The Times Discovers the January 6 Culprits

The miscreants are collared by the Gray Lady’s star columnist and a pair of professors.

AP/Mark Lennihan, file
The New York Times building in 2021. AP/Mark Lennihan, file

The latest scoop from the New York Times’s star columnist, Michelle Goldberg, is turning up the culprit for January 6. It is not President Trump, who urged his supporters to “fight like hell.” It’s not the Proud Boys, for violence. It is not Speaker Pelosi, for failing to ensure that the Capitol was properly defended. Instead, it is that prehistoric posse of James Madison, George Washington, Roger Sherman, and their ilk. That is, it was the Framers’ fault. 

Ms. Goldberg turns to two Harvard professors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, for help understanding “our unfolding ordeal.” In a new book, these sages “attempt to make sense of how American democracy eroded so fast.” The answer, “disturbing” though it might be, “lies in our Constitution, the very document Americans rely on to defend us from autocracy,” particularly its “countermajoritarian provisions.” In other words, its entire design.

Lamenting that “Republicans have won the popular vote in only one out of the last eight presidential elections, and yet have had three Electoral College victories,” Ms. Goldberg, studying Messrs. Levitsky and Ziblatt, realizes now that “our system is unique in the way it empowers a minority ideological faction at the expense of everyone else.” This arrangement is not an offspring of “judicious wisdom,” but of “accident, contingency” and “capitulation.”

The pitch of Ms. Goldberg’s piece reminds us of an op-ed  the Grey Lady ran a year ago. It was also wreathed in Ivy. In “The Constitution Is Broken and Should Not Be Reclaimed,” a professor at Yale, Samuel Moyn, issued a call to “reclaim America from constitutionalism.” He calls the Constitution a “broken” document and a dead claw of “the past.” Better, he reckons, to “radically alter the basic rules of the game.”

Ms. Goldberg relates Messrs. Levitsky and Ziblatt’s estimation that the national parchment was “designed in a pre-democratic era” and allows “partisan minorities to routinely thwart majorities, and sometimes even govern them.” You can sense the outrage through the quotation marks. Is it really a vice, though, to protect minorities? History is littered with stories of evil that was wreaked by majorities unchecked by any constitution.

In 10 Federalist, James Madison writes ​​that “Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.” In seeking to move beyond the Constitution, Ms. Goldberg would refashion the Framers’ guardrails as so many inconvenient speedbumps. She describes Democrats as “reluctant to delegitimize” the parchment. We should be so lucky. 

We’re not suggesting the Constitution can’t be improved. We ourselves have endorsed a convention of the states. That, though, would be in search of a more perfect union, not a plan to cashier  the framework of the Founding Fathers. We can’t help wondering what the Democrats might do when an unchecked majority comes for them — or, heaven forfend, breaches the capital structure that enables a tiny minority of shareholders to control the Times itself.

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