Enshrining Our Democratic Norms Into Law

by Peter Bandrowsky

There is a lot to be mad about with how our country is currently being governed. Even if one ignores the content of the policies our Republican leaders are trying to enact (which is pretty bad), the methods of how Republicans are governing is outright disgraceful. 

Republicans blocked Obama from appointing federal judges during the end of his administration (including a Supreme Court judge), only to pack the courts with unqualified ideologues once they came back into power. Republicans overhauled the entire tax system in only a month through a process known as reconciliation, which allowed them to avoid gathering 60 Senate votes, even though the process was designed only for small budgetary adjustments. Through gerrymandering, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and now the possibility of partisan adjustments to the census, the Republican party is trying to ensure that it remains in power regardless of what the American people actually want.

In an ideal world, these scenarios wouldn’t even come up in passing thought, let alone be actively pursued by the governing party. That is because in an ideal world, the two parties exist to advocate different ideals and perspectives that can be debated out and that, while a universal consensus may almost never be reached, it can be assumed that both sides’ underlying goal is the betterment of a shared country.

It is becoming harder and harder each day to believe that any remnant of that ideal world still exists.

A common refrain against Trump and the Republicans has always been that they are breaking “democratic norms.” What that means is that they are breaking that ideal world I just described, that ideal world that the Founders believed America would be. These norms existed as norms because it could be taken for granted that anyone passionate about public service would follow them.

With the politicization of our judiciary through blocking appointments and stacking benches with ideologues, these norms have been broken, and can no longer be taken for granted.

With the ramming through of partisan bills that overhaul the entire economy without even an ounce of effort to garner bipartisan support, these norms have been broken, and can no longer be taken for granted.

With the partisan manipulation of elections through gerrymandering and removing of voting rights, these norms have been broken, and can no longer be taken for granted.

When Democrats come back into power, there will likely be those who argue that we should use the exact same tactics as the Republicans did in order to pack more progressive judges or ram through single-payer. If we do those things, not only will we be hypocrites, but we will be damaging our country permanently. Though we can give cries of “The Republicans did it first!” all day, if we retake power, it will be our choice as to whether the breaking of norms we lamented over becomes a permanent erosion or not.

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Peter is currently the Outreach Director for the University of Cincinnati College Democrats. 

Yes, if we encode some of these norms into law (like bringing back the filibuster for judicial nominees, or ensuring that reconciliation can’t be used as a “cheat mode” for the Senate), it will be harder to enact our agenda. That is a small price to pay for ensuring that we’ll even have opportunities to enact agendas in the future. 

I cannot pretend that this type of government reform would be easy to formulate or pass. However, I do fundamentally believe that a type of reform such as this, where norms are enshrined into law, is necessary in order to stop the erosion of our democratic values and processes. Even if we can hold back the worst instincts of Trump, a smarter Republican could come right back and sink our democracy further. Though it may be easier for us to follow the Republicans’ dirty tactics, for the sake of our country, we have to be better.

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