Paul Krugman posts a very interesting piece on his blog today by Kim Lane Scheppele about the current state of politics in Hungary. Scheppele notes that after winning the last election the Fidesz party is radically re-writing the constitution in very anti-democratic ways, attempting to make Fidesz policy and political power permanent.
While I would never compare our government to all the changes tragically moving Hungary toward authoritarianism, I think a few of the changes wanted by those trying to undermine democracy are familiar and should be a warning sign for Americans. From Scheppele:
The new election law specifies the precise boundaries of the new electoral districts that will send representatives to the parliament.
The new constitution makes huge swaths of public policy changeable only by a two-thirds vote of any subsequent parliament. From here on, all tax and fiscal policy must be decided by a two-thirds supermajority. Even the precise boundaries of electoral districts cannot be changed by simple majority vote, but only by a two-third supermajority. If a new government gets a mere majority, policies instituted during the Fidesz government cannot be changed.
Effectively unchangeable legislative borders that will produce unrepresentative elections are familiar. It’s not just gerrymandering; this is how the United States Senate is constructed, and over the past two hundred years the horribly unrepresentative nature of the Senate has gotten dramatically worse.
A supermajority requirement to approve basic laws is also familiar. This is basically what the filibuster has become in the Senate, although technically a simple majority of the Senate could exercise procedural hardball and change the rules to eliminate the filibuster.
In America the 600,000 people of Washington DC are denied the right to vote for Congress, something so transparently anti-democratic even the would-be authoritarians in Hungary have not dared to adopt it yet.
If another democracy tried to impose on itself some of the features that currently are part of our Federal government, the effort would be correctly seen as attempting to subvert democracy. Other countries and international groups would rightly decry the moves.
Americans for the most part weakly accept the design of the Senate, the use/abuse of the filibuster, and DC’s lack of voting rights, because these anti-democratic features have been around for a long time. Many in Congress and the media even talk about the greatness of some of these anti-democratic elements because they are traditions. But just because something unjust has been around a long time doesn’t make it right.
These elements are clearly antithetical to the small “d” democratic principle of one person one vote. That becomes easier to see when we take a step back or observe others as an outsider.