One of the biggest divides in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is whether Donald Trump is a cause or a symptom of the current dysfunction in American politics. Joe Biden has argued the former — replace Trump and everything will go back to normal — while the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have based their campaigns on the need for “big, structural change.”
“The crisis in America is not its president,” Lessig writes in his opening pages. “Its president is the consequence of a crisis much more fundamental.” That crisis is the state of democracy itself.
You could fill an entire bookshelf with works about the crisis of democracy in the Trump era, but Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School, has been eloquently hammering this point longer than most. He isolates the problem with American democracy to one word: “unrepresentativeness.” Voter suppression undermines free and fair elections, gerrymandering allows politicians to pick their preferred electorate, the Senate and the Electoral College favor small states and swing states over the rest of the country and the post-Citizens United campaign-finance system gives a tiny handful of billionaires far more clout than the average small donor. “In every dimension, the core principle of a representative democracy has been compromised,” he writes (emphasis added).