By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How minority rule is turning the U.S. into an undemocratic country

Photo (cc) 2014 by the National Museum of American History

This essay was first published in the Media Nation member newsletter. To become a member for $5 a month, please click here.

Like many of us, I worry about the state of our democracy. I write about it from time to time, but what concerns me especially is that it’s almost impossible to see any way out of our dilemma. That’s because we need systemic reform in order to move toward democracy. Not only is it in the interest of Republicans to oppose that reform, but there’s also no way of overcoming their opposition.

Obviously a lot of attention has been focused on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to getting rid of the filibuster, which means that President Joe Biden won’t be able to pass any of his non-budget priorities through a simple majority. But we all know the problem goes deeper than that, because the Constitution is heavily tilted toward the small-population states, which are overwhelmingly Republican.

At the presidential level, we need to get rid of the Electoral College, a vestige of slavery that resulted in the elections of George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016 even though they lost the popular vote. Yes, the Electoral College has always been with us. But before Bush, the last time a candidate was elected president despite losing the popular vote was in 1888. Because of shifting demographics, such outcomes have become increasingly likely.

Nor is the problem solely at the presidential level. The 50 Republican senators represent just 43.5% of the electorate, according to calculations by the Daily Kos, whereas the 50 Democratic senators represent 56.5%. That’s an enormous gap, yet between the filibuster’s requirement of 60 votes to move forward on anything and the small-state advantage, Chuck Schumer might as well hand his gavel over to Mitch McConnell.

The House is at least theoretically democratic since districts are drawn on the basis of population. But partisan gerrymandering has resulted in Republicans having more seats to which they should be entitled. That will certainly prove to be a factor in the midterm elections, when the Republicans will in all likelihood regain their majority.

And I haven’t even mentioned Republican efforts across the country to pass voter-suppression laws that would disproportionately affect people of color.

This state of affairs would be bad enough if Republicans were committed to our democratic system. But we can see that they’re not, and their willingness to repeat the Big Lie that Trump won re-election last fall has become a loyalty test within the party.

We can all think of ways to solve these problems, but even to write about them seems like an exercise in futility. The Republicans would block any changes that would diminish their power. And we will continue to move deeper into minority rule.

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  1. StephenB

    Well written, Dan. I agree with you, especially when you write that trying to solve these problems right now is an exercise in futility. As we cannot prevent the Republicans from getting a lock on minority rule, we must now think about keeping the peace as we go through this difficult transition to the American Experiment 2.0, that is, Constitution 2.0, which I envision as firmly founded on fair elections and established on majority rule with the civil rights of the minority robustly secured. Perhaps we need to go through a period of greater federalism in order to live peacefully together before we can reach the next stage of truly e pluribus unum.

  2. mfidelman

    Not so much minority rule, as a system that’s designed around two parties.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Two completely different problems.

      • mfidelman

        Not at all. “Party solidarity” and tribal marketing are precisely what lead to minorities controlling things, and “representatives” who don’t represent the interests of their constituents. Coupled with redistricting along party lines… minority rule by those who know how to seize, and solidify power.

  3. MagellanNH

    Sure, the fact that a slight minority of voters can win elections and control the government is troublesome, but I’m much less concerned about this arcane aspect of our constitution than how close the results were in the first place.

    Our society’s sense-making apparatus is badly broken. This is what’s at the heart of the threat we’re facing. The fact that nearly 47% of voters supported Donald Trump and even now 77% of Republicans think the election was stolen is shocking to anyone who’s not blinkered by the right-wing disinformation machine.

    If society was processing events and information with clarity and sense, the 2020 election would have been a landslide for Democrats. The fact that the current Trumpist Republican party got anywhere close to 50% of the vote is inexplicable to those of us in the reality-based-community. Worrying about gerrymandered congressional districts or tweaks to the constitution is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Next time, whose to say that the Republican insane clown party won’t convince 51% of voters to support them as they take our nation to the brink?

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