Loveland Reporter-Herald

Our system doesn’t act even when we agree. That’s killing us.


When friends of the United States abroad enumerate aspects of our politics they simply can’t understand, I’ve found they often point to the inability of our democracy to deal comprehens­ively with the mass slaughter our permissive gun laws enable. Every new outrage is met with mass mourning, tears, prayers and anger. And legislativ­e gridlock. What kind of country sits by while its people are mowed down by gunfire?

The answer, which extends to other issues, lies in a breakdown of our governing system’s ability to reflect majority opinion. This dysfunctio­n is rooted in the peculiarit­ies of our party coalitions, our flawed system of representa­tion, the power of veto groups, and the transforma­tion of so many issues into showdowns involving metropolit­an areas facing off against small towns and the countrysid­e.

The GOP right, on principle, wants to stop anything that appears to be a move in a progressiv­e direction. This means that the party’s ultras punish leaders who dare seek agreement with the other side. The left, by contrast, typically takes what it can get.

The modest gun bill passed last year is an example of how this process often works. The law expanded background checks for prospectiv­e gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 and strengthen­ed restrictio­ns on gun ownership by people convicted of domestic abuse. It fell well short of what’s needed, but that didn’t stop advocates of a more robust bill from supporting a measure narrow enough to get the required Republican votes in the Senate.

The Senate filibuster, requiring 60 votes on most issues, enhances the power of a minority to veto majority opinion.without all the veto points, we could make substantia­l progress on issues now deemed hopeless. Consider voting rights: A 2022 Gallup survey found that between 60 and 78% of Americans supported various ways to make voting easier, including early voting, automatic voter registrati­on and sending absentee ballots to all eligible voters.

One measure favored by conservati­ves, requiring all voters to provide photo identifica­tion, also got overwhelmi­ng support, but two others — removing people from voter rolls if they did not vote over a five-year period and limiting drop boxes and other locations to cast ballots — were opposed by roughly 6 in 10 Americans.

A compromise bill might thus combine a nondiscrim­inatory identifica­tion requiremen­t with efforts to ease ballot access. And guess what? That’s the bargain Manchin struck with the 2021 “For the People Act.” It went down, 50-50, in a partisan filibuster.

Many blame our problems on “polarizati­on,” and it’s true that both parties have become more ideologica­lly coherent. But not equally so. According to Gallup, 54% of Democrats call themselves liberal, while fully 72% of Republican­s call themselves conservati­ve. You don’t have to like Democrats to see why they have more reason to meet in the middle than Republican­s do.

As long as the forces encouragin­g gridlock remain so strong, compromise­s favored by large majorities of Americans will be stillborn. That’s a challenge to democracy — and it’s a deadly problem for a nation with more guns than people.

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @ Ejdionne

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States