Our Unrepresentative Government (Yet Again)

Yet another reminder about pathologies of US democracy.

An oft-made observation here at OTB is that the US Senate does not represent the citizens of the US very well due to the fact that it allocates two seats per state regardless of the population of that state. Given the fact that the Senate has co-equal legislative powers to the House of Representatives means, by definition, that it is more than possible for laws to be passed that do not have national majority support. And, perhaps more importantly, this means that a lot of legislation has majority support never sees the light of day. At a fundamental level that is an affront to representative democracy.*

If we pile on top of the inequities of representation as they apply to control over the confirmation of judges (and executive appointees in general) we get a situation in which the minority of citizens has an outsized, and frankly unjust, influence over government. This is made all the worse when we consider the enduring nature of this situation (and the reality that it is likely to grow more unjust over time given disparities in populations of states).

In other words, if the representational disjuncture inherent to the Senate’s design was only an occasional reality, then that would be one thing. But the reality is that it is long-standing, and has been a constant since 1996. Stephen Wolf at Daily Kos provides the following:

In simple terms: the last time the Republicans represented over half the population in the Senate was 1996. And yet, they have controlled the chamber seven times since 1998, to the Democrat’s five.

Note that currently the Democrats only control 50% of the seats, but represent 56.5% of the population. Meanwhile, the Republicans control the same number of seats, but represent only 43.5% of the population. That is a substantial difference and is a clear example of minority rule (made all the worse by the filibuster).

I would place the 1994-onward period as the relevant one for this conservation. As I noted a few weeks ago, the 1994 election was a serious partisan re-alignment that meant clearer ideological sorting of the parties and the rise of Republican dominance in the former Confederate states.

Let’s throw this problem of Senate representation on top of the fact that since 1996 the following are also true (all thing I have said multiple times before):

  • In 1996 and in 2012, the Democrats won the most votes nationally, but the Republicans won a majority of seats in the US House of Representatives.
  • Since 1996 the Republican party has won the national popular vote for president once (2004) but it has won the presidency three times out of seven in the same timeframe.
  • The confluence of these variables means that all the GOP nominees to the bench since 1996 have been by a president who did not win his first term by also winning the popular vote (George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, and won re-election in 2004 and won the popular vote so-doing).
  • Senate representativeness is even worse than the table suggests because the filibuster and other internal mechanisms of the chamber mean that the minority can block legislation.

I would argue that all of this helps to sum to a lot of political restlessness in the United States of America. There is a clear disconnect between popular preferences and governmental outcomes. People don’t always understand this fact, but they can feel it and see it, even if they don’t understand it.

If you are promised, your whole life, that we have “government of, by, and for the people” and yet it seems not to work that way, a combination of apathy and frustration will build.

I think this applies, by the way, across the political spectrum. A lot of Trump’s appeal (being a supposed outsider who would run government like a business, drain the swamp, speak for people like me, and who fights like hell) is a direct link to people who feel like government doesn’t work.

Populist demagogues like Trump often emerge and mobilize voters because some segments of the population feel unheard. In the US context with Trump and the Republicans, we end up with the populist demagogue winning the presidency because he is able to a) capture the nomination due to a porous nominating process, b) a status quo party wherein the monied supporters of the party are happy if little governing takes place, save for tax cuts, regulation cuts, and status quo maintenance, and c) a rigid party duopoly in which most voters are going to vote their partisan ID.

Another clear manifestation of frustration with the inability of government to address major national problems was the BLM/anti-police violence protests last year.

I would note that I am not asserting moral equivalence to everything that different people or groups want. Nor am I addressing this issue in a comprehensive manner.** I am saying that our government does an especially poor job of a) representing the population, and b) making policy in accordance with the preferences and needs of that population. The system is highly biased towards the status quo, and it looks to the courts for remedies that should be handled by legislators (not to mention heavily relies on executive action).

There is a discussion to be had about the value of a system that is slow and deliberate (which bicameralism with equal chambers creates by definition, even with a just representation scheme), but a system that does not adequately represent the population and that, in fact, empowers a status quo-preferring minority, is a recipe for crisis and breakdown.

I will note again, my goal here is not Democratic Party dominance nor the triumph of a particular set of policy outcomes.*** My preference is a system that a) creates real competition in elections between varying factions of the society and b) allows the winners to govern and then to be held accountable to the voters again after their term in office.

A fundamental part of my point is that a system that actually allowed parties to govern if they win office would actually force those who make the laws to have to be held accountable for outcomes. At the moment the parties just blame each other for nothing getting done. This just reinforces polarization, since the problem, as far as most people are concerned, is the other side, not the system itself. There is also a profound lack of competition linked to outcomes that a healthy representational feedback loop needs.

The main way to get better parties and policy is to have real competition for power. Right now a lot of our political competition is over identity, not outcomes (with a bias towards status quo power structures and, ultimately, ossification).

That likely doesn’t end well.


*For any new (or, for that matter, old) reader who wants to raise “but we have a republic, not a democracy” please see this: The “A Republic, not a Democracy”Library” Also: this post is already too long for me to go into the inherent flaws of the Senate’s structure. I will simply note that it is not some genius-level representational design, but rather it was the result of a political compromise. I would add that James Madison himself wanted the Senate allocated by population, and to be chosen by the House, not state legislatures.

**There is a lot more than could be said about this, clearly. And I am not saying that MAGA rallies and BLM protests are morally the same. I am saying that frustration over political representation and the responsiveness of government can lead to any number of manifestations. It is also the case that many people who are frustrated will act against their own interests because they believe cues from leaders. The best way to convince people in small towns, for example, that their problems are not the fault of giving Black people welfare, or because of immigration, is to have better policies for those poor small towns. But as long as policy is not happening, leaders can blow dog whistles. Keep in mind: there was a time in the rural South that FDR was revered by many.

***Do I have personal policy preferences? Of course, but that’s not the point. Further, I harp on the lack of adequate representation of Democrats in government (relative to the votes they win) because it is democratically and representationally unjust and will lead in my professional opinion, to ongoing and deeper political crises. That’s not going to be good for the country.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Democracy, US Politics, US Senate
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “I would argue that all of this helps to sum to a lot of political restlessness in the United States of America. There is a clear disconnect between popular preferences and governmental outcomes.”

    The irony is that the side who have gained political power due to the statistics cited in the post are also those who are more restless and interested in acting out on their frustrations.

    ReplyReply
    7
  2. CSK says:

    SLT, you might want to correct the spelling of “unrepresentative” in the title. [Fixed-jhj]

    ReplyReply
    1
  3. James Joyner says:

    the last time the Republicans represented over half the population in the Senate was 1996. And yet, they have controlled the chamber seven times since 1998, to the Democrat’s five.

    Note that currently the Democrats only control 50% of the seats, but represent 56.5% of the population. Meanwhile, the Republicans control the same number of seats, but represent only 43.5% of the population.

    This is all doubtless true but it’s not obvious to me what the remedy should be.

    Presuming we stay with bicameralism—and with the Senate representing the 50 states and the House representing population as proxied by districts within said states—we would need to allocate them proportionally somehow to remedy the mix. But that would create a different sort of representativeness, at least if we continued single district, winner-take-all voting. California would get 12 percent of the Senators rather than the current 2%—which would be just and representative—but they would all be Democrats—which would be unjust and unrepresentative.

    ReplyReply
    2
  4. de stijl says:

    The residents of D.C. are not represented at all.

    I doubt it will change, but it should. It is a major structural injustice.

    ReplyReply
    2
  5. Barry says:

    I would emphasize that in addition,

    The Senate holds the chokepoint for judges, which means that they hold a very long-term power over what a Senate can accomplish under another party.

    The Senate has a bunch of very, very unbalanced rules which add additional and highly skewed controls. As has been pointed out, a $1.7 trillion tax cut skewed to the ultra-rich takes 51 votes, but a minimum wage hike takes 60.

    ReplyReply
    2
  6. Barry says:

    James, it’s been pointed out that Trump voters were overall better off than Democratic voters, and that being a racist a-hole (translated from socio-psych terms) was a very good predictor of voting for Trump.

    ReplyReply
    2
  7. @James Joyner: There are any number of possible remedies, although all of them are currently in the difficult-to-impossible range. But since I think most people don’t really understand the problem to begin with, pointing it out is all that can be done (and I have also learned that even with attentive, educated, and intelligent audiences that repetition and reinforcement are needed).

    I would prefer to see more proportional seat allocations in the Senate, but also a Germany-like situation in which the Senate’s powers were limited to items that truly dealt with the states as units and leave national legislation to the House alone. Or, what Mexico does and lets the House alone set the national budget with all other legislation being fully under the control of both chambers–I offer those up simply as discussion points and not hard and fast remedies.

    ReplyReply
    5
  8. @CSK: Thanks for noting and thanks to James for fixing.

    ReplyReply
    1
  9. @Barry: I am guessing this was meant for me.

    Yes, I agree that racial grievance is more significant than, say, economic issues (especially in the aggregate). I am not offering a mono-casual explanation.

    I am pointing out that whites in rural parts of the country, in particular, could be helped by better policy, but there is no real debate about policy. Instead, politics becomes about grievance and identity. It exacerbates the racial identity politics, especially of whites.

    ReplyReply
    4
  10. @James Joyner:California would get 12 percent of the Senators rather than the current 2%—which would be just and representative—but they would all be Democrats—which would be unjust and unrepresentative.

    It would be less unjust and less unrepresentative than the current situation, however (far less).

    But, yes, single-seat districts are a major problem and are not the best way to promote representativeness in legislative elections.

    I would prefer a proportionally-allocated Senate to be elected either by list-PR or STV (i.e., RCV in multi-seat districts).

    ReplyReply
    3
  11. @de stijl: Not just DC, but PR and the territories. It is a wholly unjust situation.

    ReplyReply
    2
  12. @Moosebreath:

    The irony is that the side who have gained political power due to the statistics cited in the post are also those who are more restless and interested in acting out on their frustrations.

    Indeed. Part of my point is that the problems caused by the system do not necessarily manifest in an orderly way.

    Also: I think that the two-party duopoloy causes its own distortions wherein once you are locked into one party’s coalition you don’t always realize or understand that your team might, in fact, be part of the reason you aren’t getting what you want (especially if the system isn’t really producing adequate results). You can tell yourself that the problem isn’t your team, its the other team.

    ReplyReply
    1
  13. MarkedMan says:

    This is tangential to the discussion and is not a disagreement with what Steven has put forward here.

    It seems to me that the only short term solution is fairly straightforward, albeit difficult in practice: There are certain states that are “worth more” as Senate seats because they represent so few people. Most of them don’t have the specific pathologies of the old South but nonetheless are Trump states. Dems should make serious plays for them on a continuing and long term basis.

    That means getting rid of the Party’s policy-first bent. 70% of the electorate are just going to follow whoever they latch on as a leader. Dems should back and promote candidates who are first and foremost appealing as leaders. Quit trying to check every box relevant to the the national Dem electorate – even if you believe those things are important. Use questions about, say, abortion not to demonstrate where you stand on each and every pending court case but to demonstrate leadership qualities.

    There is often an argument about whether the Democratic Party should “let in” candidates that have different views on abortion or civil rights or charter schools or whatever. I don’t think that’s the real issue. Dems need to stop forcing candidates to focus on what the national Democratic consensus is and let them focus on the local. Not change what they believe and stand for, but change what they focus on.

    A Senator is a product you are selling to the voters. If they were a car, the Dems current sales strategy is to answer every question with the same long list of the technical specifications. Instead, a good sales rep should listen to the buyers and highlight the things they are asking about. And to get past the pre-written hostile questions, they need to understand what that buyer is really looking for. In the political case, its that 70% recalling looking for someone who 100% anti-abortion, or someone they see as a strong protector or children and families, someone to be trusted?

    ReplyReply
    6
  14. Michael Cain says:

    OT, but auto-complete or auto-correct — whichever you were using — was not your friend today, Steven. Lots of typos in there.

    ReplyReply
    1
  15. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I thought about it, but decided on just D.C. because that might be just doable. Rs ain’t ever gonna vote for D.C. as a state because those are two Senate seats they will never get and n Reps also beyond their reach.

    US citizens in D.C. have no voting members of Congress. That is manifestly unjust.

    Same for PR and territories, but if that happens before I die I would be shocked. Glad, but shocked.

    D.C. could happen if we lay enough guilt and justice denied schtick on. It’s black people and urban liberals. I’m kidding myself. Ain’t gonna happen.

    ReplyReply
    1
  16. de stijl says:

    @MarkedMan:

    We could consolidate. One Dakota instead of two. Wydaho perhaps. Kansas and Arkansas are just mocking us with those names.

    ReplyReply
    8
  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That means getting rid of the Party’s policy-first bent. 70% of the electorate are just going to follow whoever they latch on as a leader. Dems should back and promote candidates who are first and foremost appealing as leaders.

    Yup

    And this week, various senate Dems and in particular party activists and Dem House members appear to be willing to blow up Biden’s Covid bill over a minimum wage hike. Idiocy! Given how popular the minimum wage bill is, it would make a wonderful standalone bill to make the R’s filibuster it and keep calling for cloture votes to embarrass the crap out of them.

    ReplyReply
    3
  18. @Michael Cain: I will go back over and proof it again, thanks.
    Not so much auto-correct as that the way WordPress works leads to a lot of lag for me on longer posts. I often type faster than the words show up which is a bad combo for a person who is a terrible self-editor, especially immediately after having written.

    The truth is I am semi-error blind right after I write. I just found a number of errors and fixed them, but am in no way confident I still didn’t overlook others.

    ReplyReply
    2
  19. IdahoHokie says:

    @de stijl:

    Please don’t lump us in with Wyoming. That would dilute the power of liberal parts of Idaho such as Boise and Sun Valley even more. We’re disenfranchised at the state and national level enough as it is.

    ReplyReply
    3
  20. @MarkedMan: I take the basic point. But the problem is this: the pro-lifer is going to vote GOP because the GOP is the anti-abortion party and so if one of my main goals is stopping abortion, then voting for a pro-life Dem isn’t going to cut it in terms of my overall preferences.

    But, more importantly,

    70% of the electorate are just going to follow whoever they latch on as a leader.

    First, I don’t think you can find 30% of voters who are swing voters. The number is really much smaller than that.

    Second, and this is the core issue for American politics that is often really hard for Americans to get: the problem is single-seat districts. The issue is not “what is the overall distribution of partisans” the issue is “what is the distribution of partisans in a given district?” (Or, as it pertains to the Senate, in a given state).

    Third, the nationalization of American party politics isn’t going away any time soon, and so the notion that it can be short-circuited by strategic moved by Dems and nominations is unlikely to work.

    For example: once Manchin leaves, a Manchin-like Dem in WV will lose every single time to a Republican if current conditions remain steady.

    ReplyReply
    2
  21. gVOR08 says:

    @MarkedMan: Right. People don’t vote on policy, they vote on tribal identity. To a great extent Republicans have made themselves the regular (white) people tribe. By reflection then the Ds were the party of minorities and weirdos. I feel like Ds have an opportunity here to define themselves as the tribe of rational and decent and let Trump drag the Rs to whatever’s left.

    ReplyReply
    2
  22. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: North Dakota is a valuable control group for the experiments mad political scientists are performing in South Dakota.

    ReplyReply
    2
  23. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’d like to see the Senate take on a role closer to my probably flawed interpretation of the House of Lords a few generations ago — able to delay legislation from the lower chamber (possibly with a workaround for the lower chamber to override), but not able to do much else.

    And we need to fix the gerrymandering of the House through any of your preferred methods. Multi-seat districts, more districts, both, etc.

    There is some value to having to bring the bring enough of the less powerful regions of the country along to implement immediate significant legislation. Delay it a cycle, and give the opposition a chance to win the House and repeal it before it takes effect. Slow change down, give people a chance to reconsider, rather than block change.

    I would also put the burden on the Senate to reject nominees within 60 days, or have their refusal to provide advice and consent be interpreted as “eh, I guess, if this is the person you want, fine.”

    ReplyReply
    1
  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I agree with everything you said.

    I think you are missing my point.

    the pro-lifer is going to vote GOP

    I guess I wasn’t clear enough. My point is that the actual pro-lifer contingent is only 20-30% of the party. The other 70 are pro life because that’s what they people they follow say. If you get them to follow someone else they will “see the wisdom” on the other side.

    Poll after poll, year after year, Republicans said character mattered. No question. No doubt. Central tenet of the Republican Party. And then Trump came.

    Did I say 20-30%? More like 10-15%

    ReplyReply
    2
  25. Andy says:

    Another meaty and well-argued post Steven.

    Rather than repeating my old criticisms for the hundredth time, I’d like to come at your arguments from a different angle. But before I lay out a counter-argument I want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly. Here’s my summary interpretation of your views – not only based on this post but also on previous posts that have covered this and related topics:

    – You are arguing that the problems in federal governance are primarily due to a lack of representation and this lack of representation is due to structural problems in the system of the federal government.
    – The evidence the demonstrates this lack of representation is measured in the difference between the shares of partisan (GoP & Dem) votes at various levels of government vs the relative share of partisans (GoP & Dem) who are actually elected.
    – And your goal is to rectify this partisan imbalance through structural reform that would seek to ensure that the GoP-Dem split between elected politicians is mirrored as closely as possible to the GoP-Dem split among voters as a whole.
    – You believe that increasing representativeness at the federal level is of primary importance in ensuring better federal governance and fixing federal dysfunction.

    Is that an accurate summary?

    ReplyReply
    2
  26. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    The sub rosa underbelly of North Dakota got very good at delivering booze, hookers, and hard and soft drugs to bored shale oil boom workers back when that was a thing.

    Williston was Vegas of the high plains for a few years.

    US2 is one of my favorite driving roads. Primal emptiness. It gets emptier when you get into Montana. Starkly empty. The vastness. The sky. It zaps your head.

    ReplyReply
  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: True. On the other hand, it may be important to realize that when DC was planned, no one considered the possibility that citizens who actually voted/were eligible to vote would be living there full time.

    ReplyReply
    1
  28. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    @Moosebreath: The irony is that the side who have gained political power due to the statistics cited in the post are also those who are more restless and interested in acting out on their frustrations.

    One other irony that I would layer in here – The minority party is also the party that most vociferously claims they represent the Real America (TM). They are the Makers, not the Takers. They are the true patriots of the Heartland, not the godless foreigners of the cities.

    It’s a ready-made defense of the continuation of their minority rule – the majority mob would selfishly write themselves a blank check and destroy all that is good in the US of A.

    ReplyReply
    2
  29. Mimai says:

    I’m curious to hear what, if anything, you think about Garett Jones’ arguments in 10% Less Democracy. Are you two in broad agreement on the problem but diverge on the solutions? Or are your views on the problem fundamentally at odds?

    ReplyReply
  30. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Third, the nationalization of American party politics isn’t going away any time soon, and so the notion that it can be short-circuited by strategic moved by Dems and nominations is unlikely to work.

    This is an undersold point that has analogs in other areas. One of the issues with ‘America First’ policy–buy American, stop outsourcing, bring back manufacturing, Trump’s obsession with the trade defect–is its misunderstanding of globalization.

    Globalization is technological shrinkage of the globe. Going it alone fails as economic policy, because it locks out the insular society from goods, services, and knowledge that ces from international exchange and cooperation. The criticism of NAFTA during elections was never about trade agreements themselves. It was only a scapegoat easily encapsulated in soundbites. Ditto Brexit. Ditto Chaaaiiiiiina fearmongering.

    The nationalization of American politics is similar. Conflicts arise from disputes that don’t respect boundaries sharpied on a map. Returning to a less Federal, more balkanized political structure is like putting out a grease fire with pales of water.

    It’s easier to instill hate and distrust federal bureaucracy than it is to understand the interactions of x number of variables in an environment in which the only constant is dynamism.

    ReplyReply
    1
  31. de stijl says:

    What would happen if D.C. residents stopped paying federal taxes?

    ReplyReply
  32. Scott O says:

    ‘That likely doesn’t end well’

    So many of these posts about our system of governance end with statements like this. Or something like ‘here’s ways to reform things but it will never happen’. It’s depressing. I’m 64 now. Will things improve in my lifetime? Probably not.

    30 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed I felt like the world was becoming a better place. I always thought our country was saner than those others that had crazy political movements. Ha, I was so naive.

    A recent Bulwark podcast said reforming the GOP, by which they meant returning to rationality , would take 20 years. Maybe, I don’t know. The market for ‘fake news”, believe whatever you want, is much greater than I thought possible.

    ReplyReply
    4
  33. de stijl says:

    @Scott O:

    You are a witness to history. You observed the beginning of the collapse of the USA.

    We live in important times. History will judge us. Choose well.

    ReplyReply
  34. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    You are arguing that the problems in federal governance are primarily due to a lack of representation

    I am obviously not Dr. Taylor, and do not speak for him, but I did not understand him to be making a pragmatic claim that the undemocratic nature of our electoral processes is the source of specific problems. Rather, I took him to be arguing that the undemocratic outcomes, in which a decided minority of votes result in a controlling majority of Senators and Representatives, is unacceptable prima facie, regardless of which particular recent problems it has led to. Or, indeed, even if no particular problems had yet arisen.

    ReplyReply
    4
  35. Ken_L says:

    America needs a new constitution, to remedy not only the problems described in the post but numerous others (e.g. the atrocious politicisation of the courts). History suggests countries only get to review their constitutions after massive social disruption. Perhaps politicians desperately trying to prevent total social fragmentation organize a constitutional convention, or patriotic generals organize one after taking power temporarily. The necessary precondition is a catastrophic failure of the pre-existing constitution, evidenced by widespread civil disobedience or open rebellion.

    I don’t believe there has ever been an instance in history of political leaders engaging in rational, good faith discussions to rewrite a constitution that had manifestly failed to serve the national interest. It would be nice to think America could be the exception, but it’s unlikely.

    ReplyReply
    2
  36. de stijl says:

    @Ken_L:

    Sir, this is an Arby’s.

    ReplyReply
    4
  37. James Joyner says:

    @Ken_L: The problem is that Representatives and Senators don’t serve the country as a whole but their constituents. That’s by design. And most small-state Senators are quite happy with how the current Constitution works. (Indeed, many of the flaws were intentionally baked in from Day 1 because the Framers were likewise representing their states, not the country as a whole.)

    ReplyReply
    1
  38. DrDaveT says:

    @Ken_L:

    I don’t believe there has ever been an instance in history of political leaders engaging in rational, good faith discussions to rewrite a constitution that had manifestly failed to serve the national interest.

    Damn. I thought that’s how we got our current constitution…

    ReplyReply
    2
  39. @Andy: You have captured the general issue, yes. (Although it would likely help to define what you mean by “problems in federal governance”). I am fundamentally arguing that a system that purports to be representative, but is structurally flawed in ways the consistently and empirically undercut that claim, is going to eventually lead to a serious crisis. (And given that we just had an attempted insurrection at the US capitol intended to disrupt a constitutional process, I don’t think I am engaging in hyperbole).

    I would amend your middle two bullet points would include scenarios in which the two parties would break up and we would end up with a more representative multi-party system.

    The disjuncture between popular sentiment (as measured in votes for parties) and the results of those elections (those parties winning office) is a major problem for representative democracy. It is made worse by various other factors (such as the filibuster, the role of the courts, and the role of executive orders).

    At a minimum, I would argue for a better alignment between votes cast and offices won (a fundamental core of representative democracy). On our system’s own terms, it is highly problematic that the House and the President can be won with minority support nationally (even if you want to argue that the Senate is well-designed and performs a needed, well-thought-out function).

    I would prefer deeper reforms that would lead to a multi-party system.

    And I think that over time the frustration over lack of policy outcomes given the lack of representativeness leads to social unrest and eventually serious crisis.

    But as @DrDaveT correctly notes

    Rather, I took him to be arguing that the undemocratic outcomes, in which a decided minority of votes result in a controlling majority of Senators and Representatives, is unacceptable prima facie, regardless of which particular recent problems it has led to. Or, indeed, even if no particular problems had yet arisen.

    ReplyReply
  40. @Scott F.: The leaders of the GOP have every reason to foster this narrative. And it is not surprising that a lot of the rank-and-file followers accept it.

    Everyone likes to be told that they are important.

    ReplyReply
  41. @Mimai: I am unfamiliar. Do you have a suggestion as to where to look into it?

    ReplyReply
  42. @Scott O:

    It’s depressing.

    It really is. There have been moments where I have just wanted to stop talking about it because I think that the problem is sp huge and the solutions so unlikely to be implemented.

    There have been days, especially after 1/6 and listening to people who should know better lie about the election to mobilize their supporters that I think I should focus on the administrative side of my job and walk away from even talking about the problems of American democracy. It is, as you say, quite depressing.

    ReplyReply
    2
  43. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Here’s the publisher’s homepage for the book, which has excerpts (including the Introduction). https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=28088

    There’s also been a few podcasts on it, including a Conversations with Tyler. https://conversationswithtyler.com/episodes/garett-jones/

    ReplyReply
  44. These problems do indeed seem intractable, but they don’t have to be if we actually do the things that can be done without a constitutional amendment. I see no reason, given the wording of Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1, that Congress couldn’t impose some sort of weak proportionality requirement that prohibits the legislatures from drawing lines to partisan advantage. Of course, another way to do something along these lines is passing the Fair Representation Act which mandates multimember districts and the use of STV for proportionality.

    If I got to amend the constitution one time it would be to give the House the same advise and consent power as the Senate. When the Framers gave the Senate the exclusive advise and consent power the only things judges were doing was interpreting federal laws (SCOTUS has some original jurisdiction stuff that’s a different subject). By adopting judicial review we inadvertently created an avenue for minority rule given that the Senate doesn’t represent the people and neither does the electoral college.

    There’s a lot more I would do but I don’t think these things are intractable. The problem is that there’s a minority within this country currently benefiting from, well, minority rule and any attempt to add balance to the system will be met with resistance.

    ReplyReply
  45. @Mimai: Thanks. That gives me a general idea.

    I obviously can’t say that I can endorse (or not) Jones’ ideas as I could only glean so much from the book description and ToC. I would agree, as a general principle, that we actually do have too much democracy in the US (i.e., we choose waaaaay too many local offices–my favorite example being that we elect county coroners in Alabama). It is impossible for the electorate to be adequately educated on all the offices we get to vote on.

    I think judges should be appointed, for example.

    And I have argued that primaries for nominations are ultimately detrimental to democracy, even though they are democratic means of choosing candidates.

    ReplyReply
  46. @Robert Prather: For sure, there are things that could be done well short of amendment. I wish, and I know you agree, they would expand the size of the House and admit PR and DC as states.

    I am just continually struck by how bad the problem really is and the degree to which this is not understood widely enough.

    ReplyReply
  47. @Steven L. Taylor: I didn’t even bother mentioning expanding the House because I knew that you, and everyone who knows me online, knows that I’m pretty obsessed with it. I’ve even called my representative/Senators twice and plan to do so a third and fourth time. And, yes, PR and DC as states.

    The problem is indeed very, very bad as the attempted insurrection demonstrates. I actually fear that anything that attempts to balance the system, even something as innocuous as adding House seats, might lead to additional violence.

    Another thing that strikes me is that a lot of Democrats who say that representation is the issue and favor things like HR1 (which is sorely needed) would probably be repulsed by the idea of expanding the House because it would dilute their individual influence. I question the rhetoric of people who claim that it’s an emergency yet still favor protecting their interests over improving representation. That’s the one thing that makes this seem intractable and I have no idea how to get around it.

    ReplyReply
  48. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: This is something that I grapple with and am inconsistent about – if I’m honest with myself, my given take at any moment is far too dependent on my affect.

    On the one hand, “we” fetishize democracy, as evidenced by (and likely to be a consequence of) the voting items you list above. And knowing a lot about the foibles of the human brain, I don’t have much confidence in people’s judgments on such matters. In that sense, I’m inclined toward a more elitist approach (“the best argument against democracy is a 5 min conversation with the average voter”).

    And yet, I naturally bristle at the notion that others (if I was being crabby, I might say “our betters” with dripping sarcasm and disdain) should be making more of these decisions. And the rest of “us” should have to live with it.

    I suppose we’re all elitists when we are in charge, and anti-elitist when not – or maybe I’m just projecting onto others. I’d love to have a guiding principle (actually, what I want is a full-proof one) to help me better think about these things…..or at least to better fool myself with. But alas.

    ReplyReply
  49. @Mimai: I would state that democracy is best focused on legislatures and that governing is best left to those legislative bodies. I could make an argument that parliamentarian, with the PM being chosen by the legislature is more democratic than presidentialism with the people voting directly for the head of government, for example.

    Judges, for example, ought to be expert in the law and not subject to election (although I would prefer they not have life tenure). I saw in the Jones book the Federal Reserve as an example and I agree that that is the kind of institution that ought to be a few steps away from direct election, and so forth.

    ReplyReply
    1

Speak Your Mind

*