What is the current state of American democracy, and what can be done to improve it? Three legal and political experts weighed in on those questions during a recent panel discussion at UC Berkeley.
Steve Silberstein is a member of National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that aims to work within the confines of the electoral college to ensure the presidential candidate who earns the most votes wins the presidency. Bertrall Ross teaches election law, constitutional law and legislation law at Berkeley Law. Steven Hayward is a senior resident scholar at Berkeleys Institute of Governmental Studies, and well-known conservative commentator.
The panel focuses on three key issues: voter participation, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. Silberstein begins by discussing the plan to switch to a national popular vote system without amending the constitution or passing congressional legislation. His group’s plan is to get states to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The total of electoral votes would need to be at least 270 for the plan to effectively sidestep the electoral college. As of now, enough states have agreed to bring that total to 194 electoral votes.
Silberstein argues this would change the way presidential campaigns operate, and force candidates to focus on issues that matter to the entire country, not just voters in swing states. Hayward cautions that while that may be the intent, there will likely be some unintended consequences. Hayward urging caution before pushing reform emerges as a theme throughout the night as the panel discusses redistricting, campaign finance, and universal basic income.
The world is seeing a rise in far-right politics, from Italy, to France, to Brexit, to President Trump. So, how did we get here? And, where exactly are we? Is this authoritarianism, fascism, populism, or something else? These are the questions political theorist Wendy Brown addresses in her talk, Neoliberalism’s Scorpion Tail: Markets and Morals Where Democracy Once Was.
Brown begins by outlining what she sees as the classical liberal thinking on the subject. The story goes like this: neoliberal economic policies devastated rural and suburban areas taking away decent jobs, pensions, schools, services and infrastructure as social spending dried up, and capital began to chase cheap labor and tax havens in the global south. At the same time, a cultural gap grew between those rural and suburban communities, and urban centers. Rural families were alienated, left behind, and felt like strangers in their own land. This feeling was coupled with enduring racism as immigrant communities transformed some suburban neighborhoods and the politics of equality appeared to the uneducated white male, to favor everyone but him.
Brown says that story is incomplete. She argues it fails to address a key component of neoliberalism: the idea that society and robust democracy disrupt the natural hierarchy of markets and traditional morals. Brown argues that classical neoliberalism seeks to disintegrate society and universal suffrage, leading to a world where those who were historically dominant – the white male in particular – feel that dominance fade. What is left, are feelings of rage and resentment. Brown imagines two possible futures for those feelings, one bleaker than the next. First, she describes world in which politics are based solely on spite and revenge. The second option? A reversal of values, where those who have lost the world they feel historically entitled to seek to destroy it. But, she leaves some room for hope if humanity can draw deeply from our imaginations, courage and grit.
The presidential election is over, but there is still a lot to be learned from the votes.
A panel of experts comprised by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies analyzes President Obama’s re-election and what it can tell us about the President’s second term.
Was this election a demand for Obama’s return or was it merely a rejection of Republican candidate Mitt Romney? Obama won with a smaller majority then he did in his first election. Is this a reflection of the president’s leadership in his first term? Can we expect changes in his policy?
What does our democracy require of us? What are our shared values? How do we define and create a common good?
The “Searching for Democracy” series from Cal Humanities tackles these and other tough questions about the evolution of civic conversation and the changing nature of democracy over time through conversations between a range of guests, including journalists, public intellectuals, scholars, policy specialists and more.
You can find all the “Searching for Democracy” programs from this year and last at the series page, but here’s a taste of what kind of conversations are in store.
“Is Civility Overrated?” with Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley Henry Brady, the Institute for Civility in Government’s Cassandra Dahnke, Arizona State University communications and performance scholar Jennifer Linde, and economist and anthropologist Meenakshi Chakraverti
“Is Democracy Too Slow?” with Harvard professor Ezra Vogel, European Union watcher and civic participation expert Janice Thomson, and attorney and activist Christine Pelosi
And coming in March, “Is Diversity Bad for Democracy?” with “The Almanac of American Politics” co-editor Michael Barone, UC Irvine sociologist Jennifer Lee, and City University of New York scholar Richard Alba
What does the death of newspapers mean for holding powerful institutions accountable? Who’s going to carry the torch?
The first program in the wide-ranging and fascinating “Searching for Democracy” series from Cal Humanities tackles these tough and important questions. Join Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis, documentary filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, and investigative journalist Carrie Lozano for a thought-provoking discussion about who will become the guardian of democracy in this fluctuating technological age.
Watch “What Does Vigilance Mean After Newspapers?” online now. And stay tuned throughout the month for more in the “Searching for Democracy” series featuring esteemed scholars, public intellectuals, policy specialists, journalists, and authors for conversation and dialogue on the evolution of civic conversation and the changing nature of democracy over time.