Fintan O'Toole's take on the success and limitations of Joe Biden's Presidential election win is about as good as it gets (The big danger is if Joe Biden believes everything is okay, Opinion 7th. November).
Arguing that Biden's belief that the US system of governance is the envy of the world is delusional, Fintan concludes by saying that "Biden has to say what was previously unsayable: that the system itself is broken and demands root-and-branch reform."
But Biden saying this achieves nothing at all and merely serves to undermine his own legitimacy and institutional and popular support. To achieve anything, Biden has to work with a hostile Senate and Supreme Court who will not take kindly to any reforms Fintan (or Biden) might propose.
Yes, the US system enshrines minority rule where a minority of the electorate can elect a President through an electoral college skewed in favour of white, rural, and Republican voters. Yes, 70% of senators will soon be elected by only 30% of the population. Yes, the Supreme Court is packed with arch-conservative ideological warriors. Yes, voter suppression, gerrymandering, and industrial scale bribery (called political "donations") is rampant.
But to amend the US constitution requires a two thirds majority of both houses of Congress and ratification by three quarters of all states. This is a bar set so high that the last amendment to be ratified - in 1992 - took over 200 years to be ratified. And why would Republicans agree to an amendment to elect the President by popular vote - thus eliminating the archaic electoral college - when that would have meant their last two Presidents, Bush (2000) and Trump (2016) would not have been elected?
In theory Democrats could, if they won two outstanding Senate run-off elections in Georgia, retake control of the Senate, with the tie-breaking vote of the Vice President. This could enable Biden to have his appointments to office ratified and some moderate legislation passed - always assuming Democrats get rid of the Senate filibuster rules which allow a minority to block all progress -something which is anything but certain.
However to believe that even many Democrats would agree to pack the Supreme Court with additional liberal appointees, grant the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico full state status, and thus enable the election of four additional senators or reform the laws around political donations is probably delusional. Turkey's do not generally vote for Christmas.
The fact is that Republicans control most state houses and governorships - and thus the gerrymandering and voter suppression processes. The Supreme Court has deemed corporations are equivalent to people and money is equivalent to free speech enshrining the power of the wealthy over the poor. The minority who control the US political system are not about to relinquish that control for some abstract ideal of democracy.
Biden can do almost nothing to change these realities and the best we can hope for is that he will do less harm than his predecessor. The problem is not that Biden may be delusional, but that he is powerless where it really matters. Fintan O'Toole risks being delusional if he thinks that much will change even if if Biden were to highlight these issues.