Kevin Drum is a progressive activist of long-standing. But, he says, he parts company with many contemporaries who think American Democracy is imperiled by Republican advantages in the Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court. (Long argument to this effect in the Times). Drum:
Of course, if democracy really is under threat then it’s hardly toxic to point this out and fight it. But is it? I understand that mine is an unpopular view these days among progressives, but of course it’s not. America has had gerrymandering, the Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court since the beginning, and liberals rarely worried that they were an existential threat to democracy. Democrats controlled Congress for nearly 50 straight years after World War II and liberals didn’t think it was a threat to democracy. The Warren Court upended constitutional law in the ’60s and liberals didn’t think it was a threat to democracy. The Senate has only barely changed for over a hundred years, and Democrats haven’t historically had any special problem controlling it for a fair share of the time. Just recently, Democrats passed Obamacare even though it was unanimously opposed by Republicans and only barely eked out majority support from the public. Liberals didn’t consider this a threat to democracy. And in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage? No threat to democracy there.This is where I am, too: if American is screwed up, that's mostly because Americans are screwed up. The government largely reflects the people. Neither progressives nor conservatives can achieve much of what they want, because American voters don't support it. I think by far the biggest obstacle to the will of the American people is not the Senate or the Electoral College but the two-party system, which insures that some issues with a lot of support can't be enacted and turns others into partisan footballs.
Democracy in practice is never a perfect representation of majority rule. Every democratic country has institutions that get in the way of perfect representation, and this is often considered a good thing: the Senate as a counterweight to the passions of the House, for example, or the Supreme Court as the guarantor of the rights of the minority vs. the will of the majority. Rather, the foundation of democracy is that the people mostly get what they want most of the time. And in America they do, even if, like every country, we’re imperfect on this score, especially if you’re poor or non-white.
Neither of the two major parties has recently exercised total control over our national agenda, but it’s safe to say that over the past 50 years or so, Democrats have mostly won the culture war while Republicans have won the economic war. The reason, like it or not, is that this is basically what the American public wants. Liberals have made their case for gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and so forth, and Americans have hopped on board. Conservatives have made the case for tax cuts and business friendly policies, and Americans have largely hopped on board with that too.
None of this has been the result of gerrymandering or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the Electoral College except at the margins. It’s been almost entirely the result of parties persuading the American public to support their views. Both tax cuts and the ADA were popular. Both the Iraq War and gay marriage were popular. Both immigration restrictions and national health care are, currently, somewhat popular. But only somewhat. That’s why we don’t yet have either one. To put it simply, democracy is alive and well in the United States, and the institutional exceptions are relatively mild and of long standing.