The conflagration surrounding McConnell’s refusal to permit hearings or a floor vote on Obama’s nominee in 2016 did a lot to advance our legitimacy crisis, but it’s important that Democrats not push that crisis even further by portraying contingencies and hard-ball political tactics as structural impediments to them gaining power. Yes, gerrymandering at the state level is quite bad in some cases (with Wisconsin standing out as an especially egregious example). And in some recent election cycles, the gap between the Electoral College and the popular vote has become galling in a way that is not sustainable.
Yet even there, as I’ve recently argued, the cause of the problem is less the structural character of the Electoral College as such than it is the contingent shape of the Democratic electoral coalition since 2016. (The Democrats did quite well in the Electoral College in 2008 and 2012.) The same can be said of the Senate, which Democrats have taken to deriding for its unfair apportioning of equal power to states with populations of vastly different sizes. Yet Democrats had a Senate majority just six years ago — and as recently as 2009, they held 60 seats in the chamber. Something has certainly changed in the intervening decade, but it’s not the way Americans elect their senators.
Donald Trump has done enormous damage to the civic well-being of the country over the past four years by undermining confidence in American institutions, very much including our capacity to trust the outcome of democratic elections. Democrats need to ensure that they don’t do their own version of the same thing by repeatedly lashing out in frustration at the structures that hand them fewer political victories than they believe they deserve.