Most Americans want better gun safety laws, but that won’t happen. (More)

Democracy Crumbling Part II: Ideas vs. Power

This week we give the Squirrel a few days off and put the resident faculty back to work for a series on Democracy Crumbling. Yesterday we began with our eroding democratic norms. Today we see how power can dominate over widely-shared ideas. Tomorrow we’ll restore the importance of ideas by exploring the power of collective action.

“This body … has done absolutely nothing”

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) spared no words in condemning Congress’ inaction on gun safety yesterday:

My heart goes out to the victims, their families, the first responders, and the entire Las Vegas community. Nowhere but America do horrific large-scale mass shootings happen with this degree of regularity.

This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.

Later in the day, Sen. Murphy took the floor in the Senate:

I think there is an unintentional endorsement that gets sent to these mass murderers when after slaughter after slaughter, Congress does nothing. If the greatest deliberative body in the world doesn’t do anything to condemn them by policy change, it starts to look like complicity.

The hurt is deep, the scars are wide in Newtown, but they are made wider by the fact that this body … has done absolutely nothing.

This is a growing fraternity, a tragic, awful fraternity: Members of Congress who represent states who have gone through horrific mass executions. This silence has become unintentional endorsement. It’s become a kind of sick complicity.

Compassion is important, but it is not enough.

In “the battle of ideas,” Democrats like Sen. Murphy have won. Gallup polls have found a consistent majority favoring stricter gun laws. In their most recent poll – October of 2016 – 55% favored stricter laws, while only 11% wanted less strict laws. And other polls agree:

  • Quinnipiac University (June 2017) – 54% favor stricter gun laws; 94% favor universal background checks; 57% say it’s too easy to buy a gun; only 35% believe we would be safer if more people owned guns.
  • CBS News (April 2017) – 54% favor stricter gun laws, while only 11% favor less strict laws.
  • McClatchy/Marist (July 2016) – 51% favor a ban on assault weapons and semi-automatic rifles.
  • Suffolk University/USA Today (June 2016) – 56% favor a ban on assault weapons; 76% favor banning gun sales to people on the ‘No-Fly’ list.
  • Quinnipiac University (June 2016) – 59% favor a ban on assault weapons; 86% favor banning gun sales to those on terrorist watch or ‘No-Fly’ lists.
  • CBS News/New York Times (January 2016) – 54% said stricter guns laws would do “a lot” or “some” help to prevent gun violence; only 43% said “a little” or “not at all.”

Yet since the Newtown Massacre, more states have made it easier to buy guns than have passed stricter gun laws and this week the House of Representatives were set to take up a bill to legalize gun silencers and narrow the federal definitions of ‘armor-piercing’ ammunition.

In short, most state legislatures, and Congress, have bent to the will of … the 11% who want less strict gun laws.

“This is going to be a boon to rich people”

It’s not just gun safety.

One aspect of the president’s new tax plan unveiled Wednesday – a joint product of the Trump administration and Republican leadership – calls for killing what Republicans refer to as the “death tax.”

Under current rules, a taxpayer can pass up to $5.49 million to heirs tax-free. For married couples it’s nearly $11 million. Above that amount, beneficiaries must pay a federal estate tax of 40 percent. (Currently, there are also 15 states and the District of Columbia that assess an estate tax, according to the Tax Foundation.)

Because of the sky-high threshold, only the wealthiest Americans now pay the federal levy.
“This is going to be a boon to rich people,” said David First, a CPA and co-partner-in-charge of the trusts and estates practice at accounting firm Marcum. “All the billionaires are going to save billions of dollars.”

Once again … dutifully following the will of that 10% who think the wealthy pay too much in taxes.

Battles of Ideas vs. War for Power

On issue after issue, polls show Americans favor Democrats’ policies. Yet on issue after issue, Republicans push – and often enact – policies that have trivially small popular support. Democrats are winning the metaphorical “battles of ideas” … but Republicans are winning the not-at-all-metaphorical war of power.

There are several reasons.

First, our federal system gives smaller states disproportionate representation in Congress and the Electoral College. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the 2016 popular vote, but the God-King won the Electoral College. And while the U.S. senators who filibustered Neil Gorsuch represented 53% of Americans, he is poised to cast the swing vote in a raft of cases that would further entrench Republican electoral dominance.

Second, geographic sorting and gerrymandering give the 2018 electoral map a historic pro-GOP bias. Yes, a July Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 52% of Americans want Democrats to win control of Congress in 2018, but the math shows that Democrats more than a 7% national advantage to flip the House.

Third – back to that U.S. Supreme Court docket – Republicans consistently pass laws that attack Democratic power bases. For example, corporations can fire employees who refuse to participate in corporate-chosen political campaigns – yes, really – but labor unions must have members’ consent to engage in politics and the Court will likely further restrict unions’ funding this year. Similarly, state Republicans reliably pass tighter restrictions on voting that contributed to a significant drop-off in Democratic voters in 2016. Oh, and Republicans plan to do that again.

Finally, limiting labor unions’ GOTV campaigns and making it harder to vote are especially important, because a new study found there are very few truly persuadable voters. Candidates and parties don’t win by convincing more voters to support them. They win by getting more of their supporters to vote.

Republicans are not winning many battles of ideas. On issue after issue, poll after poll shows that more voters support Democrats’ policies. Yet Republicans win elections – and enact policies with trivially tiny popular support – because they pass laws to enhance their power bases … and laws to erode Democrats’ power bases.

Put another way, Democrats can “win hearts and minds” … but Republicans are more willing to “do whatever it takes to win.”

Tomorrow we’ll examine whether – and how – we can restore democracy through collective action.


Image Credits — Democracy: Bryce Durbin (; Cracks: MothvalleySage (DeviantArt); Smoke and Painting effects: Crissie Brown (


Good day and good nuts