The hyperpartisan drift that has hijacked US politics, hopelessly accelerated by the presidency of Donald Trump, has reached the very essence of the system, the right to vote. President Joe Biden this week supported a change in Senate rules to pass a new federal electoral law. The objective is to put limits from Washington to the laws that some republican states are blatantly passing aimed at limiting the vote of minorities, traditionally Democrats, and influencing the independence of the process. In an election year, and after the unresolved trauma of the attempted challenge of the last presidential elections, it is an emergency.
Biden was a senator for four decades. He built a reputation as a man of consensus. He is convinced that partisan changes damage the system, since they generate a spiral of resentment and end up causing a backlash from the other party as soon as the majorities change. But in the last year there are realities that have become apparent. First, that democracy is threatened by an illiberal current led by Donald Trump, a man who does not believe in the system. Second, that Republicans in Washington do not intend to curb it. And third, that the electoral system is fragile, and the norms elaborated by the local republicans can have a disproportionate and unfair influence in the key states. Federal regulations are necessary to guarantee access to voting and the cleanliness of the process. But the Democrats have only 50 senators. In the Senate, most laws require at least 60 to pass, a rule called filibuster. Designed to force consensus, in practice it is a boycott tool. The frustration of the Democrats has put on the table the “nuclear option” of changing the regulations to put limits on the filibuster. It is not clear that they can, as at least two Democratic senators refuse.
Trump blew up the political conventions of the United States. In scandal after scandal, the country discovered that many things it took for granted are not actually written anywhere, but depend on an enviable way of exercising public service, reverential to tradition. , institutions and symbols. Among them is the management of the elections. If there is no constitutional crisis in the country today, it is thanks to the fact that a few people, including manual Republicans, stood up to Trump. This is the context in which Biden operates. Forcing the Senate rules would open an uncertain chapter in American democracy. The chances of him turning against the Democrats are clear. But when it comes to the credibility of the election, the stakes are too high for it to depend on a handful of people doing the right thing.