Unraveling the myth that the United States is “undemocratic” because we aren’t ruled by New York and California
From Vox.com to the New York Times, liberals are busy lamenting two of the very pillars of our Republic, the Senate and the Electoral College. Imagine if the system was different, they say, Donald Trump would never have been elected! The Republicans would be locked out of the halls of power and liberalism would be ascendant!
Setting aside the obvious wishcasting, the underlying claim is pretty simple: A simple majority doesn’t always rule in the United States, making us the least (or among the least) democratic countries in the Western world according to liberals. Therefore, we should immediately start electing the President by popular vote and do something entirely unspecified with the Senate, either pack it with more states or whatever they come up with.
The problem with their claim is equally obvious: States have rights and they get a vote. This is an intentional feature of our Republic, not a nefarious plot to elect Donald Trump and thwart liberal ambitions hundreds of years later.
We are, in fact, a union of states and the Federal government was designed to represent both the people and the states. At the time of the Founding, the state legislatures elected Senators, making the relationship even more implicit, but the underlying principle remains as necessary today as ever.
The question facing the Founders at the time: Why would a small state ever participate in a union of larger states? Their rights and the rights of their citizens would be subject to the whims of their larger brethren. The Senate protects these rights by giving all states an equal voice, and the Electoral College by apportioning a percentage of the vote at the state level.
In other words, there would be no United States without the Senate and the Electoral College.
It should be noted that, despite what leftists claim, these institutions have been essential to ensuring a more equal union and realizing the promise of freedom for all.
In the earliest days of the Republic, the Senate and the Electoral College served to limit the power of the slave states. Virginia and North Carolina accounted for almost 30% of the population, yet the smaller non-slave states like Vermont and Maine were given an equal voice. The result was a ban on the import of slaves in 1808 and the addition of no new slave state without a corresponding non-slave state.
The Electoral College also led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, ultimately ending slavery forever. Lincoln won under 40% of the popular vote. He didn’t carry a single slave state, but he captured almost 60% of the Electoral College to win. He went on to lead us through the Civil War and free the slaves.
Fast forward a hundred fifty years and it appears to be the only thing standing between leftists and sweeping, untested changes to our way of life, from a government take over of the entire energy industry to the elimination of private healthcare. The Senate’s role in the energy take over is especially telling: The states demanding it, California, New York, New Jersey, etc. aren’t big energy producers. Essentially, those states want to use the powers of the Federal government to shut down jobs in other states.
This is exactly what the Constitution was designed to protect against.
Hence, the real problem liberals have with the system is also pretty obvious: It’s a check on their power that makes structural change difficult to achieve, but that’s just another intentional feature. The status quo is supposed to prevail in a polarized country, otherwise a slim majority would be able to impose their will on a large minority.
Over the past 40 years, we’ve had Republicans in office for 24 and Democrats for 16. These aren’t the kind of dominant coalitions that produce radical changes, nor should they be. Putting it another way, should 50.001% of the population get to dictate the rights of the remaining 49.999%? Does one extra vote confer sweeping power?
Of course not, the majority doesn’t always rule for a reason. The answer liberals are searching for is the final obvious point: Build a more geographically diverse coalition that speaks to the needs of voters in flyover states. This is the path to victory in our democracy, not whining about the structure and expecting middle-America to roll over for New York and Los Angeles.