Out of Sorts

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference following the arraignment of former President Donald Trump April 4, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

There are lots of consequences for living in a country so thoroughly sorted as the United States.

In a system based on competing ambitions, it’s not so hot when the oars are all pulling in the same direction. Two useful examples put that principle very much on display this week. One was in Manhattan, where District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought forth an indictment of former President Donald Trump that looks a lot like bootstrapping. The other was in Tennessee, where Republican lawmakers expelled two Democratic members from the state House of Representatives for joining gun-control protesters who were trying to disrupt a session.

Bragg won his office in 2021 with 84 percent of the vote. There hasn’t been a Republican who held that post since Thomas Dewey in 1941, but as a general principle, the borough of Manhattan and New York City in general are much less competitive places than they were even in recent history. From 1989 to 2009, most New York mayoral general elections were decided by relatively narrow margins, with only Republican-turned-independent Michael Bloomberg getting more than 55 percent of the vote for his 2005 reelection bid. In the past three elections, Democrats have won 73 percent, 67 percent, and 67 percent again.

The Tennessee House of Representatives tells a similar story. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Democrats were still the majority party in the Volunteer State, and often enjoyed big majorities with 15-seat advantages in the 99-seat lower chamber. That was still the case 20 years ago, when there were 54 Democrats and 45 Republicans. But when the switch to the GOP came in hard at the end of the first decade of this century, things got lopsided quickly. By 2013, Republicans had a majority of more than 40 seats. 

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