Proportions of Political Power

Since adoption of the US Constitution, the nation’s electorate has quietly sustained a national gerrymander known as the Electoral College (EC). It was inserted into the document to “balance” the interests of less populous states with those of the more populous. At the same time, this structural institution resembled the British Parliament with a House of Lords and a House of Commons.  

At the time of its inclusion, neither women nor Blacks had a right to vote, although they constituted 2.2 million (55%) of the total population of almost 4 million in the 1790 census. White males numbering some 807,000 were the sole cohort eligible to vote (20% of the population).

Over ensuing years, several initiatives increased the portion of the electorate eligible to vote and decreased the role of state power. The 15th Amendment (1869) enfranchised slaves; the direct election of US senators was mandated by the 17th Amendment (1913); in 1920, the 19th Amendment afforded suffrage to women; and in1971, the voting age was established at 18 years of age.

On November 3, 2020, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) was reelected to another 6-year term from Kentucky, with 1.2 million of the 4.5 million residents of the Bluegrass State (24%). McConnell returns to the Senate (assuming the GOP retains a majority) as its majority leader. In that role, he is 1 of 53 Republicans; 1 of 100 Senators; 1 of 538 members of Congress. Yet his influence is far greater than these proportions would suggest.

McConnell has spearheaded a GOP hegemony of federal judicial appointments, including that of three justices to the US Supreme Court…. The legislative power of the majority leader was clearly on display, dedicated to political interests far removed from those of the national citizenry.

During his tenure as majority leader, McConnell has spearheaded a GOP hegemony of federal judicial appointments, including that of three justices to the US Supreme Court. The last was taken up while the nation eagerly awaited financial relief from the COVID pandemic. In short, the legislative power of the majority leader was clearly on display, dedicated to political interests far removed from those of the national citizenry.

In contrast, the next president of the Senate and vice president to be, Kamala Harris, received over 80 million votes (with presidential candidate Joe Biden), compared to the metrics that apply to the majority leader. If the Democrats win the two Georgia Senate runoff seats, Harris will be the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. That’s somewhat heartening for democratic representation. However, even to the casual observer (especially those abroad), the distribution of political power in the US seems misaligned.

A political party with a single, albeit microscopic, majority among 100 elected members of Congress controls an entire legislative and judicial personnel process – singlehandedly. The mandate of the current majority leader, if one exists, arises from the votes of 1.2 million versus the 80.2 million for the president of the legislative chamber in which he serves.

A political party with a single, albeit microscopic, majority among 100 elected members of Congress controls an entire legislative and judicial personnel process – singlehandedly. The mandate of the current majority leader, if one exists, arises from the votes of 1.2 million versus the 80.2 million for the president of the legislative chamber in which he serves. His accomplishments over the past 4 years were, in part, a pact with a POTUS who received fewer popular votes than the candidate defeated in the EC.

Somehow, somewhere, the proportions of political power are distorted, disfavoring one person-one vote as well as the arc of democratic progress signaled by a number of constitutional amendments. These significant inflection events are taught in our schools as examples, exemplars of ideals. Yet the reality of political power is quite different, almost nefarious. Those with the power carry out their will, democracy be damned.

The reality of political power is quite different, almost nefarious. Those with the power carry out their will, democracy be damned…. Political parties and individuals pursue elected office – not to serve – but to advocate for narrower interests, even ones obviously in conflict with democratic norms…. The current distortions of democracy and political power promise to exacerbate division, frustrate the welfare of the populace, and promote public distrust of governance. Profiles in courage are a necessity.

Some historians allude to earlier times when a different ethic pervaded the political elite and elected officials. That view is now deemed wistful, juvenile as both political parties and individuals pursue elected office – not to serve – but to advocate for narrower interests, even ones obviously in conflict with democratic norms but redolent of partisanship and partisan objectives..

It may turn out that the runoffs for the two Georgia Senate seats becoming Democratic could compromise the autocratic role of the Senate majority leader from one-person rule to an increased sharing of political authority. Such result should satisfy the faith voters expressed at the ballot box and defuse to another extent the extreme character of the nation’s divided civic culture. For this to happen, elected leaders must acknowledge that service to the public trumps allegiance to power.

Some, especially from the right wing of political views, are fond of asserting that the nation is not a democracy but a republic. Under the rule of McConnell, that proposition fails–miserably.

As an alternative, the current distortions of democracy and political power promise to exacerbate division, frustrate the welfare of the populace, and promote public distrust of governance. Profiles in courage are a necessity.

 

 



Categories: elections, GERRYMANDERING, Issues, National, politics, RULE OF LAW, SCOTUS

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