In the two years since Pineal Express has been running, we, its operators, have sought to raise awareness about the major problems facing our species. Such problems include climate change, the risk of technological dystopia, and the latest rise of the authoritarian far-right worldwide.
These problems have been worsened by the United States. But the United States also has the potential to ameliorate them, provided that its government is functional enough to do so. For that reason, among others, it is important that the United States government not fall into chronic stagnation, dysfunction, or in the extreme case: collapse or despotism.
Presently, there are numerous structural weaknesses which threaten the efficacy and long term health of the United States government. Among these weaknesses is the electoral college, which has contradicted the popular vote in the election of two out of the last three presidents in their first terms. For demographic reasons and electoral vote apportionments over time, that kind of incongruity between the electoral college and popular vote may become more frequent, not less.
Another structural weakness is legislative district gerrymandering on the state and federal level, now aided by precise, computer-driven optimization of legislative maps for partisan advantage, thereby making control of some legislative districts effectively voter-proof.
Yet another structural weakness is the states’ leeway to enact laws which suppress voter turnout, chiefly among minorities, the poor, and the young.
Still another weakness includes the campaign finance system, which allows for a kind of legalized corruption in government, with candidates at every stage of the electoral process disproportionately influenced by, if not outright dependent upon, those entities which bankroll them most.
There is also the inherently unrepresentative nature of the US Senate, where right now the 40 million people living in California get two senators, whereas the 40 million people living in the least populated states get a combined total of forty-four senators. The scale of this problem may grow even more severe with demographic change over time.
Lastly, there’s the Supreme Court, which is theoretically vulnerable to a cadre of ideologues capitalizing on their lifetime tenure to spend decades setting aside legal precedent in favor of enacting a partisan judicial agenda. One wonders precisely how close we are to that now.
These structural weaknesses threaten the functionality and stability of the United States government because they make the government less representative of and less responsive to the general public. Furthermore, they raise the chances that an oligarchic minority can use government to stymie anti-corruption reforms or to consolidate undue power.
It is worth mentioning that elected Republicans benefit disproportionately from each of these structural weaknesses, and therefore, they have an incentive to maintain the status quo insofar as they can. Hence there is great challenge in pursuing a reform agenda.
Joining us today to talk about the pressing need to solve these fundamental problems of representation in the US government is Harvard Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig has argued that the United States has become “ungovernable” and that new, unprecedented efforts to reform the system are necessary. These efforts could include specific reform-minded election strategies, or an Article V Convention to propose constitutional amendments. Professor Lessig details his strategies for fixing our broken government on his podcast, Another Way. We do recommend listening to Another Way in tandem with this episode of Pineal Express.
Thanks to EllE for this episode’s intro.
EllE (electronic music):
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