| The Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE — Straight from former Brown University professor and pollster Darrell West’s mouth to Rhode Islanders’ ears: a few predictions.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo will be “easily confirmed” as U.S. commerce secretary. Former President Donald Trump will be indicted and then convicted of one or more financial crimes: “Stay tuned on that.”
The Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — and the lead-up to it — was “a learning moment where people understand how close we came to losing our democracy.”
But “we are facing a longer-term crisis in democracy just from the standpoint of what I would call the anti-majoritarian sentiments of many of our major institutions.”
In an email exchange after his talk, West, who is now the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, elaborated on what he means by “anti-majoritarian.”
The simple definition: political institutions “that don’t represent public opinion very well.”
“This is true of the Electoral College because a candidate can win it while losing the popular vote, the Senate which overrepresents small states and underrepresents large states, the House due to gerrymandered districts, and the courts which have judges more conservative than the country as a whole,” he said.
“If you add all that together, there is a serious risk that issues where there are clear cut majorities in favor of particular actions don’t get adopted. That aggravates the public and leads to cynicism about the political system not enabling fair representation.
“With a shift of relatively few votes, Trump could have won the Electoral College in 2020 despite losing the popular vote by millions of votes.”
“This is the crisis of American politics right now,” West said. “Anti-majoritarian institutions, almost across the board.”
“This is what Republicans are looking forward to and Democrats are fearing — that there is going to be a crisis much bigger than what we saw on January 6 that could put our democracy at risk.”
West made his comments during what has become an annual talk, hosted by the Newport Art Museum, that he gave via Zoom this year from Washington.
His topic: “Challenges Facing the Biden Administration.”
But the questions and answers led him in many other directions, including this prediction: that the attempts by certain Republicans — especially U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — to “capture the Trump base” by refusing to certify Joe Biden’s election victory killed whatever chances they might have ever had of ever becoming president.
“I do believe that they are going to end up on the wrong side of history,” West said.
First West dropped a few jokes — of a mid-pandemic variety — to warm up the crowd:
“What a year it has been. COVID. A recession. Trump. Biden. An insurrection and a losing record for the New England Patriots.
“All that reminds me of those old Testament stories about the 10 plagues of Egypt: you know, when the Pharaoh screwed up: there was hail, boils and locusts. And it reminds me a lot of 2020.”
He congratulated Raimondo on her nomination to a spot in President Biden’s cabinet — commerce secretary — saying: “She’s going to love D.C. I have a few words of advice for her:
“There’s just a few more zeroes on the budget decisions that she is going to make. She will find lots of sharks in the capitol city so I think her Ocean State background is going to come in handy.
“And the best advice is: she can imagine that Donald Trump is just like Buddy Cianci, right before Buddy went to prison.” (Recap for outsiders: the late Cianci went to prison for his leading role as mayor of Providence in an alleged conspiracy to run City Hall as a criminal enterprise.)
More seriously, West said he was optimistic about the year ahead “despite all the turmoil of the last few months,” with a new administration in Washington, a vaccine “which I actually got last weekend with no ill effects,” and projections the economy will grow by over 4% this year, while unemployment drops.
[Asked later how he qualified for a COVID vaccination in D.C., he said that, unlike Rhode Island: “D.C. is vaccinating people 65 or older and I am 66. I went to the online registration system, answered a number of questions, and the website gave me a vaccination slot.”]
During his talk, he cited several wildcards. Among them, most obviously: COVID, “how quickly vaccinations take place and how many Americans are actually willing to get vaccinated.”