Political decision making in the U.S. has become a dictatorship of the minority. This fact has been crystalized recently around the deliberations about the right for a woman to control her reproductive choices.
Although anywhere from 60 -70 percent of the American people believe a woman has the right to make reproductive decisions in consultation with her doctor, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v Wade, and the U.S. Senate has already voted against codifying the right.
How is it possible that the people’s representatives do not represent the views of the majority? It’s possible because of constitutional and institutional protections afforded the minority in the U.S.
The American Republic system of government protects minority rights to a fault. Its judicious mix of representation by population and regional equality was designed by the founders to balance power, so that regional minority voices would be heard.
The main vehicle for this is the U.S. Senate, originally designed, like the British “House of Lords”, as a body to offer a “sober second look” at legislation suggested by the great unwashed House of Representatives, and as a protection of regional minority influence. Affording each state two Senators assured that less populated states had equal power in at least one of body of Congress.
In 1776, it made sense, when population differences were smaller. However now, it can be argued that the U.S. Senate has turned the government into a dictatorship of the minority, where majority American public opinion is often not represented. Population disparity has burgeoned to the point where the protection of the minority can override the views of the majority.
Recent issues reflect this: gun control, impeachment initiatives, congressional oversight, the environment, a woman’s right to access reproductive care. All of these enjoy majority support and have been confounded by Senators representing a minority of the U.S. citizenry.
The Senate, a body whose very configuration, favours the minority, allows a filibuster rule, that requires the majority to get a two thirds vote to pass a bill. This makes it possible to block any majority initiative. In a politically hyper- polarized country as the U.S. is today, the filibuster constipates decision making, defending the power of the minority to a point that no legislation can pass. For the will of most Americans to be done, the Senate effectively requires that a party elect sixty Senators – an almost ludicrous protection of minority rights.
In addition to the Senate and the filibuster’s protection of minority rights, other political constructs reinforce the protection of minority rights.
Allowing States to conduct their own federal elections has helped cement minority advantage. Partisan state officials make the rules governing elections. It’s no longer “some” but “most” states that make election rules which advantage their party. Purging voters lists, requiring identification more easily obtained by favourable voters than unfavourable, planning voting times to disadvantage certain voters, cutting the number of polling stations in unfavourable districts, and myriad other voter suppression strategies, have helped two candidates to win the Presidency while losing the popular vote – George W. Bush in 2000, and Donald Trump in 2016.
Re -districting, or more accurately, gerrymandering, also done by state governments, has had a huge impact on the minority’s ability to win elections. This is starkly illustrated by a comparison of the statistics of the 2010 and 2018 midterm elections. Midterm elections don’t usually go well for the President’s party, and turnout is usually low.
But a comparison of midterm election gains shows the effect of gerrymandering on the outcome of elections.
2010 – GOP gains 63 house seats with a vote increase over 2008 of 6.8%
2018 – Democrats gain 43 house seats with a voter increase over 2016 of 9.2%
Gerrymandering has made it more difficult for one party to win electoral districts.
The electoral college is another instrument which favours the minority, allocating a certain number of electoral delegates to each state, regardless of the margin of victory.
These were admirable ideas at the time, as the founders foresaw a country that might be dominated by the highly populated areas of the country and wanted to protect less populated, more distal regions of the country. A good idea.
Unfortunately, the protection of the minority in the U.S. has metamorphisized into a tyranny of the minority.
The founding fathers could not have envisioned the huge population disparity between states, the willingness of states to unfairly influence free and fair elections, or the blanket
obstructionism of a polarized minority in the Senate. They rightly resisted central election regulation in the interests of protecting the rights of minority regions.
The founding fathers also couldn’t be expected to foresee that federal control of elections is what is now most needed in the U.S. to save free and fair elections and indeed democracy itself in the U.S.
The idea that the U.S. Constitution is a Holy document that can never be amended or improved upon is dangerous to U.S. democracy, and just another strategy to ensure that the U.S. remains controlled by a dictatorship of the minority.