November 23, 2020

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The Atlantic December 2020 Issue: The Commons

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Every four years, when we worry that a candidate whom the majority of people don’t want will somehow manage to become president, we should remember James Wilson, and the institution he helped build.

David Weintraub
Edison, N.J.


Danielle Allen writes, “The executive has a veto over legislation, but it can be overruled by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress, which means that an executive decision (on legislation) emanating from support of a bare majority of the people cannot overrule a view emanating from a supermajority of the country.”

But because of the way we elect presidents, via the Electoral College, a majority of the vote is not in fact required to become president, as evidenced twice in just the past five elections. And because every state, regardless of population, is afforded exactly two representatives in the Senate, neither is a “supermajority of the country” required to achieve a two-thirds majority of that legislative body. The combined population of all six New England states, which is fewer than 15 million, is less than half that of California alone, barely more than half that of Texas, and less than the populations of Florida and New York. So it is not entirely correct to say that “support of a bare majority of the people cannot overrule a view emanating from a supermajority of the country.”

Drew Hindes
Colchester, Vt.


As are many in our society, I’m experiencing incredible angst over the attempted destruction of our federal institutions and practices by the current administration and its enablers. Ms. Allen’s article has given me faith in our future. The article is both poetry and history lesson. Each word is essential, and shows how the possibility of great change is built into our system of government. I thank her for her writing.

Elizabeth Winter
Ashburn, Va.


How Disaster Shaped the Modern City

Visionary responses to calamities have changed urban life for the better, Derek Thompson argued in October.

Derek Thompson’s article implies that the December 1835 fire in New York City spawned the Croton Aqueduct. But in fact, a popular vote in April of that year overwhelmingly approved the proposed aqueduct, detailed plans for which had been developed after cholera killed more than 3,500 New Yorkers (one in 70) in 1832 and shocked the city into creating a proper water supply. The fire, which destroyed much property but killed only two people, served merely as affirmation of a process well under way. None of which is to deny that COVID‑19 may well yield long-term benefits.

Gerard Koeppel

Author, Water for Gotham: A History
New York, N.Y.


Derek Thompson focused on how the 1871 Chicago fire led to our city developing skyscrapers. The fire also led to something else I’m proud to be a part of: In 1872, a group of singers formed the Apollo Musical Club of Chicago to bring hope and music back to the burned city. Now called the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, we are the oldest performing-arts organization in the city. Our 150th anniversary season begins in July.




2020-11-21 16:00:00


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