Rep. Adam Schiff is a little too rosy in his assessment of the state of American democracy

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff

REUTERS / Brendan McDermid

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff

I have long since fallen off the wagon of viewing the US system of government as a fully functioning democracy.

In a fully functioning democracy, all citizens would have equal representation. But the U.S. Senate, which gives absolutely equal power to two senators from Wyoming (population 581,075) and two from California (population 39,613,493), plus the District of Columbia (zero representation in the Senate, population 692,683) is not only deeply offensive of fundamental principle of equal representation of all citizens, but is the only provision of the Constitution that the Constitution itself says can never be changed (see Article V, last sentence).

There are other examples of undemocratic features of the Constitution, including the Electoral College system, which gives candidates (like George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016, twice in the last six elections) the ability to win the presidency, while they lose the referendum.

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The very smart US representative Adam Schiff did not bring up any of these features, but did bring up several others when he was recently asked by Galen Druke on the 538.com podcast (print here) how close the US is to not being a democracy today, replied:

I think we are still very much a democracy, but many of the crash barriers have gone down. Things that we had never imagined could happen in this country have happened.

It was hard to imagine, post-Watergate, that another president of the United States used the Department of Justice to protect those who lie to cover him up. But that was what Bill Barr did: when he intervened in Roger Stone’s case, one person was convicted of lying to Congress and trying to intimidate other witnesses into lying to Congress; by intervening to make the whole Mike Flynn case go away.

But also to use that Ministry of Justice to go after the president’s enemies.

And, of course, the betrayal of the Ministry of Justice, which is supposed to represent the interests of justice, is just one of countless examples. The frequent attacks on the press as the enemy of the people, who allegedly try to raise postage rates on Amazon to punish the Washington Post, use the tools of state power to censor the press. The obvious violations of the Hatch Act, the obvious violations of the Remuneration Clause. … We are still a democracy, but we are not out of the woods either.

I fully share Schiff’s concern about these recent violations of these violations by the Department of Justice under Donald Trump and William Barr. But in my opinion, he missed the larger permanent and fully constitutional ways in which the United States lacks full democracy.

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