Books

What it’s like to watch a harpooned whale die right before your eyes

This excerpt is from Death of a Whale, by Captain Paul Watson (GroundSwell Books, 2021). This web adaptation was produced by GroundSwell Books in partnership with Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In 1975, Robert Hunter and I were the first people to physically block a harpooner's line of fire when we intercepted a Soviet whaling fleet and placed our bodies between the killers and eight fleeing, frightened sperm whales. We were in a small inflatable boat, speeding before the plunging steel prow of a Russian kill boat. As the whales fled for their lives before us, we could smell the fear in their misty exhalations. We thought we could make a difference with our Gandhi-inspired seagoing stand. Surely these men behind the harpoons would not risk killing a human being to satisfy their lust for whale oil and meat. We were wrong.

The whalers demonstrated their contempt for our nonviolent protests by firing an explosive harpoon over our heads. The harpoon line slashed into the water and we narrowly escaped death. One of the whales was not so lucky. With a dull thud followed by a muffled explosion, the entrails of a female whale were torn and ripped apart by hot steel shrapnel.

The large bull sperm whale in the midst of the pod abruptly rose and dove. Experts had told us that a bull whale in this situation would attack us. We were a smaller target than the whaling ship. Anxiously, we held our breath in anticipation of sixty tons of irate muscle and blood torpedoing from the depths below our frail craft.

The ocean erupted behind us. We turned toward the Soviet ship to see a living juggernaut hurl itself at the Russian bow. The harpooner was ready. He pulled the trigger and sent a second explosive missile into the massive head of the whale. A pitiful scream rang in my ears, a fountain of blood geysered into the air, and the deep blue of the ocean was rapidly befouled with dark red blood. The whale thrashed and convulsed violently.

Mortally wounded and crazed with pain, the whale rolled, and one great eye made contact with mine. The whale dove, and a trail of bloody bubbles moved laboriously toward us. Slowly, very slowly, a gargantuan head emerged from the water, and the whale rose at an angle over and above our tiny craft. Blood and brine cascaded from the gaping head wound and fell upon us in torrents.

We were helpless. We knew that we would be crushed within seconds as the whale fell upon us. There was little time for fear, only awe. We could not move.

The whale did not fall upon us. He wavered and towered motionless above us. I looked up past the daggered six-inch teeth and into the eye the size of my fist, an eye that reflected back intelligence and spoke wordlessly of compassion and communicated to me the understanding that this was a being that could discriminate and understood what we had tried to do. The mammoth body slowly slid back into the sea.

The massive head of this majestic sperm whale slowly fell back into the sea. He rolled and the water parted, revealing a solitary eye. The gaze of the whale seized control of my soul, and I saw my own image reflected back at me. I was overcome with pity, not for the whale but for ourselves. Waves of shame crashed down upon me and I wept. Overwhelmed with horror at this revelation of the cruel blasphemy of my species, I realized then and there that my allegiance lay with this dying child of the sea and his kind. On that day, I left the comfortable realm of human self-importance to forever embrace the soulful satisfaction of lifelong service to the citizens of the sea.

The gentle giant died with my face seared upon his retina. I will never forget that. It is a memory that haunts and torments me and leaves me with only one course to chart toward redemption for the collective sins of humanity. It is both my burden and my joy to pledge my allegiance to the most intelligent and profoundly sensitive species of beings to have ever inhabited the Earth––the great whales.

Reykjavik, Iceland, November 1986

Despite the criticisms, the name-calling, and the controversy that have arisen from our work since 1975, one indisputable fact emerged from a raid made by my crew (which included Rod Coronado of the U.S. and David Howitt of the UK) on two whaling ships in Reykjavik in 1986 in order to enforce an international moratorium on commercial whaling that had been established that year: it was successful.

The two whaling ships were razed, although their electronics and mechanical systems had been totally destroyed. Insurance did not cover the losses because the owners had stated that terrorists sank the ships, and apparently they were not insured for terrorism.

Most importantly, from that day of November 8, 1986, to sixteen years later in the year 2002, the Icelanders did not take another whale. What talk, compromise, negotiations, meetings, letters, petitions, and protests had not accomplished, we achieved with a little monkey-wrenching activity in the wee hours of the morning.

Were we terrorists? No, not even criminals, for we were never charged with a crime, even though we made ourselves available for prosecution. We had simply done our duty, and we put an end to an unlawful activity.

The only repercussion was that Iceland moved before the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1987 that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society be banned from holding observer status at the meetings of the IWC. After this passed, Iceland resigned from the IWC, leaving us with the distinction of being the only organization to enjoy the status of banishment from the IWC.

How ironic, I thought, to be the only organization banned from the IWC because we were the only organization to have ever enforced an IWC ruling.

It was not much of a punishment. I had never enjoyed listening to the delegates of the member nations barter whales like they were bushels of wheat or pork bellies. I also never had much use for the posturing of the nongovernmental organizations pretending that they were actually making a difference by attending this annual circus. All that we were interested in were the rulings of the IWC, and we fully intended to continue to enforce those rulings.

I have been asked many times why we consider the IWC rulings important. Why not just oppose all whaling everywhere? The answer is that we do oppose all whaling by everyone, everywhere. However, we only actively attack whaling operations that are in violation of international conservation law. The reason for this is simple: We do not presume to be the judges and jury. We simply execute the rulings of the IWC or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) or any rulings from international conservation authorities, and we do so in accordance with the definition of intervention as defined by the 1982 United Nations World Charter for Nature, Part III (Implementation), Principle 21, Section (e): "States and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall… Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction."

As a seaman, I have a great and abiding respect for the traditions of the law of the sea. To attack without a vested authority would be piracy. Thus, the difference between a privateer like Sir Francis Drake and a pirate like Blackbeard was that the former was in possession of a letter of marque from a sovereign authority and the latter practiced the same trade solely upon his own authority.

I have never considered it my place to judge the illegal activities of others. However, I feel that when there are laws and international treaties that it is the responsibility of individuals and nongovernmental organizations to strive toward the implementation of these rulings, especially in light of the fact that there is no international body empowered to police these international laws. Nation-states intervene when it is advantageous for them to do so, but little enforcement is carried out in the interests of the common good of all citizens of the planet.

It is worth noting that it was not the British or Spanish navies that brought the piracy of the Caribbean under control in the 17th century. There were too many conflicts of interest, too much corruption, and too little motivation for any real action to have been taken. The bureaucracies in the British admiralty and the Spanish court did nothing because the very nature of a bureaucracy is the maintenance of the status quo. The achievement of first shutting down piracy on the Spanish Main is attributed to one man––a pirate himself.

Henry Morgan did what two nations chose not to do: he drove the pirates to ground and ended their reign of terror. As a result, the "pirate" was made governor of Jamaica, although history would show that the man was far more effective as a pirate than as a politician. In fact, he was more of a pirate as a politician than he was as an actual pirate.

When Andrew Jackson failed to get the support of the merchants of New Orleans to back his attack on the British, it was a pirate who came to his service in the personage of Jean Lafitte. When the United States successfully endeavored to cast off the yoke of British rule, it was a pirate who achieved the most dramatic and successful naval victory at sea. That person was captain John Paul Jones. Consequently, it is a pirate who was the founder of what is today the world's most powerful navy.

Today, with the pirates of corrupt industry aided by corrupt politicians plundering our oceans for the last of the fish, killing the last of the whales, and polluting the waters, we find that there is very little real resistance to their activities upon the high seas. Once again it is time for some good pirates to rise up in opposition to the bad pirates, and I believe that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is just such an organization of good pirates.

When our critics call us pirates, I have no problem with that. In fact, we have taken their criticisms and in an aikido-like manner; we have incorporated their accusations into our image. Our ships are sometimes painted a monochromatic black. We have designed our own version of the pretty red [a flag which, when translated to French, becomes "joli rouge" and is rumored to have inspired the "jolly roger" phrase applied to pirate flags], and our black-and-white flag flies from our mast during campaigns. We even carry cannons, with the difference being that our guns fire cream pies and not red-hot balls.

As good pirates, we have evolved to suit the time and culture in which we live, and this being a media-defined culture, our primary weapons are the camera, the video, and the internet. Like modern-day Robin Hoods, we take from the greedy and give back to the sea. We don't profit materially, but we profit tremendously both spiritually and psychologically.

Captain Paul Watson is a Canadian-American marine conservation activist who founded the direct action group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977 and was more recently featured in Animal Planet's popular television series "Whale Wars" and the documentary about his life, "Watson." Sea Shepherd's mission is to protect all ocean-dwelling marine life. Watson has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books, including Death of a Whale (2021), Urgent! (2021), Orcapedia (2020), Dealing with Climate Change and Stress (2020), The Haunted Mariner (2019), and Captain Paul Watson: Interview with a Pirate (2013).

A new book's troubling revelations make Mike Pence look much worse than originally thought

In their forthcoming book "Peril," veteran journalist Bob Woodward — who is famous for his reporting on Watergate with Washington Post colleague Carl Bernstein during the 1970s — and reporter Robert Costa examine former President Donald Trump's final months in the White House. The reporting included new details on Trump's efforts to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 presidential election results on January 6. Liberal Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent examines Woodward and Costa's reporting on Pence this week in his column, arguing that it's wrong to paint Pence as a heroic figure.

"Ever since Mike Pence announced, on January 6, that he lacked power to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election in Congress, it's been widely suggested that the vice president was one of the few heroes in this ugly tale," Sargent explains. "But new revelations in the forthcoming book by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa cast doubt on this account."

According to Sargent, "The key details concern Trump's relentless pressure on Pence to help subvert the Electoral College count on January 6, pursuant to the vice president's role as president of the Senate. The day before, in the Oval Office, Trump angrily told Pence that various people believed he did have the power to somehow derail the count."

On January 5, Woodward and Costa report in their book, Pence told Trump, "I've done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It's simply not possible." But Trump refused to accept that explanation, telling his then-vice president, "No, no, no! You don't understand, Mike. You can do this. I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this."

Sargent writes, "I've done everything I could and then some — that's at odds with the portrayal of Pence as a heroic defender of the Constitution and the rule of law who bravely rebuffed Trump's corrupt pressure on him to help destroy them both. Obviously, Pence might have been exaggerating his efforts to placate Trump. But notably, the book also reports that Pence privately said the same to former Vice President Dan Quayle, who basically had to persuade him he had no power to help Trump."

Back in January 1993, Quayle was near the end of his four years as President George H.W. Bush's vice president when he oversaw Congress' certification of then-incoming President Bill Clinton's Electoral College victory in the 1992 election.

Quayle, as vice president, was president of the U.S. Senate — and by the end of the month, after Clinton's inauguration, that position was held by the new vice president, former Sen. Al Gore.

In "Peril," Woodward and Costa report that Pence repeatedly asked Quayle if there was any way he would be able to prevent the certification of now-President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory on January 6. Quayle told Pence, "Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away."

Pence, according to Woodward and Costa, told Quayle, "You don't know the position I'm in" — to which Quayle responded, "I do know the position you're in. I also know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That's all you do. You have no power."

Woodward and Costa's reporting in "Peril," according to Sargent, indicates that Pence didn't prevent Biden's Electoral College certification on January 6 because he didn't want to or because it was the right thing to do, but because he couldn't.

Sargent, in his column, points out that "Peril" offers valuable information for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's select committee on the January 6 insurrection. And Sargent interviewed one of the committee's Democratic members: Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Raskin told Sargent, "We need to look and see how far things went in 2020 in order to determine what correctives we need to make for 2024…. Trump wanted to exploit every vulnerability and booby trap in the Electoral College."

The Maryland Democrat is obviously worried that another "coup" will be attempted in a future U.S. presidential election.

Raskin told Sargent, "The Electoral College system is a creaky antique, but it worked so long as everyone basically agreed to honor the popular vote in the states as controlling the award of Electoral College votes. The moment that understanding is breached, at that point, all bets are off…. So, the question is whether we can put the genie of coup and insurrection back in the bottle, or whether we need fundamental and sweeping reform of the Electoral College system in order to guarantee that we have a dependable democratic election."

New report finds a bizarre link between Steve Bannon and Jeffrey Epstein

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon coached convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein for a "60 Minutes" interview months before he was arrested on child sex trafficking charges, according to a passage from a new book by Michael Wolff first reported by The New York Times' Ben Smith.

Bannon conducted more than a dozen hours of practice interviews with Epstein in 2019, aimed at making the latter appear less "creepy" ahead of the interview — which ultimately never happened — according to Wolff's forthcoming book "Too Famous." Wolff is best known for his recent trilogy of books on the Trump administration, "Fire and Fury," "Siege" and "Landslide."

Bannon, who led former President Donald Trump's first campaign and briefly served as his chief White House strategist before being fired, in part because of critical comments he made to Wolff, encouraged Epstein to speak to "60 Minutes" and recorded more than 15 hours of practice interviews with him at his Manhattan estate, according to Wolff.

Bannon interviewed Epstein while giving him tips, such as urging him to avoid looking at the camera so he doesn't come across as "stupid" and "advising him not to share his racist theories on how Black people learn," according to the report. Bannon reportedly also told Epstein to "stick to his message, which is that he is not a pedophile."

"You're engaging, you're not threatening, you're natural, you're friendly, you don't look at all creepy, you're a sympathetic figure," Bannon told Epstein toward the end of the session, according to interview transcripts obtained by Wolff.

Bannon confirmed to the Times that he had encouraged Epstein to talk to "60 Minutes" and had recorded more than 15 hours of interview footage with the deceased financier, but insisted he had "never trained anyone." Bannon told the Times he had recorded the interviews for an "previously unannounced eight- to 10-hour documentary" that was intended to show how Epstein's "perversions and depravity toward young women were part of a life that was systematically supported, encouraged and rewarded by a global establishment that dined off his money and his influence."

It's unclear how Wolff obtained the transcripts, though the author told the Times that Epstein wanted him to write a book about him.

"He wanted me to write something about him — a kind of a book — it wasn't clear why," Wolff said.

It's also unclear how Bannon and Epstein connected. Epstein, a millionaire financier who regularly socialized with wealthy businessmen, academics and even former presidents, was arrested months later on federal child sex trafficking charges. He had previously pleaded guilty to soliciting a person under 18 for prostitution in a controversial and remarkably lenient plea deal involving infamous attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr and future Trump Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who ultimately resigned after new details of the Epstein deal were reported. Epstein later died by suicide in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial. His alleged accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she recruited and groomed underage girls for him to sexually abuse and sometimes participated in the abuse.

It's not the first time Bannon has been linked to Epstein, a longtime friend of Trump's that the former president touted as a "terrific guy" who enjoys women "on the younger side." Page Six reported in 2018 that Bannon was seen entering Epstein's Manhattan mansion, where Epstein and Maxwell are accused of repeatedly abusing underage girls.

"Bannon needs money to bankroll his political agenda," a source told Page Six at the time, just months after Bannon had left the White House. "Epstein has plenty of money, and craves power and access."

Epstein's former butler at his Paris estate also claimed in 2019 that Bannon had stayed at Epstein's apartment in the fall of 2018, which a spokesperson for Bannon denied at the time.

New York Times columnist James Stewart also wrote in 2019 that Epstein invited him, Bannon and Wolff to a dinner in 2018 but it's unclear whether the dinner ever happened and Bannon has denied that he attended.

Wolff, who regularly writes about disgraced powerful figures, has his own extensive ties to Epstein. In 2003, the Times reported that Wolff organized a bid to buy New York magazine with investors that included Epstein as well as disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Wolff later continued to see Epstein at his office, New York reported in 2007. Wolff told the outlet at the time that he had first met Epstein in the late '90s, recalling how the millionaire was followed around by "three teenage girls" who were "not his daughters." In fact, it appears that Wolff coached Epstein himself when the millionaire first faced charges before his 2005 guilty plea.

"He has never been secretive about the girls," Wolff told New York. "At one point, when his troubles began, he was talking to me and said, 'What can I say, I like young girls.' I said, 'Maybe you should say, 'I like young women.'"

Even after Epstein's 2005 conviction, Wolff continued to try to help Epstein.

"A few years ago the journalist Michael Wolff wrote a profile of him for New York magazine that was meant to 'rehabilitate' Epstein's image and would tell of all the billionaires who still, secretly, hung out with Epstein," The Daily Beast's Vicky Ward reported in 2019. "The piece had 'fact-checking' issues and never ran."

Ex-staffer about to 'set fire' to Trumpworld by exposing 'surprising new scandals' in tell-all: report

A former White House official and chief of staff to Melania Trump is about to reveal what a publishing source calls "surprising new scandals" in a new tell-all memoir.

Stephanie Grisham, who served as White House press secretary and communications director without ever holding a press briefing, will publish "I'll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw in The Trump White House" on Oct. 5 under the Harper Collins banner, reported Axios.

"There isn't enough water on earth to contain the fire she could set to all of Trump world, including parts like the first lady's orbit, which not many people are in a position to illuminate," said a former West Wing colleague. "It's hard to articulate how much anxiety this is going to cause."

A source close to the publication said Grisham "has receipts" from her time in the White House because, as the press secretary, her job required her to know what was happening.

"Grisham knows where all the bodies are buried because she buried a lot of them herself," that source said.

She resigned on Jan. 6, after four years in the White House, and is the only person who served under both Donald and Melania Trump, and one of the few who spent time in their private residence.

"When I heard this," the West Wing source said, "all I could think about was Stephanie surrounded by a lake of gasoline, striking a match with a grin on her face."

Former staffer about to 'set fire' to Trump by exposing 'surprising new scandals' in tell-all memoir www.youtube.com

Why George Orwell’s ideas remain relevant 75 years after 'Animal Farm'

by Mark Satta, Wayne State University

Seventy-five years ago, in August 1946, George Orwell's “Animal Farm" was published in the United States. It was a huge success, with over a half-million copies sold in its first year. “Animal Farm" was followed three years later by an even bigger success: Orwell's dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four."

In the years since, Orwell's writing has left an indelible mark on American thought and culture. Sales of “Animal Farm" and “Nineteen Eighty-Four" jumped in 2013 after the whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked confidential National Security Agency documents. And “Nineteen Eighty-Four" rose to the top of Amazon's best-sellers list after Donald Trump's Presidential Inauguration in 2017.

As a philosophy professor, I'm interested in the continuing relevance of Orwell's ideas, including those on totalitarianism and socialism.

Early career

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair. Born in 1903 in colonial India, Blair later moved to England, where he attended elite schools on scholarships. After finishing school, he joined the British civil service, working in Burma, now Myanmar. At age 24, Orwell returned to England to become a writer.

During the 1930s, Orwell had modest success as an essayist, journalist and novelist. He also served as a volunteer soldier with a left-wing militia group that fought on behalf of the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. During the conflict, Orwell experienced how propaganda could shape political narratives through observing inaccurate reporting of events he experienced firsthand.

Orwell later summarized the purpose of his writing from roughly the Spanish Civil War onward: “Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism."

Orwell did not specify in that passage what he meant by either totalitarianism or democratic socialism, but some of his other works clarify how he understood those terms.

What is totalitarianism?

For Orwell, totalitarianism was a political order focused on power and control. The totalitarian attitude is exemplified by the antagonist, O'Brien, in “Nineteen Eighty-Four." The fictional O'Brien is a powerful government official who uses torture and manipulation to gain power over the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, Winston Smith. Significantly, O'Brien treats his desire for power as an end in itself. O'Brien represents power for power's sake.

Much of Orwell's keenest insights concern what totalitarianism is incompatible with. In his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn," Orwell writes of “The totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power … ." In other words, laws can limit a ruler's power. Totalitarianism seeks to obliterate the limits of law through the uninhibited exercise of power.

Similarly, in his 1942 essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War," Orwell argues that totalitarianism must deny that there are neutral facts and objective truth. Orwell identifies liberty and truth as “safeguards" against totalitarianism. The exercise of liberty and the recognition of truth are actions incompatible with the total centralized control that totalitarianism requires.

Orwell understood that totalitarianism could be found on the political right and left. For Orwell, both Nazism and Communism were totalitarian.

Orwell's work, in my view, challenges us to resist permitting leaders to engage in totalitarian behavior, regardless of political affiliation. It also reminds us that some of our best tools for resisting totalitarianism are to tell truths and to preserve liberty.

What is democratic socialism?

In his 1937 book “The Road to Wigan Pier," Orwell writes that socialism means “justice and liberty." The justice he refers to goes beyond mere economic justice. It also includes social and political justice.

Orwell elaborates on what he means by socialism in “The Lion and the Unicorn." According to him, socialism requires “approximate equality of incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privileges, especially in education."

In fleshing out what he means by “approximate equality of incomes," Orwell later says in the same essay that income equality shouldn't be greater than a ratio of about 10 to 1. In its modern-day interpretation, this suggests Orwell could find it ethical for a CEO to make 10 times more than their employees, but not to make 300 times more, as the average CEO in the United States does today.

But in describing socialism, Orwell discusses more than economic inequality. Orwell's writings indicate that his preferred conception of socialism also requires “political democracy." As scholar David Dwan has noted, Orwell distinguished “two concepts of democracy." The first concept refers to political power resting with the common people. The second is about having classical liberal freedoms, like freedom of thought. Both notions of democracy seem relevant to what Orwell means by democratic socialism. For Orwell, democratic socialism is a political order that provides social and economic equality while also preserving robust personal freedom.

I believe Orwell's description of democratic socialism and his recognition that there are various forms socialism can take remain important today given that American political dialogue about socialism often overlooks much of the nuance Orwell brings to the subject. For example, Americans often confuse socialism with communism. Orwell helps clarify the difference between these terms.

With high levels of economic inequality, political assaults on truth and renewed concerns about totalitarianism, Orwell's ideas remain as relevant now as they were 75 years ago.

[Explore the intersection of faith, politics, arts and culture. Sign up for This Week in Religion.]The Conversation

Mark Satta, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Author of 'How Democracies Die' reveals why the US is in worse shape than he thought

During the 2020 presidential race, a wide range of Donald Trump critics — including arch-conservative columnist/author Mona Charen (who worked in the Reagan White House) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described "democratic socialist" — slammed Trump as dangerously authoritarian. They warned that U.S. democracy itself was on the line. Now-President Joe Biden won the election, but the threat of authoritarianism was evident when Trump tried to overturn the election results and a violent far-right mob attacked the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6. Four months into Biden's presidency, journalist Susan B. Glasser examines the state of American democracy this week in an article for The New Yorker — and she warns that there is a lot to be worried about.

"Far from embracing Biden's call for unity," Glasser explains, "Republicans remain in thrall to the divisive rants and election conspiracy theories of their defeated former president. As a result, Congress is at such a partisan impasse that it cannot even agree on a commission to investigate the January 6 attack by a pro-Trump mob on its own building."

Glasser notes that during Biden's 2020 campaign, he "carried around" a copy of the 2018 book "How Democracies Die" — which was written by Harvard University professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt and warned that authoritarianism was prevailing over liberal democracy in many countries. And Biden has stressed that the United States needs to set a positive example for the world by showing how well democracy can work. But many Republican Trump supporters, according to Glasser, are showing themselves to be overtly anti-democracy.

Glasser observes, "GOP-controlled state legislatures are passing measures that will make it harder for many Americans to vote…. Trump has been putting out the word that he plans to run for reelection in 2024 — and exulting in polls showing that a majority of Republicans continue to believe both his false claims of a fraudulent election and that nothing untoward happened on January 6. Needless to say, these are not the signs of a healthy democracy ready to combat the autocratic tyrants of the world."

Ziblatt, during a recent interview, told Glasser that he finds the political climate in the U.S. in 2021 to be "much more worrisome" than the warnings he gave when he wrote "How Democracies Die" with Levitsky three years ago. "Turns out, things are much worse than we expected," Ziblatt lamented.

Glasser continued:

He said he had never envisioned a scenario like the one that has played itself out among Republicans on Capitol Hill during the past few months. How could he have? It's hard to imagine anyone in America, even when "How Democracies Die" was published, a year into Trump's term, seriously contemplating an American President who would unleash an insurrection in order to steal an election that he clearly lost—and then still commanding the support of his party after doing so.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill calling for a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, but that bill hit a brick wall in the U.S. Senate when most GOP senators — clearly afraid of offending Trump — refused to support it. The six Republican senators who did vote in favor of the bill were Maine's Susan Collins, Utah's Mitt Romney, Nebraska's Ben Sasse, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Louisiana's Bill Cassidy and Ohio's Rob Portman.

The state of U.S. democracy is also addressed this week in an editorial from the Washington Post's editorial board, which calls out Trump supporters in state legislatures who are trying to punish secretaries of state who refused to help him overturn the election results in their states — including Georgia's Brad Raffensperger, a conservative Republican who is facing a primary challenge from far-right Rep. Jody Hice.

"Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) is gunning to replace Mr. Raffensperger in Georgia, and he already has Mr. Trump's endorsement," the Post's editorial board explains. "Mr. Hice led House Republicans in voting against counting electoral votes from swing states that preferred Mr. Biden. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed a letter Mr. Hice sent to Georgia conservatives claiming that the 2020 vote was rife with 'systemic voting irregularities and fraud' and that the 'back-stabbing' Mr. Raffensperger worked 'arm and arm with Stacey Abrams to deliver the presidency and Senate to the radical left.' These are absurd lies; extensive investigation showed no fraud, and Mr. Raffensperger is a stern conservative who wanted Republicans to win — but simply refused to fix the system on behalf of Mr. Trump."

The Post's editorial board continues, "Mr. Hice is hardly the only threat to democracy. Politico points to candidates in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan running to take over the secretary of state's office in each key swing state…. Republicans of conscience must reject these extremists."

A theme in both Glasser's article and the Post's editorial is that the threat to U.S. democracy did not end when Trump lost the 2020 election and Biden was sworn into office in January.

Glasser writes, "Hopefully, we are not witnessing the slow-motion death of American democracy. At least, not yet." And the Post's editorial board warns, "It is seductive to imagine that the danger to U.S. democracy passed with Mr. Trump's departure. In fact, it may have only begun."

Did Joe Biden really just get 'lucky' in the 2020 election?

In their recently published book, journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes argue that their main takeaway from Joe Biden's win in 2020 is that he got lucky.

Indeed, they choose that word as their title: "Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency."

Is this really the right way to think about Biden's win? The concept of "luck" is actually surprisingly slippery — someone can be called both lucky and unlucky for the same event. If I get hit by a car while crossing the road but walk away uninjured, you might say I got lucky that it wasn't much worse. But I might fairly say that if I were really lucky, I wouldn't have gotten hit at all.

Allen and Parnes' subtitle gives a clue at what they mean by "lucky." They say Biden "barely" won the presidency, by which they mean he came very close to losing to Donald Trump in 2020. I made a very similar point, but to very different ends, in a piece arguing that American democracy is lurching from crisis to crisis with no clear path out.

Throughout the narrative, Allen and Parnes suggest that at the crucial moments, certain factors had to go just right for Biden to win, and they did. For example, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Pete Buttigieg's campaign was able to get a poll spiked on thin grounds that would have shown Biden likely to finish miserably in the state (Buttigieg's performance in the poll was also below expectations.) That fortunate event prevented Biden from going into the caucuses after a news cycle about how he looked surprisingly weak. And then again on the caucus night itself, a technological failure meant the results of the full caucus couldn't be readily ascertained. Suddenly, the national story was about the caucus's technical disaster, not Biden's poor showing in the state. Another lucky break for Biden, according to Allen and Parnes.

They point to other trends being broadly fortunate for Biden as well. The pandemic, they say, exposed Trump's weaknesses and gave Biden an excuse to stay out of the spotlight. Hunkered down in his basement, his approval ratings were able to stay high while the country went to hell on Trump's watch. Initially, too, they suggest that the George Floyd protests put Trump in a negative light — another unpredictable event that went Biden's way.

However, they later argue that the issue of police conduct put Biden in a bind (they don't address how this affects their thesis that he was "lucky.") Trump could hit Biden from both sides — attacking him on not doing enough to stand up for police and against rioters, while also dredging up his history with the 1990s crime bill to paint Biden as too harsh on crime.

The effects of the 2020 summer protests on the election remain hotly debated, and I won't get into most of that here. But I should note that there's not much reason to buy that Trump's attempt to come at Biden from both sides really made much sense. Biden presented himself with a clear, measured, coherent position — he wanted more funding for the police, not less, while enacting significant reforms to prevent abusive conduct from cops. He also repeatedly said he was against any violence in protests. Trump's positioning was much less coherent. He wanted to be the "tough-on-crime" president even while decrying the country as a crime-riddled mess and attacking his opponent as overly punitive of criminals.

Finally, the authors argue that, given that Biden only won the election with a slim cumulative margin of about 50,000 votes in the key swing states, his final victory was his last lucky break.

The narrative overall may seem compelling at first glance. But under scrutiny, it's far less persuasive. While acknowledging, as I have, that the concept of luck is fuzzy, it's more reasonable to describe Biden's position in the 2020 campaign as resilient rather than lucky. Despite significant obstacles in his way, Biden's candidacy was just strong enough on its own merits to succeed.

I don't mean to tell a heroic or hagiographic tale about Biden's victory. But the fact is that from the very start, looking at the 2020 primary polls, and the national head-to-head polls with Trump, Biden looked like the favorite nearly the entire time. You might say he was "lucky," then, in the sense of coming in some sense from a place of advantage privilege. He started with high name recognition and trust because he was Barack Obama's well-liked vice president for eight years, and he was a known quantity in troubled times. But this isn't the sense of "lucky" that Allen and Parnes seem to mean.

They frequently describe Biden's campaign as shambolic and dysfunctional, suggesting that he's lucky he was able to win despite this poor operation. This perspective, though, seems to reflect the preoccupations of campaign reporters more than Biden's objective standing in the race. Whatever flaws we might say Biden's campaign might have had, they don't seem to have affected his ability to win very much, because he succeeded regardless. That's because he entered the race strong due to his standing with public, and his network of formidable allies, and he stayed that way until the end. That wasn't a fluke — that's just who Biden is.

Take the case of the Iowa caucuses, which Allen and Parnes discuss at great length. They suggest Biden was lucky that other incidents distracted from his poor showing in the first contest of the primary. But another way to look at the situation is to say that Biden was unlucky to have the primary start in a state where his support was so minimal, given the fact that he had the largest base of support of all the candidates. That was a structural disadvantage for a campaign that on the merits looked to have most support among the Democratic Party voters — and appeared most likely to win in the general election. Biden was able to survive a poor showing in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada not because he lucked out — but because his national standing was so robust that even with three embarrassing losses, he could still turn it around.

After his initial losses, his polling dropped sharply, and it looked for a spell that Sanders was most likely to win. But it turned out his former voters didn't stray from, and they would soon be back. His apparent weakness at this time was more of a mirage than a veritable shift in the sentiment of the electorate.

Two of his closest opponents, Buttigeg and Amy Klobubchar, dropped out after Biden's definitive win in South Carolina, the primary that marked the start of his resurgence. But Klobuchar and Buttigieg did drop out because Biden got a lucky break — they dropped out because they realized they never had a chance to win. Biden always did, and they were convinced he was the right person to lead the party forward. Again, that's not a fluke — that's what happens when you're a strong candidate in an election.

Once the race came down to just Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, Biden won handily. He blew Sanders out even in states where he didn't try to compete. And in his one-on-one debate with Sanders, he showed himself to be much more competent than he had appeared in the multi-candidate debates that had occurred early on in the primary, when he consistently struggled. Again, this suggests that Biden was unlucky to face such a large field to start, even though he was able to overcome this disadvantage.

You might argue, as Allen and Parnes did, that it was "lucky" in a narrow sense for Biden's campaign that the coronavirus started dominating the entire world of politics by the spring of 2020, directing the spotlight away from the Democratic nominee. But the truth is that Biden led Trump in the polls in the fall of 2019, often by more than he did in the summer of 2020, so it's hard to say Biden needed the crisis to outshine his opponent.

As we learned, of course, the polls were misleading. Biden's final lead over Trump in the national popular vote was 4.4 points, but the polls had suggested it could easily have been double that. That was, actually, another disadvantage for Biden: the polling gave his side false confidence and a misleading sense of the nature of the race, which makes it difficult to find the right strategy.

Nevertheless, Biden won. And he won despite the fact that the Electoral College was heavily biased in Trump's favor. But once again, it's a little odd to describe this as Biden being lucky — this is Biden winning despite a systematic disadvantage against him. Biden was politically strong enough to win even though circumstances weren't all falling his way.

Allen and Parnes certainly don't try to claim that luck was the only factor in Biden's win — they admit he had to have genuine skill to end up occupying the Oval Office. But these are caveats to their central thesis and the title of their book. As a way of understanding the nature of the 2020 campaign, "Lucky" falls flat. The decision to frame an entire narrative around Biden's ascension as a series of flukes is fundamentally misguided. The American people might have gotten lucky not to end up with a second term of Trump — but Biden appears to have known what he was doing all along.

The crisis of American democracy is already here

We can stop waiting for the big constitutional crisis, the cataclysmic electoral breakdown, the fracturing of democracy that many have long feared in the United States of America.

The crisis is already here, and we've been living with it for years.

It's become conventional wisdom among many political observers that the Electoral College system for picking our presidents is an anti-democratic relic that we're nevertheless forced to work around. And yet the significance of this fact is far too easily elided. We hear warnings that the Electoral College may one day trigger a disaster, but we've yet to properly take stock of the world of crisis we've already made for ourselves. And American political discourse still hasn't accommodated the fact that, because of the Electoral College and the winner-take-all state rules that decide our presidential elections, our form of government is not as democratic and morally admirable as we like to think.

Within the last two decades, there have indeed been, arguably, four distinct crises in the Electoral College that have profoundly shaken our democratic ideals and even warped the course of world history. Lives have been lost and ruined; blood has been shed as a result. The Electoral College is not just an outdated institution. It's a shambolic mess. The wheels have completely come off, and the train is off the tracks. And there's no sign it's headed for any smoother terrain.

The first of the modern crises, of course, came in 2000. The presidential election came down to Florida, and that state came down to 537 votes. A wave of irregularities and clear errors in the process easily swamped that margin, but as the fight over a recount dragged on, the Supreme Court was asked to intervene. Its decision essentially gave George W. Bush the presidency over then-Vice President Al Gore, despite the fact that Gore had won nationally by about half a million votes.

Gore conceded graciously, but a disaster was set in motion. The 9/11 Commission cited the delayed transition as a potential factor in the failure to foresee the coming terrorist attack mere months down the road. Had the Clinton administration smoothly transitioned into a Gore administration as most American voters wanted, perhaps that calamity could have been avoided — along with the disastrous wars of choice that followed. The country might have started taking climate change seriously at a crucial point in history, rather than ignoring it for far too long. The legitimacy of the 2000 election's outcome has never been broadly accepted, as many Democrats were outraged that the Supreme Court had sided with Bush and resented a system that let a contested 537 votes hold more sway than the hundreds of thousands more Gore could boast in his total.

And it wasn't just Democrats who could see the problem with the Electoral College's structure outweighing the collective voice of the voters. Contemporary news reports suggested that if, as had seemed possible before the election, Bush had won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College, his team would have fought fiercely in favor of letting the popular vote control. They would have argued for the plausible view: For the only two nationally elected officers — the president and vice president — the nation's vote as a whole should be what matters.

But as we all know, that's not how the world works.

"There is no constitutional right to vote for the president," Jesse Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board and author of the book, "Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College," told me. "You and I and every other citizen have no right at all to play a role in choosing the president. It's just the state legislators' decision to let us do that."

In the American system, state legislators wield enormous power, though they tend to attract much less attention than the U.S. Congress. Under the Constitution, they get to decide how electors are selected every four years to join the Electoral College, which then gets to pick the president and the vice president. Because most states have elections with winner-take-all rules, giving all of the state's electors to a single candidate, it's possible for the winner of the national popular vote to fail to win a majority of the Electoral College votes.

After the 2000 election highlighted this glaring flaw, many demanded change. But amending the Constitution to reform or abolish the Electoral College is extremely difficult because the people who benefit from the current system have the power to veto any reform. And the unique circumstances of the 2000 election — such a narrow margin in Florida, and botch election administration that included hanging chads and butterfly ballots — could almost be dismissed as a fluke.

And then it happened again.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton decisively won the popular vote. She won by more than 2 points and nearly 3 million votes. But despite winning 48.2 percent of the vote, she lost in the Electoral College to Donald Trump, who won a mere 46.1 percent of the vote.

That, on its own, should've been considered a crisis. Once again, the candidate with much more support from the voters was denied the presidency in favor of her less popular — not to mention clearly unfit — opponent. But Clinton herself avoided such language, conceding graciously the day after the election.

Those were the rules of the game, of course, and Clinton and Trump knew that going in. Had the results been reversed, Clinton would have happily taken office while losing the popular vote. But that doesn't mean the result was acceptable or right. The fact that we don't set up any other important election to function in this way shows that this arrangement doesn't have any intuitive appeal or inherent moral legitimacy. It's just what we've come to accept. Wegman persuasively argues that it wasn't an ingenious solution developed by the American Founders, either — it was a last-minute agreement by deeply flawed men that no one was ever really satisfied with.

Because Clinton was widely expected to win in 2016, and Trump was such an outlandish character, much of the media coverage in the days after the election focused on the fact of the stunning upset. Many urged Democrats and Clinton supporters to re-evaluate their own assumptions about the electorate and to question why the country had found Trump so appealing.

But the country hadn't found Trump so appealing. Millions more voted for his opponent. The odd quirk about the Electoral College, though, is that despite the fact that everyone knows it doesn't adhere to our traditional assumptions about democracy, the political establishment implicitly assumed there's something inherently just about the winner's claim to office and that they represent the will of the voters.

Trump didn't represent the will of the voters, though, as the numbers made clear. For a second time since 2000, democracy failed for the single most important office in the country. And this failure was massively consequential. The winner picked three Supreme Court justices, completely reshaping the balance of the court. He rewrote the tax code, started trade wars, defied Congress, tormented immigrants, ordered assassinations and executions, manipulated the tools of justice. And he oversaw mass death and misery during the COVID-19 pandemic as public experts pleaded with him to stop lying and do more to stop the virus.

His foreseeably catastrophic and plutocratic presidency was forced upon the country and the world, even though a majority of Americans thoroughly rejected him and more voters cast their ballots for his opponent.

American democracy broke down, and it hasn't yet been fixed. Some people tried to implement a last-ditch solution in 2016 to his unjust rise, after all the votes were cast, as Wegman recounts in "Let the People Pick the President." A group of faithless electors tried to break with the expectation that they cast their votes in line with their states in an effort to deny Trump the presidency.

It didn't work, of course. Only seven electors voted out of turn — five from Clinton and two from Trump. It was nowhere near the number that would've been required to deny Trump the presidency.

But it was, on its own, a mini-crisis of democracy. It was a serious effort to undo the outcome that had been set in motion on Election Day. It was itself a response to an emergency, an attempt to set right a grave wrong. But had the effort been successful, it could have unleashed unprecedented chaos, and it's far from clear that would have been a preferable outcome.

When Trump tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election, some pointed to the 2016 faithless electors plan — which wasn't supported by Clinton, who had conceded — as evidence that the Democrats were hypocrites and had been just as unwilling to accept the verdict of the voters.

There are, however, two key differences in the faithless electors' plan and Trump's efforts to undo the 2020 election. First, the faithless electors' plan is actually in accordance with the constitutional design of the Electoral College — it says nothing about electors being pledged to certain candidates. The electors could argue that becoming faithless to block Trump's win was both in accord with the original vision for the Electoral College and an appropriately democratic representation of an electorate who had rejected him. This is the second key difference with the 2020 crisis: the faithless electors were trying to stop a person who had clearly lost the popular vote from taking office.

When Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election, he was doing the opposite. He was trying to stop Joe Biden — who not only won the popular vote but a substantial majority of American voters — from rightfully becoming president.

The crisis Trump triggered was not just a crisis of democracy, but a revolt against democracy. By pushing to have state legislatures overturn the result of the election procedures they had already put in place, and pressuring election officials to reject the proper results of those procedures, Trump undermined the bedrock of electoral governance. It was a rejection of the principles of democratic progress and an effort to install autocratic rule.

"It was outrageous that Trump and his allies were trying to do this," Wegman told me. "First of all, the election had already happened. Second of all, there was literally no evidence of fraud or irregularities at all, let alone on the level that they were claiming there was. So there was nothing to overturn."

He added that though it was "terrifying," the events were also "clarifying and illuminating" for the country. "Because it let the American people see just how contingent this whole process is on the state legislatures playing along."

He continued: "And while it was absurd and anti-democratic to try to force their hand after Nov. 3, in fact, at any point before then, the Constitution gave them free rein to change their rules about awarding electors. They didn't have to do it the way they did, which was a popular vote in their state. That's how every state does it, and that's how every state had done it since 1876, but they don't have to. They could change it in a day if they wanted to. And they could change it and say 'We're going to decide for ourselves.'"

Trump took it even further than that, of course. After his gambit with state legislatures failed, he tried to convince his vice president, Mike Pence, to intervene in Congress's counting of the Electoral College vote. Pence refused, and Trump, in response, sent a riotous mob after him and the nation's lawmakers. The violence was a predictable outcome of Trump's rejection of democracy and his cult-like following. Perhaps such an attack would have occurred even if the former president had lost under a pure national popular vote system, but the baroque nature of the existing process created many more opportunities for mischief that someone like Trump would be desperate to exploit. That gave his supporters hope he could remain in office if they just pushed hard enough.

At the same time, the Supreme Court is poised to give state legislatures even more power in setting the terms of elections, unconstrained by popular referendums or courts.

And even though Biden won the election, and Trump's efforts to overturn the outcome failed, he came much closer to winning than he should have.

David Shor, a data scientist for the progressive group Open Labs, which works on progressive causes, stressed how bad the skew of the Electoral College has become for Democrats.

"We got 52.2 percent, and if we had gotten 52 percent, we might have lost," he told me, referring to Biden's share of the two-party vote. "That's what the breakeven point was. The bias of the Electoral College went up. I think a lot of people forecast that it would go down. So that's bad. I think that's really bad. I think it's really under-remarked about."

He continued: "And it makes me think we're probably favored to lose in 2024. We barely scraped 52.2 against the most unpopular Republican incumbent to run in decades. And we still barely scraped by, so I think it's quite bad."

It's been a difficult truth for the media coverage to capture. On the one hand, Biden's Electoral College victory and his national popular vote share were substantial, so his win can be regarded as giving him a significant mandate and a rebuke of his predecessor. But the collective margins of victory in the decisive states that made Biden the winner are actually quite small, less the 50,000 votes. So it's not hard to imagine a very similar world where Trump had legally held on to power — even though he oversaw a world-historical disaster that made an overwhelming and record-setting 81 million voters turn out against him.

But because Trump's efforts to change the rules after Election Day and throw out votes was so outrageous, shameful, and potentially criminal, much less attention was paid to the institution that allowed it to happen at all.

In the wake of Trump's threat to democracy, some observers have boasted that the country's institutions held firm against the threat of autocracy, as they were designed to. But the Electoral College, a central pillar of our constitutional order — didn't protect us — it exacerbated the threat and made it possible to begin with.

Trump never had a hope of flipping any of the states that voted against him after the 2020 election — the margins were just too wide, unlike Florida in 2000. But even this hopeless and corrupt effort rested on a premise that should never be accepted in the first place — that it would be acceptable for Trump to hold on to the presidency even if he lost nationally by 7 million votes.

Wegman argued that there might nevertheless be an upside to Trump's post-election crisis.

"I actually hope it pushes us further in the direction of reforming what is so clearly a system that is not built for the 21st century and Americans' expectations of what it means to live in a modern democracy," he said.

In "Let the People Pick the President," Wegman endorses the idea of the National Popular Vote Compact. Under this scheme, already adopted by many legislatures in blue states, states agree to give their Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote as long as enough other states representing 270 electors have agreed to do so, too. Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, recently famous for his role as the lead impeachment manager in Trump's Senate trial, introduced the legislation in 2007 as a state lawmaker that allowed Maryland to become the first to adopt the compact.

It's a clever pathway to get around most of the problems with the Electoral College without needing to pass a constitutional amendment on the matter, which is widely regarded as politically impossible. The hope is that, if it were ever in effect, Americans would get used to the process and the right to pick the president by popular vote, so amending the Constitution to make it permanent would become feasible.

Getting there, though, is the tricky part. Republicans in state legislatures resist the idea because they're aware that their party currently benefits from the Electoral College. And swing states — which, by definition, are necessary to reach 270 electors — have the strongest incentives to keep the current systems in place because they benefit from it enormously.

Wegman suggested that red state legislatures who see their states trending Democratic in the future might be persuaded to adopt the popular vote compact. The winner-take-all system would, if the opposite party takes control, completely nullify any Republican votes for president in their state. So they may see the compact as a way to preserve their relevance and protect their voices.

But Shor is not so optimistic about the national vote compact, calling the plan a "dead end."

"You can only get solidly blue states to pass this thing," he said. "And we're not going to have trifectas in Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, or Michigan, or any of these other places."

Shor said one plan that helps the Democratic position a bit would be making Puerto Rico a state — a change many have called for on separate grounds. He estimated that adding the island as a state "would erase something like 10 percent of the Electoral College bias." (D.C. statehood, on the other hand, makes no difference in the Electoral College, since it already selects electors.)

In his work, Shor spends more time thinking about how Democrats can cope with the structural bias against them, rather than whether the problem can be fixed. His main answer is that Democrats have to hone their messages to compensate for the game being rigged against them.

"The source of this Electoral College bias as it exists is that as education polarization goes up, generally speaking, that leads to a lot of wasted votes," he said. "Roughly speaking, who does well in these large midwestern states determines the presidency. As those places trend more Republican, unless we do better and reverse education polarization, it's unlikely to go away any time soon."

Basically, the problem for Democrats is that white people without college degrees — who are increasingly favoring Republicans — are overrepresented in swing states.

"We have to turn around and try to appeal to voters in these states that matter more. Which really sucks," he said. "We just have to care more about what midwestern white people think."

Of course, the fundamental idea in a democracy should be that nobody's vote counts more than anyone else's. That's the egalitarian commitment that underlies the system and gives it moral and popular legitimacy. The Electoral College as it's currently set up undermines all that — it says that the rational thing for politicians to do is to care more about certain voters than others, just as Shor advises.

That's the crisis we're living with. And it could easily get worse. Not only is the institution that picks the presidency skewed against the popular will, one of the two major parties is increasingly authoritarian and opposed to democracy. And now, Trump has blazed a path for future challenges to election results, even if has failed.

"Now the sharks are circling, because now they know there's blood in the water," said Wegman. "The party that refuses to try to appeal to more people in a representative democracy has only one way to power, and that's through the manipulation of existing mechanisms to entrench minority rule. And that will kill American democracy. And that will kill the republic."

The GOP has been working hard at this for years. While it's widely known that Republicans heavily gerrymandered congressional districts to their advantage in 2010, Shor argued that even more significant is what happened to state legislatures — the bodies with the ultimate authority over how we pick the president.

"I think this is one of the most under-remarked things in politics," Shor said. "State legislative lines are substantially more gerrymandered than congressional ones. They have more districts to work with. People's intuitions on this are totally wrong. The more districts you have, the easier it is."

With Republicans in control of many key state legislatures, gerrymandering in Republicans' favor is likely going to get worse as we head into another round of redistricting. That means the people who control elections, including the Electoral College, will likely become even more disconnected from the voters and even more extreme. This week, the Arizona legislature even considered a proposal that could potentially let it override the way its people vote in a presidential election, if the legislators so chose.

What's most remarkable to me is that throughout all these crises, the leadership of the Democratic Party seems to lack all urgency. There's certainly a time for calm, stately leadership. But Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Biden have rarely made the point that there is something fundamentally broken in American democracy. That encourages the media to treat the grossly skewed system of the Electoral College, which keeps throwing the country into chaos and corrupting politicians' incentives, as an acceptable part of the country. And the lulls the public into thinking this is just the way things are, and we have to learn to live with it.

At least until the next crisis.

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