America is subject to minority rule, by no means as cruel or despotic as that under which the majority of South Africans suffered until 1994, but unrepresentative of most citizens’ wishes nonetheless, sticking us with a president we tell pollsters we consider a national embarrassment.
On issue after issue, from gun control to abortion to civil and worker rights to protection of the environment to health care to the social safety net, the choices made by the people elected to federal office are not those reputable surveys say most of us desire. Three million more of us voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.
We were denied our choice because the founding fathers, in their wisdom, feared that a truly representative system would quickly devolve into ochlocracy, rule by the uncouth and easily demagogued mob. There was also the matter of slavery. Federating the states into a union required reassuring slave owners that no majority would ever strip them of their chattels.
So our president is chosen by an electoral college whose deliberate effect is to dilute the votes of those who live in populous, progressive states where slavery was anathema. Furthermore, no law can be passed without the consent of a body, the Senate, in which the interests of 39.8 million Californians are accorded the same weight in decision making at 624 000 Vermonters. It is estimated that in 20 years time, half of America’s population will be represented by just 16 of 100 senators.
The House of Representatives, with seats apportioned on the basis of population, is supposed to be the chamber in which the popular will is more directly reflected. How directly depends on how constituencies are demarcated. That is decided by state governors and legislatures after each decennial census.
Control a state legislature and governor’s mansion in the wake of a census and you control how congressional districts are drawn. Draw the boundaries cleverly enough, herd reliable supporters of the other party into quasi-bantustans, and you can ensure that your party will have seats in congress far out of proportion to the votes cast for your candidates.
That is what the Republicans pulled off after the last census in 2010. Democrats were asleep at the switch as selfish, market fundamentalist interests seeking to roll back regulation and taxes and to eviscerate what was left of organised labour pumped in millions of dollars to underwrite a de facto coup with the help of evangelical Christians for whom the plain teachings of the prophets and Christ are evidently too complicated.
But the Republicans were not done. They know they do not command majority support nationally. They know that they have a better chance when turnout is low. So, to cement their coup, they set about working to keep African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities liable to vote Democrat from casting ballots by purging rolls and raising the voter registration hassle factor in targeted ways. In this they received documented help in 2016 from the Russians in the form of social media agitprop.
They did not mean their coup to be the vehicle Trump would ride to the White House. He no more belongs to them than Hitler belonged to the industrialists who thought him a useful idiot to help them destroy the Weimar Republic. They just made him possible.
Cynical, cowardly, morally bankrupt, the Republicans let Trump putsch their own putsch. Now, their rank and file having turned cultish in its devotion to him, they too are in his thrall as he trashes everything for which they once thought they stood for — free markets and democracy — and against — industrial policy, “picking winners”, fiscal profligacy and Putinism.
Meanwhile, those of us, the majority, for whom this spectacle is deeply offensive and contrary to what we believe our country is all about, must watch a wouldbe dictator and his craven enablers demean and defile America.