Minority rule is unsustainable in America

By | December 2, 2020

Kenneth Owen writes:

Minority rule is fast becoming the defining feature of the American republic. In 2000 and 2016, presidential candidates who received fewer votes than their opponents were nevertheless sent to the White House. Joe Biden’s 2020 victory came not because he won nearly 7 million more votes nationally than President Donald Trump, but rather because he won about 200,000 votes more in a handful of swing states. Congress has seen a similar dynamic: Though Republican senators make up the majority in the chamber, they represent more than 20 million fewer Americans than Democratic senators do. Such lopsided electoral calculus seems to fly in the face of both parties’ principles. It cannot last.

Though this period of minority rule is new since World War II, it is far from unprecedented. Unequal legislative apportionment has been a recurring quality of American government since its establishment. Parties who have found themselves in power by institutional oddities rather than overall weight of vote have refused to reach across the aisle, instead using their institutional advantage to further consolidate their hold on power. Although such tactics have been successful in the short term, they have ultimately been only temporary expedients. When the minority parties were finally removed from power, the backlash against them was swift and strong.

Begin at the nation’s founding. At the time when American colonists started actively considering independence from Britain, Pennsylvania’s legislature no longer proportionally represented its population. The Pennsylvania Assembly had proved efficient and professional throughout the 18th century, defending the interests of the colonial population against British imperial officials, but as the colony’s population expanded westward, eastern elites refused to extend representation to the predominantly Scotch-Irish and German immigrants living in the new settlements. Additionally, while Philadelphia had grown to become the most populous city in North America, political leaders from the surrounding counties refused to increase the city’s number of representatives. By the early 1770s, the state’s most radical voices in favor of revolution—Philadelphians and westerners—were systematically underrepresented in the legislature. [Continue reading…]

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