The National Archives, Independence Day, 2019.
The National Archives celebrates Independence Day, 2019. Photo credit: U.S. National Archives / Flickr

Felon vs. aging incumbent: Is this the best America can do? How our constitutional system is failing us, and how radical systemic changes could save it

As we celebrate Independence Day, our nation faces an unprecedented crisis. 

With one party backing a felon and fraud, and the other fielding an aging nominee of questionable health, our political system appears to be on life support. The looming election isn’t just contentious — it’s potentially catastrophic.

University of Maryland law professor Maxwell Stearns, author of Parliamentary America: The Least Radical Means of Radically Repairing Our Broken Democracy, poses a provocative question: Has our revered system of government reached its sell-by date? 

In an era of polarized demographics, 24/7 communication, and rapid technological change, are we witnessing the biggest constitutional crisis since the Civil War?

This July 4th, as we honor our founders, it’s time to critically reexamine whether our current Constitution can adapt to 21st-century realities. 

Stearns asks, Could rewriting our fundamental law, to essentially change our form of government, be the key to salvaging American democracy?

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Full Text Transcript:

(As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.)

Jeff: Welcome to this July 4th weekend WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman. One political party has nominated a felon and reality TV host to be its presidential candidate while the other has chosen an aging candidate who even if he can endure the campaign seems out of touch with 21st-century America. Clearly, something in our political system isn’t working. Back in March, I had a conversation with law Professor Maxwell Stearns about whether the American system of government might have reached its sell-by date. As we discussed at the time, it could be that a new form of governance could be the only solution to our current national dilemma.

Since that conversation, things have only gotten worse. As we celebrate the American experiment this July 4th weekend, perhaps it’s the perfect time to reexamine that experiment and consider changing both its equation and its formula. Why is democracy under siege in America? Is it solely due to Donald Trump, or are there fundamental flaws in our system of government that have led us to this point? Perhaps our system, despite all respect and admiration for the founders, has reached its sell-by date in light of modern demographics, communications, and technology. The electoral college fails to accurately reflect the nation’s will, and the winner of the popular vote cannot be assured of victory.

Gerrymandering has allowed politicians to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their elected leaders. We face gridlock, extreme polarization, and the overwhelming power of money, and we are missing the appropriate levers to hold elected leaders accountable. All of this occurs within a system now subjected to the pressures and influences of 24/7 news cycles, social media, and instant communication. This has brought us to the brink of what may be the biggest constitutional crisis since the Civil War. But perhaps the fault lies not in ourselves, but in our system. Maybe our current constitution needs to adapt to the reality of the mid-21st century.

Joining us to talk about all of this is my guest, Maxwell Stearns. He’s a professor of law at the University of Maryland, Carey School of Law. He’s authored dozens of articles and several books on the constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Economic Analysis of Law. His latest work is Parliamentary America: The Least Radical Means of Radically Repairing our Broken Democracy. It is my pleasure to welcome Maxwell Stearns here to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. Max, thanks so much for joining us.

Maxwell: Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s a privilege.

Jeff: Well, it is a delight to have you here. How much of the crisis that we seem to face today, the idea of democracy on the brink, to what extent is that unique to the problem of Donald Trump, or is there something more fundamentally at play as you see it?

Maxwell: Well, I think there is something more fundamentally at play and that we need to recognize that Donald Trump exploited a series of systemic problems that in a certain sense may have been waiting for somebody like a Trump figure to come along and exploit them. So, in other words, what I’m suggesting in my book is that there are deep structural problems that give rise to the threat to our democracy that we are facing and that we can’t simply focus on the fact that there’s one particular politician who is at risk of assuming power in this case, yet again, despite the fact that he is systematically committed to the erosion of democratic norms.

Jeff: Historically, when we’ve had problems in our system of governance, problems in the Constitution, as they have arrived from time to time, we have made adaptations, we have added amendments to the Constitution. Why have we stopped doing that in your view?

Maxwell: It is true that amending our Constitution is an exceedingly difficult task. We cannot deny that. And you’re absolutely right, as you’re opening comments suggested, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced a crisis. It’s really the third time we’ve faced a constitutional crisis. The first was before the Constitution itself when we transitioned from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. The second time was in the period leading up to the Civil War and the reconstruction era leading to the three reconstruction amendments, which was the last really significant change, something that wasn’t just tweaking at the edges, but doing something really fundamental.

And there the change was a recognition that although we historically had assumed states would be the primary protectors of individual rights and liberties, in the aftermath of the history of slavery and newly freed formerly enslaved persons, it became increasingly clear that you could not rely on the states to undertake that task because they were contributing to the continued deprivation of those rights. But the fact is that we haven’t done a major structural revision since then, and we are facing a crisis of democracy that is comparable to the first two crises. And I think part of the problem is that many people believe that the way to solve this is to avoid amending because amending is difficult.

One of the reasons I wrote this book is to demonstrate that that’s mistaken. What we need to do instead is to think in terms of how we can bring on board people that hold political power who could either have the authority to block reforms or to enact reforms because we have to fundamentally reconceive the way we do democracy if we are going to emerge from the crisis that we are in and continue as a thriving democracy, as I believe the vast majority of Americans hope.

Jeff: If we had continued to make tweaks to the Constitution, if we had not stopped adding amendments as we did quite some time ago, had we made small changes along the way, would we be in a similar situation today?

Maxwell: I think we could be. I think that there are rare moments when we have to go back and revisit some fundamental premises associated with the Constitution. And I think that that explains the first two constitutional crises, that there was a profound departure or disjuncture between the premises of the then operating constitution and the governing needs of society at the time, and we’re experiencing this today. Now, certainly, the roots of the crisis we face go back to the original framing period.

But the difficulties set in when those problems which we endured for over a couple of hundred years hit upon some dynamics in the information age that really affected how they operated in a way that requires us to go back and no longer tweak at the edges, but really to rethink some foundational assumptions, to be honest, that the framers got wrong. And we need to understand that there are things that the framers envisioned doing that were quite intention with what the framers actually did. Because the truth of the matter is that our constitution never quite operated the way the framers intended it to operate. And although we endured it for a very long time, we no longer can without radical reform.

Jeff: One of the fundamental problems seems to be the party system itself. The framers warned us against political parties. Washington himself talked a lot against political parties. And what we have gotten in its place is a pretty bad system.

Maxwell: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. And I really like that you brought up George Washington, because I very frequently bring up the fact that if you listen to George Washington’s farewell address, he puts the light of the notion that the game that the framers thought that they had constructed is the one that actually gets played. So, in the book, I talk about the rock paper, scissors constitution, what we’ve all learned in middle school or maybe high school, the idea that for every branch does another branch that could defeat it or that it could defeat. Now, it’s a little more complicated than that.

But nonetheless, the idea was, James Madison’s idea was that if we have separation of powers and checks and balances, we’re going to have these endless rivalries between and among the three branches of government, Congress, the executive branch, and the legislature. And then on top of that, we’re going to have federalism, and that’s going to create rival jealousies based on geography. And the intuition that he expressed in a famous writing, the Federalist 10, was that these kinds of rivalries, these endless divisions, were going to break in control what he called the violence of faction, which are kind of precursors to political parties.

But as you point out, even as early as George Washington, what we ended up with was a system of two parties, different parties then than we have now. But the reason for that is that our system of elections, by and large, although there’s been some evolution over time, is based on geographically determined elections. So, in the House of Representatives, at least, since the 1840s, they were elected by geographical districts. The senators are represented by the states as a whole, and the President is represented more or less by the country as a whole, albeit through the Electoral College.

And the consequence of this notion is that each side realizes that the way to win is to divide the opposition but to keep your side intact. And because both sides perceive that rightly as a result of these structures, we end up dividing into two camps. And we’ve primarily been a two-party system from the beginning. We’ve had evolution of our parties. Sometimes we’re in transitional periods with more than two parties. But generally speaking, when the dust settles, we’ve always ended up with two parties. The problem is that the two-party system really began to encounter serious problems, especially when we got to the information age.

Jeff: And part of that problem is that the information age and all that goes along with it deeply accentuated all the problems that you’re talking about.

Maxwell: It puts them on steroids in a certain sense. It does so first by allowing somebody to come in, like a Donald Trump, and to take over one of the two parties. The problem is that neither party can afford to give part of its constituency up, because if you give up part of your constituency, you throw power or the risk of power to the other side. You end up with this shotgun wedding between, they used to be Tea Party, then their MAGA, but the MAGA base, coupled with traditional conservatives, which we now call the GOP. The Democrats are experiencing something like this in the tensions between traditional Democrats and progressives.

There might be a couple of other parties embedded underneath these two parties. What people need to realize is the two threats to democracy are not having enough parties like our system, like the UK, [unintelligible 00:12:08] Brexit, or a system with too many parties. And the problem in the information age, as you rightly point out, is that as a result of hyperpartisan gerrymandering, which is much more technically achievable as a result of the availability of computerized programs that give so much information, we actually have hypergerrymandered districts that let voters choose constituents, not the other way around.

And the way we get news and news-like information through social media news feeds basically lets providers of content choose readers, not the other way around. And we’ve got this problematic cycle from news media to the electorate to the politicians, back to news media that is pulling the centers of our two parties further and further apart. It’s amply documented in research data, for example, by the Pew Research Center, where you can see from the beginning of the information age, the early ’90s until now, these parties that considerably overlapped earlier in our history, earlier in our history, are now growing increasingly far apart so much so that we no longer believe that people who disagree with us may have evaluated the same content and in good faith, come out the other way.

Instead, we regard them as lacking basic intelligence or even evil. That’s affected the functionality of our society, but more deeply the functionality of our politics. It’s really, really a threat to the survival of our democracy.

Jeff: I guess the broader question then becomes, to what extent is that hyperpartisanship and the way we see people that disagree with us today? To what extent that’s a societal problem? Would that be any different if we looked at it in the context of a multi-party parliamentary system, for example?

Maxwell: I think it would be very different, and I do think it’s a structural problem. The danger, as I mentioned in a two-party system, is that you can’t lose any of your constituencies, so you end up with these uncomfortable marriages. The danger in a hyper-fragmented parliamentary system is that one party could gain a small foothold and then take control of the government. But if you have a properly structured parliamentary system, and if you give parties meaningful power in the creation of the government through coalition building, then you’ve got a really different dynamic, because then suddenly, voters, instead of being punished by voting for third parties, they actually get rewarded for it.

The problem, and I call it the third-party dilemma in the book, is that today if you vote for a third party, that party might be a spoiler and would throw support to the major-party candidate you least prefer, or what I call a randomizer. It could be a third party that draws in votes from both sides, making the outcome a roll of the dice. But the scheme that I propose in the book would allow third parties to really emerge and thrive.

It would encourage people to vote for those parties because those parties, when they become part of a governing coalition, would actually deliver to their constituents because they would say to the leaders of the coalition, we’ll join you, but we’ll join you only if you give us some policy concessions that our constituents really want or a cabinet appointment or even the next seat that becomes available on the Supreme Court. Suddenly, voters will be rewarded for voting for third parties.

But the other aspect of this, which is so significant is, in that kind of regime, in order to succeed, you have to campaign on a platform that embraces a willingness and even enthusiasm to work with other parties and party leaders rather than a platform that just denigrates the other side as unintelligent or evil. Just imagine how much nicer that world would be, both for voters and for politicians.

Jeff: Does Israel give us some indication of what happens when that system goes awry, however?

Maxwell: Well, in fact, one of the reasons that I take my readers on a world tour– So, the centerpiece of my book is I take my readers on a virtual world tour to England, France, Germany, Israel, Taiwan, Brazil, and Venezuela. And the reason I do this is I want them to see how other democracies work. I want to give them a foundation to explain what went wrong with our democracy, but then show them how other democracies either failed or succeeded to face their own threats to democracy. Israel, like Italy, like Brazil, these are examples of countries that have too many parties. The United States, the UK are examples of countries that have too few parties.

What we have to achieve is what I call the Goldilocks principle. Not too hot, not too cold, not too many parties, not too few. The threat to democracy is extremism. And so what we wanted to do is hit that sweet spot. And what I demonstrated is that there’s a mechanism to do this. It’s actually the system that was created for Germany after World War II when it was trying to avoid the horrific possibility of yet another rise of something like the Nazi regime. And they constructed a system that gave two forms of representation in their lower chamber, one by district, one by party. And that mechanism achieves the sweet spot of having not too many parties, but not too few.

That’s the goal is to make sure that there’s meaningful choice for voters, but not hyper fragmentation that allows a minority to get more seats than others and then roll over the parliament or alternatively, as in our system, a small group to take over one party and then take control of the government. The reason for the world tour is to show that there are better ways to do democracy, and we can learn from the experience of other nations.

Jeff: How much of those systems, though, are reflective of the culture, the personality, the DNA, if you will, of the population and that they’re indigenous to those places?

Maxwell: Well, it’s a very thoughtful question. There’s undeniably a relationship between governmental structures and cultural norms. Those things do tend to have really interesting and even synergistic relationships. But it’s not as if governance structures in developed democracies emerged from ancient cultural norms, and it’s not as if cultural norms can’t benefit from more constructive systems of democracy. One of the things that I do on the tour is point out developments in past democratic systems that created problems where countries have successfully modified their systems to avoid those problems. When you’ve got a more functional democracy, you are going to have a more functional society.

If the campaigns no longer reward purely denigrating behavior, people are going to begin to think differently about groups of others who don’t necessarily agree entirely with them. Because if their political leaders are forming alliances, beneficial coalitions with other party leaders that don’t embrace precisely the same values, that by extension is going to filter into society. So I think that you’re right.

But one of the things that I would say is that part of our sense of identity has to do with how many anchors there are in the political system to latch onto. And right now we are divided into two teams that are growing increasingly far apart. And it’s having really serious, profound, problematic cultural effects. Look, I’m not Paul Ehrlich, I’m not suggesting that there’s a single solution that will solve all of our societal problems by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think that if we have a thriving multi-party democracy, it is going to ameliorate many of our societal tensions.

Jeff: How do we begin– And you lay out three specific proposals, three changes that need to be made, but talk about how we transition from a situation that has gotten so much worse here in terms of extremism, in terms of the parties moving apart to something along the lines of what you’ve been talking about.

Maxwell: Part of it is the very thing that you and I are doing at the moment, right? In other words, part of this is to try to encourage people to revisit things that they learned in their childhood. Those of us who were raised in this country as I was, as I assume you were, we were raised on a notion of American exceptionalism. We have this idea that because our constitution has endured longer than any other constitution at a national level across the globe, it must be wise, it must have embedded within it some foundational goodness and rightness that other systems lack.

But I want to suggest that we may have survived and thrived as a nation, not because of our unique constitutional design, but in spite of it, we may have survived and thrived due to geographical isolation, the capacity for westward expansion, albeit a great expense to Native Americans, the constant influx of highly motivated immigrants. And of course, the tragic circumstance of having brought here under the most brutal conditions slaves and maintaining them in a level of abject brutality. And it may be that we survive for reasons independent of our constitutional system. One hint at that is, although we have exported democracy, we’ve never successfully exported our form of democracy.

So, the first step is to get people to think differently. And one of the reasons I wrote the book was because I think that everybody can understand it. Everybody can take the virtual world tour and just, at least, begin to see how other countries do things better than we do. But then we have to recognize that a lot of the proposals for reform that are out there, that are getting a lot of attention, rank choice, voting, term limits for Congress, multi-member districts, these sorts of things, they may not require amending, term limits would due to a Supreme Court case, but some of these others wouldn’t require amending.

But the problem is that, number one, they wouldn’t actually solve the constitutional crisis. But number two, they translate into unemployment acts for members of Congress. [chuckles] Their whole goal is to displace members of Congress with new people who are more moderate. What I think we also need to understand is that to truly bring about the reforms required to end the crisis that we face, we have to bring on board the people who have political power. We’ve never had an amendment other than at the initiation of Congress, although we’ve come close to having a constitutional convention twice.

And what I’m suggesting is at some point we will hit an inflection point where we actually have to make a decision about what we’re going to do to save our democracy. And I think what we need to do is make sure that the options on the table are the right ones, and that people understand what will and won’t solve the problem. I wrote this book so that Americans can understand the root causes of the problem and what we have to do to fix it. And I’m hoping that as I go out, and I talk to people like you, and I talk to others, that more and more people will begin to understand what it is that’s gone wrong and come away optimistic.

Part of the reason I wrote the book is to give a sense of optimism because I’m convinced we can come out of this crisis. We can actually emerge a thriving multi-party democracy. But we have to be willing to get past American exceptionalism and be willing to accept the idea that we might be able to learn from the experience of millions of people around the globe who have either successfully or not successfully faced down their own threats to democracy.

Jeff: Talk about the way, perhaps that we need to think of this also in terms of economics. That any dramatic changes that get made have to be thought about with respect to what the economic consequences might be for the country.

Maxwell: I do think that the idea of having a thriving multi-party democracy is going to make us more stable. And I think that that improves our economic development. I think it improves our standing in the world. If you look at our political system as it’s operated since the beginning of what I’ll call the Trump era, the beginning of the mid-teens until now.

Donald Trump, he’s now clearly going to be the Republican nominee, Biden’s clearly going to be the Democratic nominee, despite the fact that roughly two-thirds of voters wish that neither of them were running in the fact that Donald Trump could be convicted, possibly, although we don’t know, the Supreme Court will still has something to say even after the case that they’ve already issued, could be convicted of a serious crime even before the election is over.

One of the problems is that we have these policy swings between a Democrat and a Republican because these two sites are increasingly doubling down based on what the extreme members of their base truly want. And so we have these pendulum swings on policy on any number of issues. That actually is economically detrimental within the US, it conveys instability across the globe. Look at our potential incapacity to live up to commitments for funding with respect to Ukraine, with respect to divisions, with respect to Israel.

I think there is a core group of Americans, moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats, that if we had a system like this could agree on a lot of policies, we wouldn’t have these radical swings on areas like abortion as one example. We would begin to see the ability of centrist to come together and find areas of agreement with respect to guns, with respect to racial preferences in various settings, with respect to women’s reproductive rights, with respect to particular foreign affairs.

And I think that the greater the stability of the policies that we embrace, the greater predictability of what we could think of as the core areas of agreement, the greater we do economically, and the greater we are able to convey the strength of our democracy to others around the globe. And I think that’s vitally important.

Jeff: I guess the question becomes, and I want you to lay out the three specific things that would need to happen as you see it. But the way in which, and this is what I was referring to, particularly with respect to the economic aspect, how the incentives line up. Because there has to be some correlation of incentives in order to get something like this to change.

Maxwell: I think that’s precisely correct. So, what we’re talking now about is political incentives. What I really think that your listeners need to understand is, as I previously said, we may one day have a convention. We actually came very close to having a constitutional convention. We were within one or two states in the ’60s and in the ’80s, and it could happen again. And if we did have a constitutional convention, any number of proposals could be advanced that would undermine the continued status of those who hold office in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

My three proposed amendments, it’s the only combined proposal that leaves every member of the House and Senate and incumbent in their existing district or state. So, what I’m proposing is that we double the House of Representatives. In every two years, they would vote, they would cast two ballots in the House of Representatives, one for a district just like they do now. And that would lead to two parties dominating those races for the reasons I previously described. Keep your side together, divide the opposition, both sides know that. Two parties will tend to dominate those races, likely the Democrats and Republicans, at least, in the early to midterm.

But then your second ballot will be by party. Then we use the party ballots on a state-by-state basis to figure out proportionality for each state’s delegation to the House of Representatives. That’s the First Amendment. The second one allows leaders of up to five parties in descending order of proportional representation to negotiate a majority coalition, and then the pre-designated slate of the successful party assumes the offices of president and vice president. The final amendment has to do with removal through a no-confidence vote based on [unintelligible 00:30:34] administration by a super majority in the House.

But the idea behind these amendments is, number one, unlike other proposals, it actually leaves in power– The present office holders in the House and Senate doesn’t threaten their status, but it also gives them additional powers. It actually gives members of the House the ability to choose the president. It gives voters more power because although they’re not voting directly for president, they suddenly have a genuine mechanism to convey what they really believe in.

They can convey, “I’m a Republican, but I am not a Republican who wants to form a coalition with America First or MAGA. I’d be willing to do it with the Democrats, but I wouldn’t be willing to go with MAGA. Or I’m a Democrat, and I’d be willing to form one with the Republicans, or I’d be willing to form one with the Progressives.”

You can send very meaningful signals. And it further empowers state legislators. Suddenly through party list systems, they gain a new means of access to Capitol Hill. And so this actually empowers politicians at the state and federal level. It preserves their status. And when they are comparing this to other proposals, for example, that could be advanced at a convention, it allows them to say, “You know what? Forget it. We’ve got this other way to do this.” It is a pressure release valve that would let sitting members of Congress suddenly to emerge the heroes of democracy.

And we may not like the sitting members of Congress, but we should be perfectly happy to let them become the heroes of democracy because the goal is to provide a thriving, multi-party democracy for ourselves and for future generations. And this system which gives politicians more power, and it allows them to keep their status, unlike other proposals that actually translate into unemployment acts for members of the House, is a way to bring on board the people who hold the most significant power when it comes to reforming our democracy.

Jeff: The idea of eliminating the direct election of president and vice president, talk about that, and how you see that playing out just in terms of the public consciousness that is so used to and expectant of that.

Maxwell: Absolutely correct that that is something in the public consciousness. And it’s, again, one of the reasons why I wrote this book, and I deliberately made the centerpiece a world tour because I wanted to show Americans that although they think they’re gaining power by voting directly for the president, they’re really not. Think about the fact that now Americans are going to be basically forced to choose between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, who 63% in the last significant poll have determined 63% of Americans don’t want either of them to be running, and that’s the choice.

But you’re not empowered by being forced to choose between two options you don’t want, you’re empowered by actually affecting what the choices are. And in a multi-party democracy of the kind that I propose, you are going to be able to affect more favorable options, and you’re going to be able to signal to the people who really share values with you, the capacity to have them negotiate on your behalf, to generate a platform, to generate appointments that are actually consistent with what you believe in.

Because the critical difference between a coalition system and the system that we have is that in the system we have it’s winner-take-all, in coalition systems, it’s not winner-take-all. More people can be made happier in a coalition system. And one of the reasons for the tour is to show you that actually voters in coalition systems tend to be happier, they tend to turn out in larger numbers, their governments tend to be more responsible, more responsive.

And I have absolutely no doubt that if you were to go to countries that have proportional representation and coalition governance in an appropriately devised system like I described, and you were to say to them, “Would you trade that in for the ability to vote directly for the head of government?” I think the answer would almost universally be a resounding no. So, we have to be willing to learn from the experience of millions of other people around the globe. We have to get past American exceptionalism. And the first step is education. And that’s really what this process is about, or at least the early part of it.

Jeff: How do you prevent the system from tipping into an Italy or an Israel?

Maxwell: Ah, so that’s what mixed member proportionality does. These other systems are, in the case of Israel, pure proportionality, not mixed member proportionality. So, there’s no district representation. Israel’s a very small country, which creates some challenges. Italy is sort of mixed. It’s a more complicated balance between districting and in-party proportionality, but the combination has produced really hyper-fragmented party representation.

And what I’m suggesting is that if we use the system of mixed member proportionality, we can achieve the sweet spot that political scientists largely agree is the correct number of parties, between five and eight. And I have a mechanism in the proposal that includes the Senate, that allows achieving that sweet spot, that Goldilocks principles of five to eight parties. Because as your question rightly implies, it is equally threatening to democracy to have hyper-party fragmentation, Brazil’s also an excellent example of that, as it is to have too few parties, just having two parties like the US or the UK.

The enemy of democracy is extremism, too few parties or too many parties. And so what we have to do is fight hard for moderation, fight hard for a position that allows us to have more choices, but not so many choices that the choices are meaningless. And that’s what the system achieves. And it’s been replicated in several places around the globe, whereas we have not exported our form of democracy ever successfully. And we need as a country to become aware of the fact that there are better ways to do democracy that will let us be happier, will let the government be more responsive, and that will leave a profound legacy for future generations.

Jeff: We’re just about out of time. But let me ask you, how do we deal with this in the context of federalism that is so much a part of our system, and how do state governments reflect or differ from the way you’re talking about the national government operating? And does that discrepancy create a different set of problems?

Maxwell: I actually believe that this could ameliorate politics at the state level as well. I suspect, although I don’t propose it in my book, there’s a limit to what one can do in a single volume. But I suspect that if my amendments go into effect and we end up with a thriving multi-party democracy, as I’m absolutely sure we would, that many states would begin to enact reform that would resemble what had occurred at the federal level. And you would begin to see a system of coalition governance based on mixed member proportionality at the state level, and it would be beautiful.

It would be a beautiful thing because a lot of the same divisions that result in winner-take-all politics at the state level could be ameliorated through coalition governance. And we’d see different parties dominate in different parts of the country, and that’s good. That’s a good thing. And that would be reflected both at the state level and the federal level. Will there be an adjustment period? Of course, there will be. But it is very much the case that the states do tend to follow federal systems in a fairly significant way, and I suspect that would happen here as well.

Jeff: Maxwell Stearns, his book is Parliamentary America: The Least Radical Means of Radically Repairing Our Broken Democracy. Max, I thank you so much for spending time with us here on the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

Maxwell: And I thank you for having me. It’s really been a pleasure.

Jeff: Thank you. And thank you for listening and joining us here on the WhoWhatWhy Podcast. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy Podcast, I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to


  • Jeff Schechtman

    Jeff Schechtman’s career spans movies, radio stations and podcasts. After spending twenty-five years in the motion picture industry as a producer and executive, he immersed himself in journalism, radio, and more recently the world of podcasts. To date he has conducted over ten-thousand interviews with authors, journalists, and thought leaders. Since March of 2015, he has conducted over 315 podcasts for

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