Corey Robin is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The London Review of Books, and The New York Times, and he is the author of three books: Fear: The History of a Political Idea (2004), The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011), and, most recently, The Enigma of Clarence Thomas (2019). (February 2020)
When people express concern about the consequences of pandemic politics for democracy, they are thinking of a fairly familiar, and limited, repertoire of activities—voting, primaries, conventions, marching in the streets. But the counter-tradition of “inauspicious democracy” teaches us that the world of established institutions and familiar tactics, even if those tactics once belonged to protest movements past, is not the only place to look for democracy. It presses us instead to see how subordinate classes might use their leverage as “essential workers” to bring about a greater democratization of the whole.
Eighteen percent of the American population—on average, whiter and older than the rest of the population—can elect a majority of the Senate. The problem of minority rule, in other words, isn’t Trumpian or temporary; bipartisan and enduring, it is a keystone of the constitutional order. And arguably, given the constitutional provision that “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate,” this rule by a minority cannot be eliminated or overcome, at least not without a huge social upheaval.