The genius of the American political system used to be its ability to change. Between 1784 and 1992, Americans amended their constitution 27 times, adjusting their governing structures to reflect evolving contexts and values. Today, the idea that the U.S. political system is imbued with genius sounds like a ludicrous joke. Our government has ossified and descended into decades of failure. It seems incapable of addressing the various crises that confront the American people at this point in time, and in addition to this inadequacy its structure seems all but unchangeable.
Our fossil of a political system inspires particular frustration within the Democratic Party. The Democrats, after all, are the party of activists government, and a political system that all but forecloses government action to redress wrongs is all but useless for such a faction. In addition, our government institutions provide systematic, inarguable advantages to the Republican Party. As the Republicans have devolved away from traditional American values, the unearned primacy our government gives to the GOP are putting our very democracy at risk.
The list of slanted institutions is long. Though Republicans seem literally incapable of winning the popular vote for President, they have held the White House for 12 of the last 20 years. That’s because the Electoral College gives outsize power to small, white states, and disadvantages a Democratic coalition that is increasingly concentrated on the coasts and in the Mississippi valley. The Electoral College is such an illogical feature of our government that though many republics around the world have emulated America, not a single one of them has implemented this minoritarian system. It is a catalyst for minority presidents.
Yet for all the iniquity of the Electoral College, no institution allows Republicans to arrogate unearned advantage like the U.S. Senate. The Senate overwhelmingly favors the voters who comprise the Republican base–white and rural. It is absurd that the Dakotas have twice as many senators as California even as their population is smaller than the Piedmont Triad, North Carolina’s third-largest metropolitan area. Further, the filibuster allows Republicans, who already represent 40 million fewer Americans than their Democratic rivals, to veto the vast majority of the Democratic agenda. Senate rules favor Republicans almost as much as the structure of the Senate itself.
The other branch of the American legislature is characterized by GOP privilege as well. The 2010 election will likely go down as one of the most consequential midterms in American history because it equipped Republicans with the power to draw districts. With majorities locked in by gerrymandering, GOP legislators have entrenched their party into nearly permanent majorities. They’ve already locked in majorities in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina for one decade, and the power of redistricting technology will let them draw slanted districts for another, and perhaps another after that. Democrats have to win the popular vote by nearly 6 points to take control of Congress. A Democratic takeover of purple-state legislatures is almost unthinkable.
The United States political system is broken and appears extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fix. The blunt fact is that Republicans from Newt Gingrich to Mitch McConnell to Donald Trump bear the overwhelming share of blame for our political system’s failures. They have created a system that gives their party far more power than its minority of the voters should bestow upon. Given the crisis we’re in, Democrats should make no apologies for changing the political system and restoring fairness, and functionality, to the government that should belong to the people.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.