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Americans Are United on Policy

Americans Are United on Policy

As the heat of our divisions approaches the boiling point, we’d be wise to remember what unites us – politics. That’s right, Americans are solidly united on almost all of the major political issues of our time.

Americans consistently support the following policies:

– Public funding for Planned Parenthood (75%)

– A carbon tax to fight climate change (57%)

– Stricter environmental regulations (59%)

– Mandatory gun registration (70%)
*that figure includes 48% of gun owners.

– Raising taxes on the wealthy (78%)

– The right to same sex marriage (64%)

– Paid maternal leave (82%)

– Increasing SNAP benefits (81%)

– Tuition-free college (63%)
*includes a plurality of Republicans

– Allowing DREAMers to stay in the US (87%)

– A $15/hour minimum wage (73%)

– Marijuana legalization (64%)

– Access to abortion in some or all circumstances (82%)

– A plurality of Americans support a universal basic income (43%), and only a quarter are opposed.

– Even single-payer healthcare (51%)

Here are some policies that Americans oppose:

– Decreasing immigration (65% opposed)

– Building a border wall (60% opposed)

– The GOP tax plan (50% opposed). Think about that. Republicans can’t get broad public support for giving away free money.

What’s going on here? If public support on this slate of issues is so clear, why are candidates even in the Democratic Party so reluctant to embrace this entire platform? More to the point, why haven’t these polices become law?

Part of the problem is messaging. Take a look at polling on immigration, where Americans are overwhelmingly aligned in favor in principle. Depending on how the subject is presented to them, specifically which metaphors are used (like “open borders”), poll results shift radically. You can see this clearly in polling on Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Across roughly the same time period in 2017, 53% opposed the travel ban while 60% supported it. The difference was mostly in wording. In other “words, ” the public mandate on many of these issues is not as clear as polling might make it appear.

A sorting problem further complicates the matter. Each of those individual issues may have majority support, but a platform containing all of them might not. Certain “blocking issues” may prevent some voters from endorsing a platform containing certain other planks they support. One of those prominent blocking issues is the 20-week abortion ban. More than 80% of voters support abortion rights in some or all cases, but they are evenly divided on the 20-week ban. A lot of the same people who would like to see a gun registry and paternal leave may care far more about banning late term abortion, inspiring them to vote for politicians who prioritize abortion.

Some of the division we see rises from the fine details of policy implementation. Voters may favor single-payer healthcare in the abstract. However, once confronted with the details it becomes tougher to hold a coalition together. When an issue moves from being a single question, do you support this, to the realities of the drafting phase support becomes muddy. At the drafting phase, a matter like single payer with majority support descends into a question of implementing perhaps 15,000 or so individual policies, any one of which might draw ire. As with the ACA or even last year’s GOP tax cuts, that drafting phase introduces endless opportunities for “death panel” style demagoguery and misinformation that can drain support.

Building a large, complex new policy program in our system is like trying to fly a commercial airliner by letting passengers vote on every decision. Polls will show that passengers overwhelmingly oppose any plan to crash the plane, but they’ll do it anyway.

Contours of our own system, engineered to grant overwhelming power to rural voters, further blunts popular will. When most Americans lived on farms, the anti-democratic influence of this model wasn’t so pronounced. Since the late 19th century, only two Presidents have assumed office after losing the popular vote, they were our last two Republicans.

Barring some massive shift back toward rural life in the next two decades, by 2040 70% of Americans will be ruled by a Senate elected by the other 30%. Republicans earned only 49% of the total popular vote in 2016 Congressional races. That tiny margin netted them a massive Congressional majority. Between the manipulation of district boundaries and the geographic concentration of Democrats in a few densely packed cities, the rules of our system grant enormously disproportionate weight to rural voters, who tend to be white, less educated, and elderly.

Finally, at the end of the day, the disorganized, atomized will of individual voters simply doesn’t matter much. Smart, successful politicians, the ones who manage to stay in office, choose policies based on feedback from the following sources:

– Major donors.
– Direction from party leaders in their body (House, Senate, City Council, etc.).
– Noisy interest groups with a following in their districts (PP, NRA, etc.).
– National party positions.
– Advice from staff.
– Feedback from county party chairmen, precinct leaders, etc. in their district.
– Positioning by other officeholders in their party who might challenge them.
– Comments from family and friends (seriously, this happens).
– Static from the district on an issue in the form of phone calls, mail, emails.
– Lastly, preferences of voters in the district.

An elected official who sticks with this feedback model can expect to remain in office as long as they want. Individual voters make their opinions matter by organizing into interest groups and coordinating their activities. That might even include forming alternative political parties, as long as they are smart about organizing those parties’ activities toward a policy goal.

Voting is the least powerful thing we do in a democracy. On the other hand, coordinating our voting behavior with others, backing that coordination with financial donations, and expressing our preferences with actual work in the streets converts that small influence into something potent. Perhaps the most important reason that this popular agenda seems so far from becoming reality is that personal engagement in politics has been in steep decline. Turn that around, and it may be possible to change the country for the better.


  1. For all the criticism about welfare, a major problem is that we are focusing on treatment vs prevention, per this CityLab article. SNAP is designed to be a temporary supplement, but it doesn’t fundamentally address poverty. The author proposes dealing with basic needs such as living wages, and hunger and nutrition as a means to make inroads into helping people break the cycle of poverty. Lots to think about here. Would the GBI be part of the solution?

  2. So, a massive farm bill is agreed to on a bi-partisan basis, then the GOP adds SNAP changes, in a direct challenge to Democrats in the run up to mid-terms. Could this actually backfire on Republicans who are already feeling pain from reciprocal tariffs on grain? Who come from the very same rural areas that are struggling? Where food insecurity and poverty are rife? Gamesmanship not governing. It stinks.

  3. “Jobs” – as long as health care is substantially linked to employment, people will work for companies because of health insurance, not because they necessarily love their work. The two need to be de-coupled.

    I am a strong proponent of universal health care as a means of offering greater stability to the health care market as well as to offer affordable, accessible and comprehensive health care to all people. That was the intent of the ACA. Given the politicization of health care, which is derisely called “Obamacare”, the ACA is slowly eroding in its ability to function effectively.

    Uninsured rates are creeping up and they are guaranteed to escalate in 2019 when the Individual Health Mandate rolls off. The approval of the low-cost, “non” ACA compliant (essential benefits covered) health agreements (they are not health insurance!) will further erode the stability of the Invididual health insurance marketplace plans by draining younger, healthy people from them until premiums spike to unsustainable levels for those who have pre-existing health conditions.

    There is something fundamentally broken in our society in which jobs are disappearing and the safety net being disparaged and drastically cut. Relationships may drive opportunity but those who never had the chance for relationships tied to employment are likely to always struggle with the jobs that others don’t want to do – even as there remains a need for them in our society. Rural areas are finding it very difficult to sustain quality hospitals and attract good health care providers. This is a problem in search of a solution. Would a guaranteed basic income provide the floor these people need? Even if it would, in the current selfish structure we inhabit, would those who have the authority to approve such a program be generous and far-thinking enough to support it?

    I posted this on another topic but it fits here too.

    1. The Right to Life movement will not rest until they achieve an overturn of Roe v Wade and establish “life” as beginning at conception. Of course they want this law to go to SCOTUS, where they hope their conservative majority will achieve their greater goal. I don’t think this court is quite “there” in their thinking, but with one more ultra conservative appointee to the bench, it could happen.

      As for Cambridge-analytica, we have no real assurance that all the collected data has been destroyed. The involvement of Steve Bannon always seems to sully whatever project he touches.

    1. Proves your point, plus delivers a sobering message: ” In order to regain control, Democrats would not only need to rebuild their standing in red states from the ground up but also sustain that success over multiple election cycles. ”

      Anyone who thinks Republicans will not use the “Blue Wave” possibility as a fear tactic to mobilize their turnout, is foolish. That, and the old stand-by, putting a super-majority on the Supreme Court – is enough to rally the right in “regular” election years.

      My hope is the Blue Wave exceeds expectations; my fear is that lazy Dem voters will assume someone else will make it happen. Good things happen when you work for them.

    2. But I feel like this article just confirms what everyone’s been saying. The a massive advantage anyway because of how our legislature works.
      To address Mary’s comment, I think that Trump winning in 2016 will galvanize Democrats more than the special elections in PA and AL will Republicans. We’ve had a 7-10 point advantage in special elections so far; I’m not expecting this to suddenly disappear in November. Something really important is that increasing turnout is not a zero sum game. There are a lot more Democrats, so if turnout increases from, random numbers here, [D-43, R-52] to [D-53, R-62], then the vote count will shift blue in most places. And Rs typically show up more so they have less room to improve. I’ll be doing my part and not be lazy come this fall … I guess it’s just that I’m not afraid to expect the result I want to see if there’s evidence it’ll happen.

      1. Don’t forget newly registered voters – eighteen year olds and many others. One of the groups I’m working with locally has achieved registrar training for several members of the group, and these ladies are regularly invited to local campuses and other events where crowds congregate. They are non-partisan, but the important thing is that a concerted effort is being made to expand the voting base and energize and involve more Americans in the voting process. This will take time to have a major impact but I do believe that the teen movement surrounding the gun issue (and immigration rights) is a great deal more serious than is being recognized.

        Of course, nothing replaces getting registered Democrats off the couch and into the voting booths. Somehow we have to make voting “cool” or, at the very least, an imperative.

    3. I’m actually more sanguine about the whole Senate-rural-bias thing. Call me an optimist, but I think the current Republican dominance in rural states is at its peak. The reason is that, even in “rural” states, the rural areas are dying and their cities are growing. While the cities may be small compared to NYC/LA, they’re now becoming the largest population centers within those rural states. And those mid-size cities are turning more blue (just like every other city).

      It wasn’t long ago that big states like IL, PA, NY, and even CA were considered bellweather states, because their big cities were balanced by their vast rural populations. But as those rural areas shriveled up and the cities grew, they’re now considered urban dem strongholds. The same thing is now happening to rural states. The only reason NV, CO, NM are considered blue states is not because Dems all of a sudden became more popular in their vast rural areas. It’s because the next tier of cities like Las Vegas, Denver, and Albuquerque became larger and bluer vis-a-vis their hinterlands. Same thing with Virginia now being dominated by the NoVa suburbs. These are all nominally “rural” states that turned blue because their mid-size cities eventually overwhelmed their rural areas.

      That speaks to how much power rural areas have actually lost, given that it wasn’t too long ago that rural areas kept NY and CA Republican despite their massive, deep-blue cities. Perhaps in a decade, with trends the way they are, might Boise be strong enough to turn Idaho blue? Or Anchorage in AK? If Seattle could do it to Washington, and Raleigh-Durham to NC, then why not?

      1. WX, the long term trends are certainly indicate that your thoughts are correct. However, it is not just because the medium sized cities are dominating. The other big factor is the 21st century tech economy requiring highly educated people. In many cases the people from the rural areas who get higher education tend to relocate to the rapidly growing tech hubs. This continues the rapid population increases of areas like the Bay Area and the Seattle Area. Meanwhile the rural areas continue to empty out. They are left with less well educated people, new immigrants to work the farms and retirees.

        When one looks at the medium sized cities that have and are becoming dominant, they are all education hubs with major universities nearby. Pugetopolis (Seattle) has the main campus of the University of Washington with branch campuses in nearby cities. Additionally, Washington State University has a branch campus in the Pugetopolis area. The Bay area has several major research institutions. Likewise Raleigh-Durham and Pittsburgh. In the case of Boise, Boise State University and branch campuses of both UI and ISU are located there. Denver has major education institutions located nearby. Anchorage has University of Alaska – Anchorage and others.

        Pittsburgh is an excellent example. When the steel and electrical equipment industries declined, it reinvented itself leveraging the attractiveness of Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh. It is now a medical hub and a high-tech area. In leans democratic and that is reaching out to the suburbs. That is one of the major reasons that the PA-18th CD flipped. Yet at the same time the rural areas of Eastern PA, where significant de-industrialization occurred, ended up voting for Trump.

        Many of the states that are the most conservative now, are the states that failed develop their higher education resources, whereas the more moderate and progressive states that have developed their higher education resources are moving into the 21st century.

        I’m afraid it will take years for these trends to eventually change the US political map. In the meantime, the GOP will continue to use gerrymandering, voter suppression, demagoguery and white supremacy to maintain their power.That is happening in NC, ID, NV, CO and NM to cite some of the home states of the cities you mention. The GOP is using those tactics in WA. One of the reasons, WA had a split legislature for so long and even today has a closely balanced legislature, is because the GOP was able to implement a moderate gerrymander in 2012.

  4. I have a thought, the usual hyperbolic stuff.

    I envision that within 20 years, given the track of politics, demographics, morality laws, etc, that there it is entirely plausible that their will be serious movements to break the U.S. apart. The three Pacific states can form a country, the Northeastern states form their own economic bloc/country, and the rest regresses into a 3rd world country with 18th century morality operating primarily as petrostate, assuming oil 20 years from now is still a viable product in world markets.

    Now, there would no doubt be wars over such a thing, but I really don’t see things getting any better. Then again, given the effects of global warming on the Gulf Stream, The Northeast will not be able to support its current population. The increasing likely scenario is the Northeastern seaboard is going to live with plummeting temperatures, making much of it very difficult for food production, making independence highly unlikely.

  5. Re the two Senators per State

    Changing your Constitution is nearly impossible – why not simply work with it

    Each State has two Senators – then each of the bigger States should divide into the appropriate number of States so that their inhabitants are equally represented

    So Wyoming has about half a million people – and California has 38 million
    So California should become – California 1 to California 76 – each individual state with it’s two Senators
    The USA would end up with about 600 Senators

    The California’s could agree to work together for everything else so that they retain the advantages of a larger state

    1. Oy, what is with all the anti-Senate distribution discussion here? Flip the discussion from Wyoming versus California and make it Hawaii versus Texas, and what are you guys trying to get rid of or change that won’t also, like any other constitutional stresses, be used by the conservatives?

      If California goes and breaks itself up to 76 Californias, a) what’s to prevent Wyoming from being like, “Fine, now WE’RE 20 Wyomings and have 40 Senators!” and b) you do realize that California has vast swaths of conservative areas, meaning it’ll probably add MORE conservatives per Californian in the Senate than before, right?

      You’re basically talking about permanent gerrymandering. Who’s going to be in charge of the gerrymanders? How long will the agreements for block cohesion last before reshufflings of political alignments happen again and make the whole thing a shitshow again?

      Going back to Hawaii: Hawaii should have equal say in the Senate as any of the mainland states despite having a different population, because Hawaii has needs that must be represented in the federal government less the landlocked states pass legislation that is entirely destructive to an island. The Southwest states need to make sure that the water-rich Northeastern states don’t pass policies that favor them population wise but put the Southwest in perpetual drought. The farming Midwest may not survive land share rules pushed by the more populous South.

      The idea that each state gets equal representation also has to do with federalism. The President covers the entire country, the Senate covers each state, and the House of Representatives the nation broken down by district. That way, theoretically, the President should provide guidance toward the direction of the country as a whole, Senators should be watching out for the welfare of entire states, and House of Representatives are making sure that each part of each state is getting attention. I consider this breakdown to be quite elegant.

      It makes sense that there are two chambers of Congress, one that is apportioned by state and one that is already apportioned by population. The issue, which I’m astounded no one has mentioned so far, is that the one apportioned by population is the one that’s misrepresented. Wyoming has one at-large Congressperson representing 568,300 people, whereas New York has one per 719,298. Montana has just one for 994,416 people. Source:

      Congress artificially capped the number of representatives to 435 in 1911. This cap was raised from 391 due to population growth. The population of the United States in 1911 was 93,863,000. If we kept raising the cap proportionally, we’d have about 1700 Congresspeople — probably too bulky to be efficient. But nothing makes 435 special. It could be 500. It could be 1000.

      So a) better apportioning needs to be done and b) better districting has to be done (since many of those Representatives disproportionately represent conservatives), and c) more seats in the House of Representatives could be opened. There’s plenty of Constitutional space to work there and make sure that my home county in the exurban Southwest has a say on how much more they care about water security and how little they give a shit about immigration enforcement, but my new district in the metropolitan Northeast gets to talk about pollution and public transit.

      We don’t need to fuck with the Senate to make the country work better. We need to fuck with the party system and gerrymandering, and we can also consider how better to apportion the House of Representatives to create true equal suffrage of districting.

      The only Constitutional change for population based representation I feel we need is to get rid of the Electoral College. If it disenfranchises 3million people, in other words more than the population of the country when it the Constitution was written, then it needs to go. We already have the state and proportional representation of the Senate and the House respectively; the President should be the popular representation.

      1. It seems simple enough; Hawaii should not have the same number of senators as Texas any more than Wyoming should match New York. This isn’t about blue vs. red; it’s about small populations controlling the fates of large populations just because they live in less dense areas.
        What troubles me about the Constitution is that it premises America to be 13 (or 50) countries instead of 1, while at the same time not allowing secession. The Senate makes sense as way to bring every disparate faction to the table, but now that we are one connected realm it is an antiquated structure.
        Except for the electoral college, our elections are single-member districts. Our system is designed to pit geographic entities against one another; our legislators even in theory do not represent the interests of the nation but rather those of some plurality of their constituents. That’s not terrible except that it’s the way all of our offices work. Only one branch of government, the executive, has any real claiming to representing the entire nation’s interests. (Not this executive, needless to say)

      2. Aaron – As usual, your counter-arguments are always interesting and practical. I really have no disagreement with anything you state or suggest but do wonder how difficult it would be to eliminate the Electoral College.

        It seems that as long as our Democratic institutions and norms appeared to “work”, the tinkering with election districts were tolerated – until they became a means and an end. Gerrymandering to me is the most egregious abridgement of the democratic process in existence, and should be banned (for all parties). I do feel our Senators have a difficult time spending time with constituents, although that may be an excuse, not a reason. The fact that the process is struggling so much under Trump and this GOP probably lends more credence to “fixing” things that don’t need fixing when the system functions democratically.

      3. “The Senate makes sense as way to bring every disparate faction to the table, but now that we are one connected realm it is an antiquated structure.”

        We’re one connected realm, but we don’t be — or at least what I understand of the Founding Father’s intent, and my own personal politics doesn’t want to be — one centralized realm. We’re connected, but our representation is fractal:

        We have local municipal governments to make sure the community works and law and order is maintained and neighborhood disputes are settled;

        we have county governments to make sure the municipal governments work, supervise the rule of law, and neighboring community disputes are settled;

        we have state governments to make sure the county governments work, supervise the rule of law, and neighboring county disputes are settled;

        we have the federal government to make sure the state governments work, supervise the rule of law is maintained, and neighboring state and regional disputes are settled.

        And in order for the federal government to be supervised with the rule of law, the federal government’s powers are divided between three branches that are meant to be a check on each other’s power. One of those branches, the legislative, it was unclear whether to divide between states or populations. So they chose both.

        To me it makes sense. Now to see the results, where the entire US federal government and most states are majority ruled by a fringe party dead set on undermining the rule of law for their own authoritarian ends is distressing, but it’s not like we’re alone in this. The UK, the Phillipines, Turkey, Hungary, and Poland all have different systems of government, and they all have the same fascists ruling them.

        So this indicates that it’s not, or at least not only, a systemic issue. Other political operands are influencing disparate governing systems in similar ways, largely doing with globalization, mass communication proliferation, global warming, and unresolved regional issues stretching back to WWII and before. And more.

        So then the question becomes, how much of that issue can be resolved in the United States by making CONSTITUTIONAL changes, versus how much room is available under the Constitution to make political changes? For me, I see plenty of space to confront these issues politically, and not much that changing the Constitution will help any more than those political changes. For one thing, any and all changes you plan to make on the Constitution, you have to think about how ‘the other side’, whatever that other side is, whether it’s merely people you disagree with or whether it’s a fascist party deadset on undermining the rule of law for authoritarian purposes, will use that change.

        If you centralize the government more by chipping away at the equal suffrage of each state, or more specifically, reorganizing and re-balancing the Senate, then the same minority plurality that elected fascists to power in the first place get to decide how the Senate is reorganized and rebalanced. Spoiler alert, you won’t like the results.

        Now going back to what the purpose of federalism is, these Senators are supposed to be serving the interests of their home state at large while the Representatives serve the interests of their district in specific. A lot of the political issues that has resulted in our current situation is simply that they haven’t, for several decades, as the parties have nationalized their platforms and stopped tending to their specific constituencies. Again, that’s not resolved by reforming the government, because then these nationalized parties will reform them to serve nationalized, and in the case of the Republicans, nationalist, ends.

        Rather, the parties themselves are a better target for reforming, particularly because they’re not protected by a Constitution and because they are closer to the actual problem.

      4. Protected election districts allow representatives/senators to make the agenda whatever they want. We have all witnessed the “party-line” approach on the right, which is rigidly enforced by donors and party apparatus. End gerrymandering – through the political process (or SCOTUS…???) and constituents have a shot at better representation. Ending gerrymandering through naturally occurring demographic shifts will take too long. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court may punt as well.

        Really, it still boils down to GOTV. It’s slower, but it’s the one element the people can determine.

      5. “we have the federal government to make sure the state governments work, supervise the rule of law is maintained, and neighboring state and regional disputes are settled.”
        I disagree that this is the theory or the practice. Just looking at Article I Section 8, Congress is endowed with powers relating to the military, trade policy, the value of the dollar, and the process of naturalization. In other words, the 70% of Americans ruled by the Senate of the other 30% will meaningfully be ruled by them. The choices of Senators in Wyoming will affect the course of Texas. The states aren’t expected to make equal (as an absolute number) contributions to the armed forces, nor are they of the same size as economic systems, so why give them equal say in the more important half of the legislature?
        We have to have centralization in terms of war, and if we are to have free flow of commerce and people – the whole point of being a country with a Constitution rather than keeping the Articles of Confederation – then we must have centralization with respect to trade and citizenship. We hypothetically could decentralize with respect to “culture”, but of course this doesn’t work because those fights are often indirectly about the Bill of Rights and to whom it should be applied. (the biggest example by far being Jim Crow, but more recently things like Obergefell. My pet issue is documenting abuses by the left in this area but I won’t bore you all with that yet. One thing, though: when every cause is inappropriately compared with Civil Rights and made into a moral crusade, which justifies giving the DOJ far and powerful reach, then the left is partly guilty of the nationalization of everything.)
        Anyway, the *ahem* values of rural areas being over represented in both parts of Congress is not trivial. It affects the confirmation of SCOTUS judges, and if we’re being honest it affects treaties with other countries as well.
        I know the Senate will, realistically, stay as long as the Constitution is in effect. I don’t even see us officially disbanding the electoral college so much as getting states representing a majority of votes to bind their electors to the national popular vote. But if the chance to fundamentally alter the Senate came up I would look into it. The parties are a better target (when someone says they want a better other party, what are they envisioning exactly?) for reformation, but it’s a question of feasibility, not of one being – in my opinion – good. We won’t change the Senate because, as I told Ryan on Chris’s last article, the status quo is powerful, and besides if a group has more power than it should it’s no use asking them to give it up.

    2. Duncan,

      You are not so far off the mark regarding division of the U.S. Writers have prognosticated about such as scenario for years. As a matter of fact during the 1970’s there were a couple of books (Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach) that had a following with some of the West Coast counterculture people about Northern California, Oregon and Washington West of the Cascade-Sierra Nevada Mountain Range splitting off from the rest of the U.S. and forming a separate nation named Ecotopia. They formed a society largely without automobiles, plastics, etc and was ecologically sustainable. When Trump was elected, I was reminded of them by the current situation in the U.S. and I found used copies and reread them. The experience was quite enjoyable and I think not so far from the truth.

      1. Heh, Pugetopolis largely without automobiles. That’ll work.

        Largely with electric cars could work though. I see a lot of Nissan Leafs around and a few Teslas. Not sure if I’ve seen any Bolts/Volts, but I wouldn’t automatically recognize those.

  6. Both Mary and Dins mentioned the distribution of senators per state. The Constitution states in the last sentence of Article. V. “Provided ….. that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of it’s equal Suffrage in the Senate.” This appears to make amending the Constitution to modify the Senatorial distribution impossible. To me, the only way to allow population to be used in determining senatorial distribution would be adoption of a new Constitution.

    I definitely agree that that having 2 senators per state given current American population distribution is ludicrous. But that is remnant from the compromises originally required to unite the slave holding states and the free states, similar to the 3/5 compromise counting slaves as 3/5 of a person. That was necessitated to get the slave holding states to join with the free labor states and allowed the oligarchy of the South to largely control the Government until the Civil War.

    I submit that today for many of the reasons that Chris outlined, we are in an oligarchic situation again, with the huge economic inequity and the alliance between the Republican Party, major donors and other power brokers. We were in such an oligarchic structure during the original Gilded Era. That did not end until the New Deal, even though the Progressive Era was able to make some progress in leveling the playing field so the common people were given an opportunity.

    1. For the sake of discussion, as we all agree the current two Senator/state ratio is antiquated, what do constitutional scholars think these words mean? “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of it’s equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

      Bear in mind, that when the Constitution was written, women and Black people did not have the “right” to vote. At that time, essentially, only landholders had the “right” to vote. Just asking…

      1. Article V. discusses the Amendment process. The full text of the Article is:

        “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

        While I am not a constitutional scholar, I interpret this to mean that the amendment process cannot revise the 2 senators per state ratio. Whereas, giving Blacks and women the right to vote could be accomplished through the amendment process. The statement regarding the 1st and 4th clauses of the 9th Section of the 1st Article precluded blocking the importation of slaves until 1808. From recently reading Masterless Men and a history of the period up to the War of 1812, I’ve found that as soon as possible after 1808 the slave trade was banned. That in itself was a major factor leading to the antebellum crisis and the eventual succession. The South was attempting to reestablish the slave trade ban all the way to end of the Civil War. Of course, Britain had effectively stopped the slave trade during the antebellum period anyway.

        However, maybe those rural mountain Western states will liberalize much quicker than any of us realize. Montana is not that red despite the perception of the press. CO and NV are essentially at the tipping point, AZ is really close, NM is close and UT is mainly red because of the Latter Day Saints. The catch is all these states have significant and fairly rapidly growing urban areas and those areas are slowly amassing power. The rural states that do not have significant urban areas tuned into the 21st Century tech economy are the laggards.

      2. Sorry I failed to delete the word “ban” in the next to last sentence of the 3rd paragraph. I should have stated “The South was attempting to reestablish the slave trade all the way to the end of the Civil War.”

      3. From that reading, there would have to be two successive amendments: the first to modify the clause restricting amending Senate representation, and then another amendment to actually accomplish the modification.

      4. Mary-

        I beg to differ. IMHO, the two senators per state thing is *not* antiquated. It was put in place precisely to serve as a check against democratic mob rule. The fundamental dilemma of democracy is always how to keep the majority from eating the minority. The House is supposed to be run by the majority will of the people. The Senate is supposed to serve as a blocking mechanism to force the majority to consider minority viewpoints. That’s even why the parliamentary rules in the two bodies differ so much.

        The fact that the rural areas of this country can force the urbanized parts to incorporate their needs is a *feature*, not a bug of the system. And, IMHO, it’s a good feature to keep.

        The reason why the govt currently is so dysfunctional is because the representatives from the rural areas (i.e. Republicans) are fine with destroying rural areas too, and have no interest in preserving them. Not listening to climate science will decimate rural farmers, far more than liberal Hollywood producers who are rich enough to buy a new house when their Malibu mansions fall into the ocean. Obamacare has been a lifeline for poor rural states, whose representatives now want to dismantle it. The tax plan written by rural representatives will raise rural taxes and slash their benefits while cutting taxes for rich urban financiers.

        The problem is not the structure of the Senate. It’s the Senators that currently disgrace its halls. I would absolutely welcome Senators from rural states that are sincerely interested in advancing their states’ interests. With them, compromise is possible. The problem is the party these rural people have chosen to support, and the way to solve that problem is doing the hard work of convincing those voters to vote for someone else.

        Right now, the majority mob happens to be correct (e.g. climate science, jobs, etc.). And the minority happens to be batshit insane and happy to kill itself off. Someday in the future, however, the roles will be reversed, and I want the current Senate still around to represent the minority then.

        PS. It wasn’t that long ago that this happened: in the runup to the Gulf War, the post 9/11 angry mob wanted to bomb Iraq. The minority said it was a bad idea. The House quickly fell in line. Only the Senate held out (until it too acquiesced and passed the AUMF). And the lone Senator who held out the longest and most passionately was a rural (albeit Democratic), poorly educated, former Klansman from a red state named Robert Byrd. His speeches back then as he filibustered and tried to get the Senate to stand up to Bush are, IMHO, masterpieces: (search for “The moving finger writes” to get to the start of his speech).

        Notably, no such speeches were made in the House…

      5. Points noted. I am speaking from frustration and this is not the forum for casual comments. I hope you will read the Longread I posted above about KS farmers. It’s heart-rending and frustrating. The tariff gambit (I would not dignify it by calling it a policy effort), has made farming even more tenuous. There are bright spots but rural America is hurting.

        As is so often true, the quality of one’s character is what is most important. Unfortunately for America, we are lacking in leaders who exhibit that characteristic.

    2. I actually looked up residency requirements for some of the sparsely populated states. I was wondering, how hard would it be to convince a few thousand liberal/moderates to establish residency in, say, Montana? I could go for it. Never been there but I understand it’s beautiful. However if asked to move to North Dakota and residency requirements means spending any part of winter there, count me out.

      So maybe that will be the answer to our constitutional problem, that is to convince a few tens of thousands to spend most of the year looking at mountains and fishing in “A River Runs Through It” backdrop.

      Just a thought.

      1. Unarmed, you are definitely thinking “outside the box!” I, too, could handle summers in some of these western red states, but winters? No way! The real question, is could these “conservative westerners” handle we liberals!

  7. One more point: AARP and Politico are teaming up in an effort to ” focus on issues affecting this group of voters (across all ages) —by exploring who they are, what motivates them, and how they are reshaping the political landscape. From their most deeply held beliefs to their policy and ideological preferences.” It debuts in June and the series will be called “The Deciders.” You have to sign up to receive the series. What’s great about this just as with the Navigator effort, is that there is a serious, organized effort within the Democratic Party to really listen to their base. Had they been doing so in the run up to the 2016 election, we might be in a whole different situation. However late, it is valuable.

    Interesting article (Politico again – they’re really doing good writing) on the new Conservative media establishment – the young “red turks”. Would that they would be honest enough to call “B.S.” against what is happening in “their” party as no one in leadership is apparently willing to do so.

    Also, I think it is time to begin looking at ways to make America’s government more representative. That doesn’t have a prayer under the current GOP, and gerrymandering has to be eliminated, and “ideally” it should be bi-partisan, but possibly there is good reason to make senate seats more proportional to population (regardless how that shakes out Dins if it is fairly done, so be it) but also to make the job of Senators more responsive.

    Finally, just because I liked the article by James Fallows, he wrote a very positive piece about America that is nice reading on a weekend, without glossing over our serious problems. Weekend “homework” !

  8. Ah, “wording.” Surveys are funny like that….Some pollsters contrive their wording to skew a desired result, and others work very hard to frame questions that elicit what people really think…..Pew Research does a great job, IMO, in framing questions for the purpose of actually “learning” something about the responsdents.

    Democrats are finally figuring out that they mostly have the “right” positions; but they suck at messaging. Why? It turns out that a very important group of players on the Left are going after this dichotomy in a very disciplined way. Here’s a background story (they are not being discrete about their effort) and the tool that they are using to help reframe and message on critical issues to winning elections. Within the article is a link to the nine-page Navigator document.

    But, Democrats need to re-think their views of the positions of those on the right, as pointed out in the Atlantic piece. Unfortunately, as long as Trump is the standard-bearer, and the GOP in Congress refuses to serve as an intelligent counterbalance, there won’t be much room for progress.

  9. Another well researched article Chris. Though I don’t think you specifically use the words “special interests”, I agree with all that you have said about what allows the minority to dominate the majority.

    I would further suggest though that not only is the system skewed to white rural voters (the idea of 2 senators for every state is ludicrous in today’s America), the power that has been handed to individual states to make their own laws also creates monstrous headwinds for any significant policy changes. Every state should have some autonomy, but it goes too far on issues like healthcare. Pockets of backward states with 3rd world economies and medieval views of morality will always fight logic and progress, and I don’t see any way to change that power structure.

    Getting back to the 2 senators per state issue, visualize what the repubs would do if a motion was put to the floor to make senator allocation based more on population distribution.

    1. I should perhaps research before typing. When I look at the population distribution by state, the repubs might actually like senatorial seats more balanced like congressional seats. On a closer look, there are a lot of heavily populated red states, and an awful lot of blue states would lose out badly.

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