In our endangered democracy, the nation’s citizens deserve to be heard.
In his latest critique of American democracy, Lessig (Law and Leadership/Harvard Law School; Fidelity and Constraint: How the Supreme Court Has Read the American Constitution, 2019, etc.), host of the podcast Another Way and co-founder of Creative Commons, focuses on a crisis that he sees as “much more fundamental” than the current president: “unrepresentativeness.” This lack of representation has several causes: the structure of the Senate, with two representatives from every state, no matter the population; the winner-take-all system in the Electoral College, which negates the choice of many voters and impels candidates to focus on swing states; campaign funding that gives wealthy contributors hefty influence; gerrymandering, which usually benefits extremists of both parties; and voters who lack a shared reality and “are divided and ignorant (at least about the other side) and driven to even more division and ignorance” by media that seek to make profits rather than to inform. “The consequence together is thus not a democracy that always bends to the rich,” Lessig argues persuasively. “It is a democracy that cannot bend, or function.” The author’s many proposals to improve representation are less convincing than his analysis of problems. His suggestions range from giving every citizen “speech credits” or “democracy coupons” to fund political campaigns to paying voters to watch long, “wonderful and hilarious” political ads. Lessig deems the Senate “the hardest circle to square,” admitting that some of his ideas—reforming the filibuster and allocating votes for leadership based on population—are unlikely to happen. As far as the Electoral College, the author advocates that states’ electors should reflect the national popular vote; or, if not, then Congress should allow electors to cast fractional votes. To engage the electorate, Lessig proposes “a congressional jury” made up of randomly chosen citizens to examine both sides of a public issue and make recommendations that, he asserts, a congressman would be morally bound to consider.
An impassioned call to all Americans to fight for equal representation.