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The president of the United States was the runner-up in the popular vote. The majority in the US Senate got fewer votes than the minority. And even if Democrats win a hefty majority of the vote in 2018’s House elections, Republicans, due to gerrymandering and geography, may retain control of the chamber.
But it’s not just the structure of our system that eats at America’s democratic claims. It’s the rules being layered on top of it. In 2017, 99 bills to limit voting have been introduced in 31 states. Recent years have seen an explosion of laws meant to make it harder for Americans — particularly nonwhite, young, and poorer Americans — to vote. America calls itself a democracy, but it's elected officials are actively working to make democratic participation harder.
This is nothing new, says Carol Anderson, chair of Emory’s African-American studies department, and author of the new book One Person, No Vote. Efforts to limit the franchise, to ensure power remained where it was even as the trappings of democracy gave it legitimacy, are as old as the country itself.
“Right now, our democracy is in crisis,” she says. This is a conversation about the distance between what America claims to be, what it is, and how much worse it can get. It's about the continuity between past violations of our democracy that we all understand and condemn and present violations that cloak their true nature.
With the 2018 election around the corner, this is a conversation we all need to be having.
Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman
One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse
White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin Kruse
It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein