Why the Filibuster Must Die
In consensus decision making, one person can block consensus. This may be the most inclusive form of decision-making, respecting all individuals above any majority group. We don’t have rule by consensus in the United States government. Our political culture is not one of mutual respect where common goals are shared and differences in pathways to reach those goals are seriously considered. If we did things by consensus, the Senate would immediately come to a complete halt.
The Senate is nearly at a complete standstill as it is. That is because we don’t allow for democratic decision making. We have adulterated the democratic process so that a “super-majority” is needed to pass laws, under threat of filibuster.
The filibuster, like the Electoral College, is hedge against democracy. The People can make mistakes, can vote for the wrong candidate. But the nature of democracy is that over time, with enough people participating, corrections will come and the People will make the right choices. To be afraid of free democracy — to rely on elite gatekeepers to filibuster popular choices or to weigh some votes more than others in an electoral college — this is a vestige of the time when all decisions were made by White, property-owning men. The opposition to the filibuster comes from fear of so-called mob rule. If we truly believe in democracy, we have to allow the People the power to make decisions on their own.
This power isn’t completely unfettered — we have relied on courts to curb the will of the majority when it harms a minority — but within the system of representative democracy, it has to be all or nothing. To hold on to the filibuster is to consider the People to be children who can’t be trusted to rule themselves.
“But what happens when our party is in the minority?”
When our party is in the minority, it means that the majority of people have elected the other party. If our party more accurately represents the will of the people, then outside of shenanigans like voter suppression and gerrymandering, our party will be the one that the People elect to represent them. Ideally, we would have a parliamentary system that would allow for more parties, and those parties would have to come into alliances to enact legislation. But we don’t have such a sophisticated political system. We have a dumbed down form of democracy suited to our hyper-competitive culture. If our party loses control of of the Senate, it means that the other party gets to pass laws. If we lived in a bygone era in which parties would compromise in order to secure a 60-vote support for legislation to move forward, that would be one thing. But we don’t. We live in a simple winner-takes-all political system. It’s not ideal, but it is, potentially, a true form of democracy.
The filibuster exists because people in power do not completely trust the public to make decisions. It is the same reason that we don’t have direct voting in presidential elections. There was a fear that the unwashed masses might not choose properly. Both of these vestiges of hierarchical elitism have to go. And they have to go now if we are to make any real progress toward a survivable future.