republican Party now exists for one reason, and one reason only: for the exercise of raw political power,” as he put it in The Atlantic today as he announced his “divorce” from the party.

As the GOP thwarts the will of the American people and looks to cling to power by any means possible — Gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc (including Russian help?) — it is a good time to remember who is in the majority, make a plan to vote in November, and have a Three To One Cocktail.

This pre-Prohibition drink from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel comes via Dr. Cocktail Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book. It is:

1.5 oz 100-proof gin (I used Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin)

.75 oz apricot liqueur

Juice of half a lime (.5-.75 oz)

Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lime wedge.

Cheers!

 

Cleanup on Aisle 45

Stripper

There has been one fundamental question implanted in the minds of many Americans since January, 2017 (if not November 2016); What happens after Trump?

With nearly every action taken by this administration designed to personally enrich the official or their associates, and/or further the policy aims of Russia, we will need some systemic cleanup when Trump is gone.

The supporting role of Republicans in Congress in furthering the actions of the Trump administration will not make the task any easier. As the evidence mounts practically by the day of Russian interference with our elections, the really difficult questions may come once Mueller has made his report and/or indictments.

Those difficult questions have been rolling around for a while, but author Steven Beschloss raised them on Twitter the other day:

If we accept the Russians interfered w/ our elections & manipulated the outcome to Trump’s advantage… If we confirm Trump conspired w/ the Russians to take the WH… Then we are faced w/ an illegitimate presidency. And the illegitimacy of his subsequent actions. What then?

If we accept his illegitimacy, is Hillary the real president? What happens to Pence and all the rest? Must they all go? I think questions like these freak people out and our system is not prepared to handle this. But face it we must once Mueller does his job.

Everything about Trump’s role in our politics since the day he came down that escalator has been unprecedented, and unprecedented is where we will find ourselves when this presidency is over.

As some commenters to Beschloss’ tweet noted, it will be the Second Reconstruction, or like rebuilding Germany after World War II. We will have to grapple with fundamental questions of how we Americans will govern ourselves. Our hyper-partisan times seem ill-suited to the task.

Perhaps, the evidence of a Russian attack on our system will be so compelling as to unite the nation. On the other hand, it is likely a significant portion of the population will hold on to their opinion. Therefore, one step that might help as we move toward a reconstruction is a return to true democratic majority rule.

Our congressional representation has been stuck at 435 for more than a century. The number of people per representative ranges from 500,000 to 900,000. We need to correct that, along with partisan Gerrymandering. I have written about this before, including here, here, and here.

This will also take some statesmanship, people who put country over party, who act as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln did.

There are difficult days ahead, but it is time to start thinking about how we rebuild. While you contemplate the best political stain remover, have a Bitter Stripper cocktail.

The drink comes from Gaz Regan’s book The Negroni. It was designed to be clear, which is something else we can all use now. The Bitter Stripper is:

30 ml (1 oz) Plymouth Gin

20 ml (.66 oz) Dolin Vermouth, Blanc

10 ml (.33 oz) Saler’s Gentiane

5 ml (.17 oz) Cointreau

Orange twist

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, zest twist over the drink and add as garnish.

I may have gone a little heavy on the Saler’s and I loved the cocktail. If you are not used to the bitter earthiness of the gentian Saler’s, you may want to go a little light. This is likely to be a regular feature for the remainder of the summer for me.

Cheers!

Unrepresentative Democracy

Metropolitan

The 2020 U.S. Census was in the news last week, raising the specter of Republican election rigging at a foundational level.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder summed it up well in an email to his anti-gerrymandering group, the NRDC:

“First: Trump’s pick to run the Census, Thomas Brunell, withdrew his nomination after it came out he is an inexperienced partisan who has defended racially gerrymandered districts and voter suppression. He even wrote a book called ‘Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.’

“Second: Experts say the Census is woefully underfunded and short-staffed. The agency has had to cancel or narrow the scope of critical tests in the lead-up to the 2020 count.

“Third: Now the Trump administration is adding a controversial question about citizenship to the Census, which could result in the undercounting of many people, including immigrants.”

I have written about these issues of representation on several occasions, including here and here. The current issues with the Census, and the typical heavy hand of the Trump Administration coupled with its signature incompetence, is raising the profile of the problems to a much wider swath of Americans.

In fact, the history around why the number of members of the House of Representatives is based on the 1910 Census is covered in a terrific new piece by Ari Berman in Mother Jones. The article, “Hidden Figures: How Donald Trump Is Rigging the Census,” details efforts to sideline minority communities, especially immigrants.

 

Some former directors of the census worry Republicans could simply choose to disregard the 2020 count. There’s precedent for that, too.

 

Back in 1920, the census reported that for the first time, half the population lived in urban areas. Those results would have shifted 11 House seats to states with most of these new urban immigrants, who tended to vote Democratic. The Republican-controlled Congress recoiled. “It is not best for America that her councils be dominated by semicivilized foreign colonies in Boston, New York, and Chicago,” said Republican Rep. Edward Little of Kansas.

Congress refused to reapportion its seats using the 1920 census. Instead, it imposed drastic new quotas on immigration. It didn’t adopt a new electoral map until 1929.

There’s no indication Congress will ignore the results of the 2020 census. But (former Census Director Kenneth) Prewitt sees parallels between the Republican Congress of 1920 and the one today. “You could make a plausible argument that one party benefits from the current distribution of seats across the legislative bodies, and they can’t necessarily improve on the ratio they now have, so therefore why reapportion?” he says. “It’s unlikely, but not implausible.”

The 2010 Census held that 63 percent of the U.S. population lived in cities, but Congressional Republican majorities are not advocating issues important to an urban population. It is only getting worse (lack of public transit funding and roll back on emissions standards), and the new, more aggressive ICE approach on immigrants certainly point to lack of concern for cities in the GOP.

So tonight, have a Metropolitan cocktail. Via Philip Greene’s The Manhattan, the Metropolitan is:

.5 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac

1 oz sweet vermouth

3 dashes Angostura bitters

3 dashes gum syrup

Stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.

Cheers!

Gerrymander & The Top Bananas

Clipper

As El Caudillo Trump dreams of his military parade, the Republican Party is going about the more fundamental work of undermining American democracy and our electoral process.

Leaving aside for the moment the way Republicans are doing nothing about clear evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 election — and appear to be ready to do so again this year — last week saw another GOP authoritarian outburst on gerrymandering. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Republican drawn electoral map violated the state’s constitution and a fairer map must be drawn, a GOP state legislator called for the Justices to be impeached.

Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker is refusing to hold special elections for two open state legislature seats after another special election in January saw the Democratic candidate win a heavily Republican district.

Of course, Walker’s move is strategic, at the core of GOP efforts to gerrymander the Karl Rove vision of a permanent Republican majority. He can’t let those Wisconsin seats fall to Democrats and endanger the Republican ability to draw the electoral map.

Gerrymandering isn’t new. It comes from the 1812 redistricting map of Massachusetts where one redrawn district was likened to a salamander which, when combined with Gov. Elbridge Gerry’s name gave us a new word.

However, this effort has accelerated and been refined with technology. After the 2010 census and the new maps it created, the 2012 election saw 1.4 million more Americans vote for Democrats for Congress, but Republicans won a 33-seat majority. Then, in 2016, despite winning fewer than half of all votes for Congress, Republicans again won a 33-seat majority.

The problem of gerrymandering spurred former Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., with support from President Obama, to create the first-ever strategic hub for a comprehensive redistricting strategy, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The NDRC is working to ensure the next round of redistricting is fair and that maps reflect the will of the voters.

The importance of this effort cannot be understated, and was highlighted by an important piece in the NY Times over the weekend. Patrick Kingsley’s piece on Hungary’s slide toward autocratic rule is a very important look at the danger liberal democracies face around the world today.

To understand how Prime Minister Viktor Orban has reshaped Hungary, start with the private meetings in 2010. Fidesz had just won national elections by a margin that qualified the party for more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, even though it had only won a slim majority of votes… Weeks later, Mr. Orban and his lieutenants began a legislative assault on the Hungarian Constitution, curbing civil society and, to less fanfare, diverting billions of euros in European Union and federal money toward loyal allies.

First, he moved simultaneously to curb the Hungarian media and the judiciary. Next came the erosion of the country’s checks and balances, which has helped Mr. Orban share the spoils of power with close friends and important businessmen.

And then, came the electoral process. The restructuring of Hungary’s election system, including a redrawing the electoral map, has helped him remain in power, even as his party has won fewer votes.

The electoral foundation of American democracy is in peril not because of Trump, but because of the GOP’s long-term attacks on the electoral system that can be accelerated under Trump’s general disregard for the rule of law.

In fact, the GOP acquiescence in Trump’s attacks on the rule of law prompted Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes to write in The Atlantic a call to boycott the Republican Party from top to bottom in this year’s election. They have come to regard the GOP as an institutional danger because “it has proved unable or unwilling (mostly unwilling) to block assaults by Trump and his base on the rule of law. Those assaults, were they to be normalized, would pose existential, not incidental, threats to American democracy.”

That is where we are now with Republican efforts to restructure our electoral process. While their gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts may have once been incidental threats to our democracy, they have now become existential.

The instability and tin pot dictator approach of Trump and the Republicans is steering the ship of state dangerously close to banana republic territory. So while you’re thinking about how much to donate to the NDRC, have a Banana Clipper cocktail. Via Kindred Cocktails, the Banana Clipper is:

1.5 oz Barbancourt 8 rum

.5 oz Plantation Stiggin’s Fancy pineapple rum

.66 oz Cynar

.25 oz Giffard Crème de Banane

1 dash Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters

lemon twist (expressed and discarded)

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist

Cheers!

The Fix Is In, Can We Fix It?

Ward 8

Gill v. Whitford, the case now before the Supreme Court about whether Wisconsin’s state legislative districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, cannot alone bring democracy back to the USA, but it can certainly help.

Gerrymandering, the drawing of electoral districts for partisan advantage, has been around a long time (and has benefited both parties). The SCOTUS is looking at whether Wisconsin crossed a line in drawing their lines. Within this question is the fact that in 2012, Republicans received only 48.6% of the vote but took 60 of 99 seats in the State Assembly.

This same “seat bonus” can be seen at the national level. In 2016, Republicans received a plurality of votes cast for Congress nationwide, 49.9%, but they received a greater share, 55.2%, of the seats. Democrats, as a result, won a smaller share of seats than they did votes: 44.8 percent of seats as compared to 47.3 percent of the votes.

Our system of representative democracy in Washington is broken, and it is showing up on issues like gun control. E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, in their new book One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported, said the United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy.

They note that our democracy is “undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy.” A key break they point out is with the Senate.

Even if a bipartisan group of Senators from the most populous states heeded the will of popular majorities to enact some elements of gun control (background checks or measures to prevent the mentally ill and those on no-fly lists from buying guns), they will lose if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16% of Americans could overrule those representing 84%.

“And this problem will only deepen. David Birdsell, a Baruch College political scientist, has calculated that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in 15 states — and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators,” Dionne noted.

The Senate, however, was never meant to be particularly representative. Fixing it structurally would likely require a Constitutional Convention. But we can still do something to address what Dionne called “the failure of our institutions to account for the movement to metropolitan areas is the culprit. In 1960, 63 percent of Americans lived in metros; by 2010, 84 percent did.”

As I mentioned in “No Taxation Without Representation,” we need to remove the cap on the number of representatives in Congress. Our 435 representatives is based on the population of the U.S. in 1911, and the cap was designed to support Prohibition and serve as a bulwark against all those immigrants from southern Europe.

Adding more members of Congress will make it harder for anyone to control – whether the Koch brothers, George Soros, or Vladimir Putin. It would also change the game of gerrymandering, making it harder to simply lump one party into the same district.

As we watch SCOTUS wrestle with this gerrymandering case, I can’t think of a better cocktail than the Ward Eight. According Gary Regan, in his book The Joy of Mixology, the cocktail was created at the Locke-Ober Café in Boston around 1898 to celebrate the victory of Martin Lomasney to the state legislature. Lomasney was known as the Czar of Ward Eight, who was well known for his methods of getting votes. This victory cocktail was created before the results were in.

The Ward Eight recipe taken from the Savoy Cocktail Book as I used it is:

1.5 oz rye (FEW rye with its Prohibition tie, also it’s really good, seemed appropriate)

.75 oz orange juice

.75 oz lemon juice

3 teaspoons grenadine

Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass

Cheers!