It was a big night for Democrats. There have been signs early in 2017 that anti-Trump feeling is building into a Democratic wave. Last night confirmed that this wave may be bigger and angrier than we dared believe. It was a hopeful, promising night, but serious dangers remain. A map of Virginia’s results reveals one of those more critical challenges. Take a look at this graphic from the New York Times:
Do you see the problem?
Our founders built into the fabric of our political system an epic gerrymander. Rural areas carry vastly more electoral power than cities. Voters in rural states are in some cases exponentially more powerful in our system than voters in states with large cities. If the interests and cultural values of urban and rural residents are relatively consistent, than this imbalance matters very little. That isn’t the case right now, as you can see from the map of Virginia’s election results.
A vast majority of Americans live in cities. That concentration is growing ever more extreme as our economy increasingly rewards innovation and knowledge work over farming, tourism and resource extraction. Under our present system, by 2040, 30% of America’s voters will elect 70% of the Senate. Thanks to our apportionment algorithms, they will continue to elect a disproportionate share of the House of Representatives.
There are two ways to resolve this disconnect. Build a political agenda capable of appealing to both urban and rural voters. Or, have a revolution and change the system. If we can’t do the first thing, then the second thing is built in by political physics. We will not live for long under a system in which people who are otherwise the most socially and culturally powerful are denied their accompanying political power.
That brings us to the most important election this year – Alabama’s Senate seat. It is unlikely under any circumstances that Doug Jones can win that seat. However, a political formula capable of granting him 47%+ of the vote in Alabama is a program that could change the shape of the country.
One more note. A binary political system, in which every viable political candidate must either line up with a national Democratic agenda or a national Republican agenda cannot sustain us. One more very important thing happened last night that points to a way out of our present dysfunction. On paper, a Democrat won the race for District Attorney in Philadelphia last night. In reality, the Working Families Party led a coalition that defeated the Democratic Party’s favorite in a primary in the spring. That is a roadmap to greater political diversity and more authentic democracy. Larry Krasner’s win in the race for DA in Philadelphia is a powerful blow against once-dominant institutions of the Democratic machine. Krasner was a de facto third-party candidate. What he did in Philadelphia should be repeated by dissident liberals and conservatives all over the country.
How can a national Democrat win in Alabama? They probably can’t. But a local party, loosely aligned with Democrats or Republicans and running in their primaries can win. Frankly, that’s how crazy old Roy Moore became the Republican nominee. It is a formula that can work for centrists, as long as they are fiery and determined enough to define themselves clearly.
It was a good night that holds the promise of many difficult fights ahead.