The Tyranny of the Minority
Like Saddam Hussein’s Baaths, a minority party is imposing its narrow beliefs on the majority of our country. When the majority of popular votes for President, and the collective voters in the states, are consistently overridden, it brings into question the legitimacy of the governing, a gap that is a recipe for authoritarianism or insurrection.
The failure to cope with a minority elected president establishing a Supreme Court of party-line conservatives imposing a minority’s vision for the nation is simply the latest expression of a fundamental issue that has been a growing plague in the American system of government for many years: the Tyranny of the Minority.
In their anti-authoritarian zeal to protect the rights of states against a central government, the Founders in their Constitution perversely enabled the minority to trample on the rights and interests of the majority. That tyranny is infecting all branches of government, corrupting the egalitarian principles which propelled our founding.
Minorities now control the executive and legislative branches of government, and have preempted the judicial. Operating by majority rule is a fraud when a majority of votes in the Senate and the House are controlled by minority levels of representation. The collective voice of the people has been disempowered. For example, Senators representing 118 million people voted in favor of Trump’s tax bill. Senators representing 163 million people voted against it. Nearly 60% of voters in our purported democracy were disenfranchised, with seemingly no recourse.
This imposition of the minority didn’t happen overnight. From the outset of the Republic, treating blacks as three fifths of a person for purposes of determining census counts and levels of representation enabled the slave holding states to wield influence disproportionate to the number of empowered voters in those states, a disparity which continues to this day through other, equally pernicious means.
Systemic voter suppression means that a vote in a state that denies the vote to many within its borders carries more weight than a vote in a state that provides equitable treatment of all voters. A thousand voters in an open state can be matched by nine hundred in a state that suppresses portions of their population, each vote thus worth 11% more than their neighbors’. Denying felons the right to vote further distorts outcomes, mostly in those same states.
A decades long relentless and ruthless campaign of gerrymandering has eliminated open elections in many districts. The AP has estimated at least 22 seats were captured by Republicans thanks to gerrymandered districts; in Utah, Salt Lake City Democrats are scattered among four surrounding districts that produce Republican majorities. The NYU School of Law Brennan Center for Justice calls this level of gerrymandering “a threat to our democracy.”
The Senate was created at a time when the population ratio of the largest state to the smallest state was 13 to 1; today it is 65 to 1. That enormously greater disparity between the large and small states makes a mockery of the idea that all votes have equivalent stature.
The electoral college is another toxic remnant of the slave era constitution, when drastic compromises were made to unite the states at all costs. The college warps national outcomes and thwarts the will of the majority, further reinforcing the power of states whose actual voters are a suppressed proportion of their attributed population.
Twice in recent memory losers receiving a minority of the vote have become president. That the beneficiaries of this distortion have been men who have lied to the country to plunge us into unnecessary wars while concentrating wealth among their kin is no accident; those willing to use the tools of suppression are those who seek power and its fruits over common interests.
The Supreme Court lost any claim or vestige to integrity with the outcome of Bush v. Gore, and the steady stream of decision based solely on party affiliation, turning off millions who don’t want to get involved in the farce.
These interlocking systems reinforce each other. As votes on taxes, gun controls and other issues have shown, the legislatures now enable a small group of people representing a minority of the population to decimate the will and interests of the majority.
The history of societal organization is the history of aristocrats, warlords, theocrats, apartheidists, the inner “parties” of brown shirts and red banners. Those that have the most want to keep and add to it. Democracy was supposed to be the antidote to such ills, but ours is in the process of failing, while a majority of good will and intent watches confused and helpless. They still trust institutions that no longer protect them, but are unwilling to recognize that fundamental shift.
The assault by the minorities has taken its psychic toll. Zealots keep at it, while their ostensible foes want a broader life and set of values. Republicans venally pursue power and their own interests, while Democrats haplessly try for greater inclusion and compassion, which puts them at a disadvantage in these power struggles. The result has been a systemic alienation of people who at a certain point exit the public space to try to find lives that they find fulfilling, within the increasingly narrow space afforded them.
There’s a huge difference between protecting minorities from discrimination, whether in the bathroom or voting booth, as guided by the Bill of Rights, and ignoring the will of the majority systemically at the national level. When the popular vote for President, and the collective voters in the states, are consistently overridden, it brings into question the legitimacy of the governing, a gap that is a recipe for disaster, either in the form of authoritarianism or insurrection.
How can the majority regain its appropriate status? We can wait, and hope for court actions as remedies, but there’s a long distance between that action and national equity. States could hold referenda on major issues such as the tax bill, establishing alternative mechanisms to restore equity. And on immigration, creating sane havens. And the environment, accepting and acting on the threat of climate change. As the votes aggregate they can be used to leverage compliance at the national level.
There is an America which is decent, committed to the humane values of treating all with dignity and respect, to open the genuine American dream of opportunity and equality to all who are willing to work to achieve it. That is the America of the majority, who must reassert themselves, overcoming exhaustion and frustration to take charge where they can, refusing to cooperate where they can’t, stop supporting or allowing the policies and people anathema to their values.
Resistance is tough, but it need not be futile.
This essay is adapted from my book Views from the Side Mirror: Essaying America, a collection of prophetic political and cultural commentary about the America that is, how we got to where we are, and what we can do about it. You can find it and read more at: https://amzn.to/3jmH0t6 and see more of my writing at: https://www.thezog.com/ Stay tuned for my coming novel, Not Our Fathers’ Dreams, contact me for an advance copy!