- - Wednesday, December 8, 2021

American democracy is being undermined by an attack on majority rule, and the consequence will be a “tyranny of the minority,” according to a preeminent scholar of U.S. political history.

In this episode of History As It Happens, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz discusses the tension between the imperative of majority rule and the necessity of protecting minority rights.

The tension dates to our founding in the battle between the federalists and anti-federalists in the ratification of the Constitution. Our current problems also have antecedents in the controversy over nullification in the early 1830s and the secession crisis of 1860-61.

Today, Mr. Wilentz warns, Republican officials loyal to former President Donald Trump are deliberately eroding public confidence in the election system by falsely claiming the 2020 election was rigged, thereby rendering President Biden’s electoral majority invalid. Public opinion polls indicate a significant percentage of Republican voters fully or partly believe these claims even though they have been thoroughly debunked.

Moreover, the combination of gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws passed in dozens of states, the politicization of state-level election boards, and the ongoing abuse of the filibuster to thwart legislation in the Senate threatens to make permanent the “rule of the minority,” according to the Princeton scholar.

“Democracy is a fine thing, but it has many, many vulnerabilities,” said Mr. Wilentz, the author of “The Rise of American Democracy.”

“There is the vulnerability of majority tyranny, something the framers were very concerned about… But by the same token, you can have a majoritarian system which is undone by minorities. So there is always this tension, and sometimes the tension can be owned. But sometimes [the system] breaks down and I think it is breaking down now,” Mr. Wilentz said.

To listen to Mr. Wilentz discuss the history of “minority rule” in American politics, from John C. Calhoun to present day, download this episode of History As It Happens.

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