Ending minority rule

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Ending minority rule

On Saturday night, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as the 114th Justice of the Supreme Court. It was the culmination of nearly two decades in America, starting with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, where a distinct minority has seized the lion's share of political power in America.

Kavanaugh was nominated by Trump, who lost the popular vote by more than 3 million votes. His nomination was opposed by 52% of Americans. The 51 Senators who voted to confirm him to the Supreme Court represent just 44% of the country. (The 49 Senators who voted against confirmation represent 56% of the country.)

There is an election in November, and it could shift some political power back to Democrats. But structurally, the deck is stacked in favor of Republicans. Many people will be quick to note that anti-majoritarian outcomes, including the electoral college and disproportional representation in the Senate, are built into the Constitution.

True. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Over the course of American history, the laws, and the Constitution have been changed to make the government more representative of the people. Voting rights were extended to African-Americans and women. Senators stopped being selected by state legislatures and started being elected directly by the people.

It can happen again.

Voting rights for Puerto Rico and DC

The only reason that Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice is that 700,000 taxpayers in DC and another 3.3 million in Puerto Rico are denied any representation in Congress.

It does not take a Constitutional amendment for DC or Puerto Rico to become a state. It could happen through an act of Congress, signed by the president. More Americans live in Puerto Rico than 21 states. DC has more people than Wyoming and Vermont.

It's possible that, in the next few years, Democrats could have control of the Presidency and both chambers of Congress. They could use this power to make America a more representative Democracy. (Numerous Republicans have also supported statehood for Puerto Rico over the years. They are less enthusiastic about DC.)

Electing the president by popular vote

The electoral college is a vestige of slavery and serves no useful purpose. It was originally designed as a compromise between Northerners, who wanted the president elected by popular vote, and Southerners, who wanted the president to be selected by Congress. The issue was that slaves could not vote but were counted as ⅗ of a person for the allocation of representatives. This accounted for 40% of the population of the South.

The electoral college was a middle ground that awarded electors, apportioned to states based on their congressional delegation, to the candidate that won that state's popular vote. The electors then select the president. Today, the electoral college distorts the popular vote in arbitrary ways.

There is also the issue of "faithless electors," who ignore the results and vote for whomever they wish.

Effectively ending the electoral college would not take a Constitutional amendment or even an act of Congress. Under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, states pledge to award their electors to whoever wins the popular vote in 50 states and the District of Columbia. It goes into effect when states representing 270 electors, a working majority, sign on.

So far it has been passed by 12 states representing 172 electoral votes. It has passed at least one chamber of the state legislature in 11 other states representing 89 electoral votes.

Fortune favors the bold

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously denied President Obama a hearing for his last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and held the seat open until a Republican was president. He then changed Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.  

Democrats like to complain about this, but it is unlikely to change McConnell's mind.

Instead, Democrats need to find a willingness to exercise political power when they have it. During the Obama administration, Democrats, at one point, controlled the House and had 60 votes in the Senate. But there was no concerted effort to grant DC or Puerto Rico statehood or pursue other structural changes.

Instead, there is an emphasis on preserving "norms." But the norm in American history is to create a more democratic system of government. Unless that process continues, outcomes will continue to diverge wildly from the will of the people.

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Jemele Hill, uncensored

Jemele Hill's life changed last year, a few months after becoming the co-host of ESPN's SportsCenter, when she tweeted that President Trump was a white supremacist. Now she was the story.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called on her to be fired, and Trump demanded an apology. ESPN said she violated its social media policy, but kept her on board.

Hill decided to leave the network in September. (She has since joined The Atlantic as a staff writer, started a production company and is working on several projects with LeBron James.)

Freed from the strictures of being an ESPN employee, Hill talked to Popular Information about Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West, LeBron James and, yes, her famous tweets.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your reaction to Brett Kavanaugh's testimony last Thursday?

I'm influenced by the fact that my mother is a rape survivor. One of my mother's friends tried to rape me when I was a preteen, so I'm seeing this through the prism of a survivor.

The entire tone of the hearings and how it's being discussed in the media, for survivors, it makes them relive a certain amount of pain. Most survivors know they won't be believed. You're imprisoned by the silence that's being imposed on you.

From Anita Hill to now, we've literally learned nothing, nothing. And so people often say: oh, you learn from history. We don't; we do not learn from history. What's even more disgusting and appalling is that this is somehow being used to turn this conversation to how this is impacting men, as if this is some kind of witch hunt on all men.

Why would a woman ever put herself through this, knowing that no one will believe you, your character will be attacked and, ultimately, you will be cast aside? Whereas whoever you have accused of this, nothing will happen to them. That's not a great blueprint to invite false reports.

Looking at the reaction to Ford's testimony, do you think that it would have been different if, like Anita Hill, she was a black woman?

There were a lot of people of color, a lot of black people that turned on Anita Hill because it was characterized as this is just another black woman trying to keep another black man down. As if that was a thing. And so Hill’s level of support was not nearly the level of support that Dr. Ford is receiving now. And that's not to say that because of that Dr. Ford doesn't deserve support.

It used to be legal to rape black women. That was legal. Okay. So black women have had to deal with this struggle of hiding and suppressing their own pain and trauma because the advancement of the race and the fight against institutional racism is considered to always be the top priority. Whatever misogyny, whatever trauma that we face has a much lower priority.

You tweeted that Trump was a white supremacist and that made you a national story. You haven't deleted them. ESPN later released a statement, and it said that you understood that your tweets were "inappropriate." Do you believe you tweets were inappropriate?

It was inappropriate because of my role at ESPN and because there was a social media policy and I violated it. There's no question about it. I very much understood why they respond the way that they did. The only issue I ever had was I didn't think they needed to respond at all.

I think there is a strong case for why the president is a white supremacist and that's why I haven't taken the tweets down. It would be silly to take them down because people know I said it.

It's something that I stand by to this day. And I don't regret saying it. The only regret that I have is that it continued to put ESPN in the crosshairs of a narrative that I thought was stupid, which was ESPN is a politically left-leaning company. It has never been that.

I think if you're a woman, a person of color, a marginalized citizen, it's hard for you to not feel as if you're vulnerable and under attack. There is a tone in government right now that people almost hate your very existence. You're asking me to forfeit everything I feel as a citizen to hide behind this title of journalist. I'm not a journalist 24 hours a day. That's what I do. It's not who I am.

In professional sports, many of the players are people of color but the ownership, with a few exceptions, is almost exclusively white. So, in a lot of cases, white owners are making the rules for black players. You talk to a lot of athletes. Is this a real dynamic that players struggle with?

They're very aware of the dynamic. They are very aware that their game, their behavior, their lives are policed in this dynamic of white ownership, black talent. This is why now, more than ever, you see certain athletes trying to put themselves in a position of ownership -- not necessarily owning a team, but owing their own brand.

That's why LeBron has taken Hollywood by storm. He's choosing to not only own his own narrative but the stories of the people who look like him. I think it speaks volumes about their understanding of how to win today's game.

A lot of players today are pretty outspoken politically. What do you think about the reverse? Is it OK for players to be like Michael Jordan and just worry about selling sneakers?

We have to look at where that responsibility is usually placed. It's not placed on white athletes. It's always placed on black athletes. And I think that they have every right to not speak to these issues because I'd rather everyone be honest about what they can contribute to the discussion.

Take Kanye West as an example. He has every right to espouse his beliefs and to support whoever he wants to. The problem is he's so ill-informed that everything he's contributing to the discussion is not constructive at all.

I think we have to look at Jordan's lack of vocal activism in context. He was never going to be the person who came out and supported a political candidate or spoke very directly to a particular issue facing the black community, The way that he chose to activate himself is to show athletes how they can be a global brand and retain a level of financial power and ownership. That in itself is valuable.

Tom Cruise can go out there and jump on the couch, and it's just about Tom Cruise. If you're a prominent black person or a person of color in this country, it gets tiring because you know with everything that you do, you are being used as an example of your community. So, I'm not surprised that there are some athletes who say I'd rather steer clear of it.

Do you think that there are people who are taking Kanye West seriously?

I mean if the question you're asking is if he is riling more black people to look at something differently, my sense is no. I have not seen any indication that is the case.

He is providing cover to those who support Trump. They can say this is proof that Donald Trump can't possibly be a racist or a white supremacist because Kanye West, his famous black friend, says he's not like that.

People have reduced this argument to Kanye going against the grain and not having typical "black Democratic thinking." I find that to be hilarious because anybody who knows anything about black people knows that black people are very conservative. What black people don't like is racism. And if that makes you a Democrat, I don't even know what to think about that. I thought we were all against racism.

This idea that black conservative voices are suppressed is a lie. My mother is a Christian conservative and, trust me, she feels free to say whatever she wants.  

Look at the number of black people who voted for George W. Bush. It was a lot. His ties to Christianity, his push for more funding for faith-based organizations -- that spoke directly to black people. So this idea that we're somehow incapable of conservative viewpoints is a lie.

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