Democracy in one book or less How it works, why it doesn't, and why fixing it is easier than you think

David Litt, 1986-

Book - 2020

Here's something true for almost every American. The democracy you live in today is different, completely different, than the democracy born into. Since 1980, the number of Americans legally barred from voting has more than doubled. Since the 1990s, odds of living in a competitive Congressional district have fallen by more than half. In the twenty-first century alone, the amount of money spent on Washington lobbying has increased by more than 100 percent. Meanwhile, new rules in Congress passing new bills nearly impossible, no matter how popular or bipartisan they are. No wonder it feels like representatives have stopped representing the people. Millions of Americans now recognize that democracy is in trouble and that the trouble goes beyond Trump. But too often, they are looking in the wrong places for solutions. Voter suppression is real, but Voter ID laws aren't tipping elections. Getting rid of bizarrely shaped districts won't end gerrymandering.

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New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2020]
First edition
Physical Description
388 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
David Litt, 1986- (author)
  • The drawing of lots : the non-voters
  • Rick versus Ricky : the officially disenfranchised
  • The sasquatch hunters : the unofficially disenfranchised
  • How to plan a fyre festival : the discouraged
  • Take a shit with Irv Litt : the geography of gerrymandering
  • Ms. Codfish's classroom : the "great compromise"
  • An appendix : the Electoral College
  • Old Sheldon : the campaign finance system
  • I'm just a doomed bill : the House of Representatives
  • The spartan retention of the body's juices : the Senate
  • Possum kingdom : the lobbyists
  • Slapping Stephen Field : the judges.
Review by Booklist Review

Litt's (Thanks, Obama, 2017) comprehensive study of what a democracy actually consists of casts a welcome, cleansing beam of light on a subject that has become increasingly murky and frustratingly confusing. Although the process of deciding who shall govern and how has never been particularly transparent, history shows that this opacity has often been as much by constitutional construct as by political expediency. From voting rights disenfranchisement to the labyrinthine logic behind the Electoral College, Litt covers every aspect of American governance and politics at perspectives both granular and big-picture, analyzing what's right and wrong with our democracy through historical and contemporary lenses. Power gaps matter as much as political geography in conducting elections and drafting legislation; influence peddling has become a megalithic industry; and the era of bipartisan handshake agreements is but a quaint memory. A senior presidential speechwriter in the Obama administration, Litt has a breezy, often conversational tone, but that in no way diminishes the force of his argument. Politics has changed, and not in a good way. But there are ways American democracy can be fixed, and it is to Litt's credit that he offers practical albeit challenging solutions to the problems confronting our system of governance.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this snappy and well-informed dissection of the current state of American democracy, Obama administration speechwriter Litt (Thanks, Obama) claims that "our representative government may be representing someone, but it isn't us." Combining solid historical analysis, substantive political science, and wry humor, Litt examines myriad ways that "politics have changed for the worse" over the past 40 years and offers issue-by-issue suggestions for reform. He documents a 500% increase since the 1970s in the number of Americans disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, notes that "60 percent of U.S. senators are elected by just 24 percent of the voters," and compares America's low voter turnout to the rest of the world ("We're slightly ahead of Latvia. So that's nice."). Litt also laments the "rightward lurch" of Republican lawmakers and their judicial appointments, the loosening of campaign finance restrictions, the influence of corporate lobbyists on policy making, and the obstructionism of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The author's ideas "to stop the decay of our republic" include automatic voter registration, ranked choice voting, and requiring a Supreme Court supermajority to overturn federal law. Both optimistic and clear-eyed, this quip-filled call to action will resonate strongly with young progressives. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Rostan (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

It's not your mother's democracy anymore, and not even yours. Since 1980, the number of Americans legally barred from voting has more than doubled. Since the 1990s, the chance of your living in a competitive congressional district has plummeted by more than half. Since 2000, the money spent on lobbying has increased by more than 100 percent. How to bring back democracy? New York Times best-selling author Litt talks to activists and politicians nationwide. With a 300,000-copy first printing.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Former White House speechwriter and humorist Litt digs in deep to discuss what's ailing us politically--and gets in a few laughs along the way. The author begins with an amusing guerrilla action that demands a John Belushi to play it onscreen: namely, trying to bust his way into Mitch McConnell's fraternity at the University of Kentucky. Why? Because somewhere in those roots lies the development of a political system that does not represent the people or reflect the consent of the governed in the slightest, giving rise to a polity most of whose members do not trust the government to act correctly, with those who do "roughly the number of Americans who believe in Bigfoot." The genius of the system McConnell authored, Litt rightly observes, is that thanks to gerrymandering and polarization, there are practically no political consequences inherent in ignoring the wishes of the electorate. The fixes are pretty simple, or at least some are. If you're not a voter, Litt suggests, then you don't really count, and if you don't vote, then you cede the field to the boomers who went for the current occupant of the White House. "Along nearly every dimension," Litt writes, "the average voter looks more like Donald Trump than the average American does." Only a mass turnout of the young--the author is in his 30s--will change that picture. Just so, because so many minority voters have been disenfranchised, voters are wealthier than nonvoters, acquiescent in congressional and presidential acts that benefit the rich. The irony is that we now have a tyranny of the minority--an easy fix if only the majority will act, in part by throwing out McConnell, for whom "our dysfunctional legislature is working just fine." A pleasure to read, even in its darkest moments, and refreshingly optimistic about the future of the republic. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.