The Founding Fathers were firm believers in majority rule, but fretted that the rights of the minority might be trampled unless they crafted a government that diffused power over an array of institutions.
Which is what they did, even baking in a minority advantage for Southern states, giving them representation in Congress far beyond their legitimate population numbers by permitting each powerless enslaved person to be counted as three-fifths of a citizen. Connected to that was the Electoral College, the convoluted institution that lets the rest of the world laugh at us when — as has happened in two of the six most recent elections — a candidate loses the popular vote but still somehow becomes president.
Anyway, we’re reasonably sure the Framers never envisioned a day when the health, governance and perhaps even the survival of the representative democracy they created would be threatened by the minority.
Many minorities actually. There’s the COVID anti-vaxxers (19 percent nationwide according to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, though over 30 percent here in El Paso County) who keep us from having nice things like safe travel, a stable economy and lungs that work. Then there’s Mitch McConnell’s Senate minority (bolstered by honorary Republicans Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema), whose total bullshit filibuster games and Democrats’ weak knees mean it takes 60 Senate votes instead of 51 to get anything done in Congress.
And speaking of the Senate... Guardian reporters Tom McCarthy and Alvin Chang wrote in March that “for years now, the chamber has not been a field of fair democratic play, paralyzed by its own internal rules....
“Currently Democratic senators represent nearly 40 million more voters than Republican senators — but the Senate is split 50-50, with the vice-president, Kamala Harris, wielding the tie-breaking vote,” they wrote. “By 2040, 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states, and to be represented by only 30 senators, while 30% of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf, according to analysis by David Birdsell of Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs.”
Along those same lines, Washington, D.C., has a population of 690,000 but just one non-voting delegate in the House and no senators. Wyoming has only 590,000 residents, but gets two senators and a House seat. (We’ll just toss in here the fact that 92.5 percent of Wyoming’s population is white, compared to just 46 percent in D.C.)
California, with 39.7 million residents, gets the same number of senators as Wyoming does. The Senate, as you might remember from high school civics class, gets to confirm Supreme Court justices, which is why Mitch McConnell got to deny a vote on Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland nine months before the 2016 presidential election, but sleazed the stunningly unqualified Amy Coney Barrett onto the bench just nanoseconds before the presidential election on Nov. 3.
And then there are those minorities whose blather and posturing clog America’s civic mind (when it should be on climate change or why our schools don’t teach critical thinking skills or why Citizens United is destroying us.) Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal, but24 Republican states are trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. Joe Biden won the presidency 81 million to 74 million votes, but 10 months later about 30 percent of Americans still believe Donald Trump’s Big Lie.
So yes, the Founding Fathers inadvertently built a system that lets the tail wag the dog, the ballot box being the only remaining way for the majority in America to prevail. Though the minority is chipping away at that, too — 18 Republican states have enacted voting restriction laws and McConnell’s flying monkeys continue to block federal legislation that would protect the vote.