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

Our broken Constitution: Why half the country is represented by just 18 senators

Public domain illustration by Frederick Juengling and Alfred Kappes

We do not live in a democracy or even a proper republic, since in a republic our delegated representatives are supposed to reflect the will of the majority. New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie is always a must-read on our broken Constitution, and his latest (free link) — on what’s wrong with the Senate — is especially worthwhile. Consider this: “Roughly half of Americans, some 169 million people, live in the nine most populous states. Together, those states get 18 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate.”

And as Bouie notes, that disparity was seen by some of the key founders as a bug, not a feature, but a bug that was needed in order to get support from the small states, which were already slated to be outvoted in the House of Representatives. James Madison referred to the Senate as “the lesser evil.” During the constitutional convention, Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson said the purpose of the national government was to empower individuals, not “the imaginary beings called states.” The 14th Amendment further enshrines individuals over the power of the states. Yet anti-democratic institutions persist, including the Senate, the Electoral College and, as a consequence, the Supreme Court.

Bouie has long shown that he knows his stuff, but in this case he’s riffing on a recent Washington Post report that I’ll confess I haven’t read. I’ll try to go back and take a look at it, but in the meantime, here’s another free link for you. And here is something I wrote last year on how government by a numerical minority is one of the reasons that this country is being torn apart.

The majority is not going to put up with being disempowered forever. The only question is how, and when, it will end.

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  1. I’ve often thought we should abolish the Senate and institute a unicameral legislature. At any rate, to attempt an answer to the question Dan posed at the end, as exemplified by those undergoing addiction recovery, we humans, Americans in particular, won’t change until we bottom out. I think that the presidential election next year will be such a bottoming out. Whoever wins the election, violence will result that will make January 6, 2021, look like a trial run, sad to say. I hope my forecast is wrong, but it appears to me that we won’t change our broken system of government until a real disaster occurs.

  2. Paul Letendre

    On SouthCoast Matters I’ve mentioned that disparity, on occasion over the years, to a number of historians and state-wide candidates.
    My interpretation of the answers that came back run from- the majority of those benefit from the situation and will prevent change -to – a state by state referendum to change the Constitution is possible but highly unlikely – don’t expect to see it in our lifetime.
    But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue the situation. After all, we’ll be leaving our progeny a seriously damaged environment, a government that answers first to elite donors, and an extremely fragile world order.
    What could go wrong- if it ain’t broken why fix it?

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