Tyranny of the minority

Never been all that much of a fan of Michelle Goldberg, but I certainly did appreciate her debut NYT column on the absurd over-representation of land in the United States system of government.  What was definitely necessary and not horribly unreasonable in 1789, is just a gross perversion of democratic principles today.  To wit:

Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.” … [emphasis mine]

The distortion carries over to the Electoral College, where each state’s number of electors is determined by the size of its congressional delegation. This would matter less if the United States weren’t so geographically polarized. But America is now two countries, eyeing each other across a chasm of distrust and contempt. One is urban, diverse and outward-looking. This is the America that’s growing. The other is white, provincial and culturally revanchist. This is the America that’s in charge…

Before Trump, there was enough overlap between popular will and electoral outcome to make the issue largely semantic. Now it’s existential. Certainly, we need checks on the tyranny of the majority. But what we have now is the tyranny of the minority.

There are ways out.

Not that there’s much hope for them in the short-medium future, but I appreciate Goldberg advocating the National Popular Vote plan from Fairvote.  At some point, a body where 20% of the citizens have 80% of the representation brings the very legitimacy of that body into question.  And, there is no more important body when it comes to policy in the US than the Senate.  Just ask yourself what you would think of an institution like that in another democracy.  You’d probably wonder if it were really a democracy.  Yeah, it is extra frustrating that this dramatically benefits the Republican party.  But, historically speaking, I’m pretty sure land has always been more conservative than humans (because city dwellers are always more liberal than rural dwellers). So, time to stop having so much of what happens in this country determined by acreage.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Tyranny of the minority

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Not only do the rural areas get most of the vote, they also get money from the urban states. Maybe when the citizens of the urban states realize that they are financially subsidizing the poorer states, there will be change. We need an urban populist!

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