Way back when Donald J Trump was President there was a constant drumbeat from liberals (there were liberals then) arguing that Trump violated norms of American governance without a second thought. They were right. Trump routinely flouted behavioral norms. Moreover he did so brazenly and out in the open, often to cheers from his backers.
Chuck Schumer, along with 47 other Senate Democrats, has done him one better. The Majority Leader, knowing all the while that he would lose, called for a vote to end the filibuster. With the votes of Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and all 50 Republicans the motion was defeated 52 – 48 and the filibuster rule held. (Note to the arithmetically challenged Bernie Sanders: 52 votes is a majority of the Senate.)
One positive, if you can call it that, that resulted from the vote is that it ripped away the increasingly flimsy mask that the Democratic Party has been hiding behind. Party leaders have insisted that theirs is a big tent tent party with moderates, liberals and progressives. That fiction has been exposed for the lie that it is. The vote by 48 of 50 Democratic Senators to effectively eliminate the filibuster was a vote to turn the Senate into the House. The Senate, originally designed to be a deliberative body that sought consensus through compromise, would be instantaneously transformed into the House where naked partisanship rules.
Back in 2017, then President Donald J Trump tried to muscle Mitch McConnell into eliminating the filibuster. At that time, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led a bipartisan group of 61 Senators who wrote a letter to the Senate Leadership urging the retention of the filibuster. All told 29 Republicans (then the majority party) and 32 Democrats signed on to letter—including Kamala Harris (D-CA). In the event, McConnell refused to call for a change in the rules and the filibuster was maintained.
Fast forward to 2022. With President Joe Biden (D-Teleprompter) cheerleading in the background, 48 of 50 Democratic Senators voted to end the filibuster. That group includes many who signed the original letter in 2017. The text of the letter and the list of co-signatories can be seen here.
This goes beyond routine political hypocrisy. It represents an attempt to fundamentally alter the governance structure of the American republic. Abolishing the filibuster would strip away voices of the minority party; it would give more power to the fringe elements of the political parties; it would eliminate the Senate’s institutional role as a deliberative body and would move us closer to mob rule. Not only that, the hyper partisanship of short term majoritarianism would bring about instability in policy making. Policy choices would careen back and forth as one party or the other grabbed power and played to its base by passing laws without regard to compromise and consensus.
What is just astonishing is that Chuck Schumer and his fellow Democrats act as if they are oblivious to all this. They must know that in all likelihood they are going to lose their majority status in the House come November. Moreover they have a good shot of losing the Senate as well. And yet, they are hell bent on depriving the minority party—which they are about to become—of procedural tools that keep them in the game.
The Democrats ought to do a thought experiment. Imagine that in 2024, the Republicans win the White House, the Senate and the House. Couple that with a conservative leaning Supreme Court. Now imagine that the victor in the Presidential contest is none other than Donald J Trump. Further suppose that the victorious Republican Party is Trumpier than it is now. Think about the policy initiatives that could become law by a strict partisan vote.
Perhaps we would have a single rate flat tax. (Note: I would actually be in favor of that, if done the right way). Almost certainly there would be a partisan vote to construct a wall on the Southern border. Immigration would be drastically curtailed. Tariffs on disfavored industries would become the norm. Abortion rights would be severely curtailed, if not eliminated. (Abortion rights should actually be regulated by the several States). The checks and balances of federalism and local control would be made unrecognizable as one side or the other centralized power and began dictating (for instance) local school policies. The Justice Department would be thoroughly politicized. The removal of institutional constraints on government power would unleash the worst features of human nature and would threaten liberty in ways we can only imagine.
We would have a government whose policies would only reflect short term passions that shift with the wind. There would be little policy consistency. Planning for investment in long-term projects would be a useless exercise when the rules are continually subject to change. Business would have an even greater incentive to lobby for economic rents than they do now. Competition and innovation would greatly suffer. Politics would become even more divisive. In short, eliminating the filibuster changes institutional incentives in a way that invites policy and political catastrophe across many dimensions.
And for what? So that Chuck Schumer has leg up on a potential primary challenge by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
By its failed vote to abolish the filibuster, the Democratic Party has served notice that, as an institution, it is no longer interested in minority rights. Once they have 50 votes plus 1, they will abolish the filibuster. Citizens will no longer be voting for an independent Democratic senatorial candidate; if Democrats achieve a majority of a few votes they will abolish the filibuster. It won’t matter where an individual candidate stands; there are already 48 Senators ready and willing to move. Two or three more will put them over the top.
This descent into naked partisanship clothed in the language of majoritarianism to the exclusion of minority rights is a threat to the freedoms of all Americans. In acting this way, the Democratic Party, now owned and operated by illiberal progressives has shown itself to be ill-suited to govern. Just like the man whose behavior they imitate but claim to loathe: Donald J Trump.