RBG, minority rule, and our looming legitimacy crisis

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The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just weeks before a presidential election, leaves us in dangerous waters. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the election outcome is contested by one side and is ultimately determined by a Supreme Court with the deciding vote cast by Trump's recent appointee. Indeed, both Sen. Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump have named this scenario as driving their urgency to replace Ginsburg. At that point, a legitimacy crisis looms.

Suzanne Mettler is the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University. Her work has focused on trust between citizens and their governments, but recently, she’s co-written, with Robert Lieberman, a book that is tailor-made for this moment: Four Threats: The Recurring Crisis of American Democracy. Its thesis is a dark one: America’s most dangerous political crises have been driven by four kinds of threat -- political polarization, democratic exclusion, economic inequality, and executive power. But this is the first time all four threats are present simultaneously.

“It may be tempting to think that we have weathered severe threats before and that the Constitution protected us,” they write. “But that would be a misreading of history, which instead reveals that democracy is indeed fragile, and that surviving threats to it is by no means guaranteed.”

We discuss where Ginsburg's passing leaves us, what 2020 election scenarios we should be most worried about, what the tumultuous election of 1800 can teach us about today, how this moment could foster exactly the democratic reckoning this country needs, whether court packing and filibuster elimination will save American democracy or destroy it, when people know they’re benefiting from government programs and when they don’t, and more.

Book recommendations:

Good Enough for Government Work by Amy Lerman

Fragmented Democracy by Jamila Michener

With Ballots and Bullets by Nathan Kalmoe

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