“This urgent book offers not only a clear-eyed explanation of the forces that broke our politics, but a thoughtful and, yes, patriotic vision of how we create a government that’s truly by and for the people.”—DAVID DALEY, bestselling author of Ratf**ked and Unrigged
In the vein of On Tyranny and How Democracies Die, the bestselling author of Republic, Lost argues with insight and urgency that our democracy no longer represents us and shows that reform is both necessary and possible.
America’s democracy is in crisis. Along many dimensions, a single flaw—unrepresentativeness—has detached our government from the people. And as a people, our fractured partisanship and ignorance on critical issues drive our leaders to stake out ever more extreme positions.
In They Don’t Represent Us, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig charts the way in which the fundamental institutions of our democracy, including our media, respond to narrow interests rather than to the needs and wishes of the nation’s citizenry. But the blame does not only lie with “them”—Washington’s politicians and power brokers, Lessig argues. The problem is also “us.” “We the people” are increasingly uninformed about the issues, while ubiquitous political polling exacerbates the problem, reflecting and normalizing our ignorance and feeding it back into the system as representative of our will.
What we need, Lessig contends, is a series of reforms, from governmental institutions to the public itself, including:
A move immediately to public campaign funding, leading to more representative candidatesA reformed Electoral College, that gives the President a reason to represent America as a wholeA federal standard to end partisan gerrymandering in the states A radically reformed SenateA federal penalty on states that don’t secure to their people an equal freedom to voteInstitutions that empower the people to speak in an informed and deliberative way
A soul-searching and incisive examination of our failing political culture, this nonpartisan call to arms speaks to every citizen, offering a far-reaching platform for reform that could save our democracy and make it work for all of us.
In this urgent and hard-hitting analysis, Harvard law professor Lessig (Fidelity & Constraint) dissects the causes, consequences, and possible remedies for the crisis of "unrepresentativeness" facing American democracy. The sources of government dysfunction, Lessig writes, include voter suppression laws; gerrymandering; the "fraught" design of the Senate, which gives outsize power to less populous states; the Electoral College; and "money in politics." The problems aren't just with "them" (politicians, power brokers), however; they're with "us" (American voters), too: technology- and market-driven changes in the media landscape, especially the advent of cable TV and the rise of the internet, have left the voting public "divided and ignorant" on policy and therefore "incapable as citizens," according to Lessig. In the book's second half, he proposes a series of fixes. Some, such as ranked-choice voting, seem sensible; others, including "democracy coupons," in which every citizen would be given a stipend to contribute to political candidates as they see fit, appear complicated and expensive to institute, especially in the current political climate. But Lessig's call for a "slow democracy movement" to create better informed voters resonates, and he lists many examples of citizen movements that have achieved their goals. This bracing report on the state of American politics offers valuable insights for the 2020 elections.