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The Challenge of Democracy

By Steve Zolno Democracy is threatened around the world in our day, and many of us wonder what might be done to save it. The answer lies in each of us taking responsibility for its success. Democracy has been the exception throughout human history. As far back as we can see, most countries have been divided into rulers and those who are ruled. Although it was hoped, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union, that increasing democratization would be an irreversible trend, we know now that is not the case. The attempt of people in countries once part of the Soviet Union to move in the direction of democracy – Poland and Hungary are examples – has largely been crushed. Other countries that once had a semblance of democracy – the Philippines, Burma, Turkey and Nicaragua to name a few – now are turning toward greater autocracy. Even in long-established democracies there are large “populist” movements working to create division, claiming they are oppressed and that minorities are

An Open Letter to Charles Grassley

 Dear Senator Grassley:   Let me get right to the point. Here’s what you said in February of this year, shortly after the January 6 Capitol insurrection: "President Trump continued to argue that the election had been stolen even though the courts didn't back up his claims. He belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way. He encouraged his own, loyal vice president, Mike Pence, to take extraordinary and unconstitutional actions during the Electoral College count....There's no doubt in my mind that President Trump's language was extreme, aggressive, and irresponsible."   In October of this year, on the eve of Trump’s endorsement of your bid for an eighth term in the Senate, here’s what you said, referring to Trump: "I was born at night, but not last night. So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91% of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement."   S

Reform California's Undemocratic Recall

 The ability to recall elected officials was supposed to make California’s political system more democratic. Those paying attention have become aware of how truly dysfunctional the California recall process is, now with Gavin Newsom fixed in its sites. The California recall has a combination of features that gives a minority party, in this case the Republicans, a good chance of grabbing power without majority support.   In order to appreciate California’s uniquely undemocratic recall process, it’s useful to contrast that process with those of other states. According to the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and some additional research, almost all the 19 states that permit recall of state officers can be divided into three groups: (1) five states have a single, simultaneous recall and replacement election, in which the officer subject to the recall appears on the ballot alongside the candidates seeking to replace him or her, and the recall will fail if the off

On Mask Mandate Bans

 Permitting mask mandates in places where the spread of Covid 19 is high seems like a no brainer. Yet it has become a subject of great controversy, with some Republican governors mandating a ban on mask mandates, overriding the judgments of local government and school officials that requiring mask wearing in indoor spaces is the best way to protect the public health. What’s going on here? One way to think about the current dispute is in terms of two different ideas of freedom, one derived from our Constitution, the other coming from our Culture Wars.   First, some background. The evidence is clear that masks can both significantly protect the wearer against the virus, depending on the mask, and, even more, can significantly impede the mask wearer’s ability to transmit the virus. Hence the reported case in Springfield, Missouri where two hairstylists infected by Covid but wearing masks did not infect the 139 customers with whom they came in contact. Because those infected with Covid a