Republicans Ask: Should The Majority Rule?

Last month, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s refusal to protect its previously articulated principle of “one person, one vote” by limiting the degree to which Congressional districts can be dishonestly drawn, Talking Points Memo published an essay about the GOP’s embrace of an explicitly anti-democratic philosophy.

Josh Marshall identified the issue, and emphasized that it is separate from the Founders’ well-documented concern about the “passions of the majority.”

Much of American constitutionalism is bound up with protecting the rights of minorities against untrammeled majorities. Here though, I’m focused on something distinct and separate: the creation of anti-majoritarian ideologies, fully articulated arguments for why democratic majorities should not in fact, as a matter of principle, hold political power.

Marshall quotes Scott Walker, the former (sleazy) governor of Wisconsin, who now heads up a GOP committee defending gerrymandering (because of course he does); Walker claims that what Democrats call “fair” maps aren’t really fair because they advantage urban areas where more voters live. He argues that counting each vote equally gives urban areas “too large an influence.”

This is a bracingly candid statement of the position: We need to reevaluate how we define “fair”. Because if “fair” means whoever gets the most votes (i.e., proportional representation) then Republicans are at an inherent disadvantage “because of their national popular vote edge.” I don’t think my explication really goes beyond Walker’s statement really at all: what Democrats call “fair” is the candidate with the most votes winning.

As Marshall says,

Beyond the opportunism and the fact that city vs non-city has a deeply racial dimension, at a basic level Walker wants to see city and non-city as two contending entities which deserve to contend on equal terms. But of course these concepts, city and non-city or city and rural areas have no existence in American law. Nor does the idea even have a factual grounding. There are plenty of Republicans in cities and Democrats outside the cities. It is simply a broad brush way of capturing a political division in American society which Walker – and a growing number of Republicans – has formalized to explain why laws and districts should be changed to ensure that his preferred candidates win even when they get fewer votes.

Given the fact that twice in the last 16 years, the candidate who lost the popular vote–in the case of Trump, massively–became President, Americans have increasingly focused on the anti-democratic elements of our Constitutional system.

Thanks to the Electoral College, and population shifts over time, it currently takes four urban votes to equal three rural votes.

The composition of the Senate is equally undemocratic: every state has two Senators, irrespective of the state’s population. Today, a majority of Americans live in nine states that collectively have 18 votes in the Senate. The rest of the country–with a minority of the population– has 82.

These anti-democratic elements have been around a long time. What’s new, as Marshall points out, is that “the big state/small state divide has seldom lined up so clearly with the broader partisan division in the country.

All of this is part of the central dynamic of our time: Republicans increasingly turning against majority rule and a widely shared franchise because majorities, when not sliced up into gerrymandered districts or state borders, increasingly favor Democrats. That’s why we have voter ID laws. It’s why we have resistance to early voting, felon voting and basically everything else that doesn’t keep the voting electorate as small as old and as white as possible. Most of these strategies have focused on things like election security, or cost or convenience or whipped up fears about voter fraud. But that’s starting to change. The explicit embrace of special advantages for Republicans outside major urban concentrations, the explicit embrace of majority rule not being the essence of electoral fairness, is coming to the fore.

Defenders of anti-majoritarianism protest that we are not and never have been a democracy; we are a representative republic. That’s accurate as far as it goes. Certainly, as Marshall notes, the Founders had a well-grounded concern that minority rights would suffer if popular majorities were left unrestrained. Even if we must close our eyes to some of the less laudable concerns that prompted creation of the Electoral College and the composition of the Senate, the protection of minority opinion justifies a degree of anti-majoritarianism.

The question is: how much?

The tension between individual rights and majority passions–the need to find the proper balance between the two– has been a constant theme throughout American history.

Too much majoritarianism threatens individual rights. Too little–as when a minority is empowered to elect candidates rejected by the majority– threatens government legitimacy.

Persistent rule by the minority is an invitation to revolution.

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “Republicans Ask: Should The Majority Rule?

  1. “Given the fact that twice in the last 16 years, the candidate who lost the popular vote–in the case of Trump, massively–became President, Americans have increasingly focused on the anti-democratic elements of our Constitutional system.”

    Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution regarding the Electoral College states that the Electoral members vote by ballot for the candidates; their certifications go the the president of the Senate to be opened before the Senate and House of Representatives (full Senate and House members NOT required to be present) to be counted. Some Electoral members are voted in before elections, some appointed; they all appear to be Lobbyists for their chosen Senate or House Representative and their party. Some states (Republican) require all Electoral members cast their vote for their choice for president and vice president by their party member, some states count each Electoral member’s votes for their choice. In such a conglomeration of conflicting rules and regulations , decided state-by-state, regarding Electoral member’s election/appointment and their forced vs. free choice for president and vice president…how can the Electoral College possibly reach a fair conclusion to the outcome of the election by going against the majority of the country’s election numbers? Why bother with the public election if the outcome can and will be ignored by a chosen few by the party members in each state? Is it simply to appease the American public like giving a baby a pacifier?

    Two weeks before the 2016 presidential election; a grinning Rudy Giuliani publicly announced on more than one occasion that “the Republicans have something up their sleeve, the Electoral College is sewn up and Trump will win the election”. The Electoral College appointment came early on the morning of November 9, 2016, and we are looking at the same announced appointment in November 2020; Republicans are AGAIN claiming an Electoral College win.

    “The tension between individual rights and majority passions–the need to find the proper balance between the two– has been a constant theme throughout American history.”

    The current “individual rights” are the White Nationalist/Sovereignty Commission with racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism as Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign foundation. “majority passions” be damned. A Civil War of Tweets and vocal accusations has the country riled and the Democratic party at each other’s throats. Our first Civil War was to preserve the Union; there is no longer any Union to preserve; it is an administration of mismatched, continually changing of “acting” heads of departments; democracy, Rule of Law, upholding the Constitution of the United States is no longer even the issue. What the hell is the issue as we watch distractions and distortions of who and what is important in the survival of this nation?

    I won’t apologize for the length of my comments; the time for “long story, short” is long gone.

  2. I would be willing to bet that, if that 1/3 of citizens who are not moved to vote could be so moved, Republicans would lose in even the reddest of red states.

  3. I am familiar with our forefathers’ concerns of Athenian democracy’s rule by the majority versus rights of the minority and their attempts to write a document that would provide a means for evening up the process, but there is a further nuance involved, to wit: the distinction in how, given Madison’s assignment of elections to the states and our Constitution and its interpretation since Marbury, those who are to govern are to be democratically selected and how our governors once selected are to govern in accord with the principle that government’s legitimacy is tied to “the consent of the majority to be governed.” Trying to address their application simultaneously may be a logical bridge too far and has led me to comment elsewhere (the ultimate idiocy?) that the Constitution may itself be unconstitutional since, after all, the UK gets along without a written constitution, and perhaps we would be better off without such constricting boundaries our Constitution apparently ;provides our Supreme Court with opportunities to come up with a Citizens United and its recent, selective and erroneous use of the Separation of Powers Doctrine to authorize continuing gerrymandering which, along with the two senators per state, constitute the greatest enemies of majority rule. Our forefathers’ concerns for the rights of the minority may (as interpreted) have inadvertently given bullying rights (and the right to govern) to the minority which, in my opinion, was not their intention and cannot stand.

  4. Yep. The concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the few has never ended well, especially for the few. We think violent revolution can’t happen here because elections defuse tensions every two years, but under the current Republican strategy to ensure minority rule (Republicans were outvoted by Democrats overall in the House races, too), that valve will no longer work.

  5. There was an article in The Guardian where leftists are starting to stock rifles for the impending revolution with the militarized right, so I am thinking we are heading down a dangerous path at this point.

    Stealing elections via rigging them was not such a great long term strategy because if you take away my vote, what do I have remaining to protest the ruling order?

    Violence is what comes next.

  6. One of the measures that is more apparent today than it was in the times of our founding is the rate of change. It’s always been a challenge for culture (the main ingredient in our thinking) to keep up with the stew of humanity that is our environment and mutual thinking is usually behind individual thinking. In fact we owe our success as a species to culture mitigating impulse in order to maintain for us a certain proportion of the lessons of the past.

    All well and good but also potentially problematic at today’s rate of change.

    Republicans offer the past which entitled certain classes. Democrats offer preparation for the future that is coming no matter what formerly entitled classes want.

    The net result is that the the more Republicans there are in our policy making the less prepared we will be for the threats and opportunities we will face.

    Plus power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Oh oh, could this be the end?

    Yes.

  7. Todd,

    Very good point today. Indeed, an intellectual dwarf like Scott Walker cannot possibly see the consequences of his actions. I’m sure he failed history completely. BTW, Republicans have been trying to “alter” the voting rights since Lincoln was shot. They are even trying to finish the job that Roberts started of dismantling the Voting Rights Act.

    They are Republicans owned and operated by corporate/banking America. Full stop. No more need be said.

  8. Peggy – you are right on! This is a laser focus for 2020 that is a last best hope. If you believe that the 50+ % of the electorate that cares more about our country and their kids/grandkids than “party” then we get them to vote for their “caring”.

  9. The GOP has for some time had a game plan for the whole game. Using a football analogy they are playing all four quarters. It has been said and often quoted, “”Men, I’ll be honest. Winning isn’t everything”, “Men, it’s the only thing!”.

    Winning is the goal but with the GOP when necessary they change rules with a variety of schemes: Gerrymandering and voter suppression of various means. The GOP now has a rock solid base of evangelical bible thumper’s, and Neo-Confederates.

    The differences between the parties are no longer disputes or disagreements concerning economic policies. The disagreements are cultural, social and religious, i.e., belief systems.

    President Agent Orange, the political arsonist gathers up the dry tinder, lights the fire, pours on gasoline and walks away. The GOP then either ignores the fire or insists it was spontaneous combustion.

  10. Monotonous – “The differences between the parties are no longer disputes or disagreements concerning economic policies. The disagreements are cultural, social and religious, i.e., belief systems.
    President Agent Orange, the political arsonist gathers up the dry tinder, lights the fire, pours on gasoline and walks away. The GOP then either ignores the fire or insists it was spontaneous combustion.” For me, this about sums it up.

  11. “Thanks to the Electoral College, and population shifts over time, it currently takes four urban votes to equal three rural votes.”

    Sometime, I’d like to see the basis for this statement and to what type of election and jurisdiction it applies. ( I can’t get there in my arithmetic)

  12. Folks, I continue to be amazed by how the comments on here ignore the pretty-well-accepted stats that most (and more and more) potential voters do not “hard identify” with either party – they are soured on parties and seek “person” and/or “ideas that relate to my everyday life” instead of ideology. Get real folks and we can turn the Titanic.

  13. Todd,

    It’s comical if a group of liberals thinks that they can compete in firepower with another group that has been stockpiling weapons since before 1776. As the chief sponsor of slavery and rule by the minority, South Carolina, has been known to go to war over such issues and has long awaited the opportunity to prove that a second shot at treason just might pay off. More than one self-respecting redneck in the state has an armory that reaches as many as 10,000 guns (discovered in 2015). My seventy-year-old .22 is of little comfort in suggesting how a majority/minority confrontation with my neighbors might turn out.

    As early as 1860, 57% of South Carolinians were black. However, they have won only one state-wide election. Except for the Criminal-in-Chief’s harshest racist comments, our black U.S. Senator (initially appointed thanks to his ultra-conservatism) objects to nothing Trump says.

    But perhaps our biggest problem is that the state tossed out the Common Core approach to improving education when it was discovered that it contained a module on critical thinking. That was a critical mistake. We work so hard to deny an education to blacks that we forget to supply one to the non-wealthy members of the minority race. Honk if you love Jesus.

  14. Terry,

    That FBI agent (retiree) that I mentioned the other day moved from bright red Horseshoe Bay, TX to Crimson South Carolina. I guess Texas had just gotten too reasonable for him. S.C. politics are a redneck joke. See Graham, Lindsey if there were any doubts.

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