The Misallocation of Political Power

Population is the root of today’s malaise

Two hundred years ago, our nascent system of independent States joining into a union of States in a federal system was hammered out with plenty of difficulty.

Disputes raged among the larger and smaller States, northern vs southern States and commercial/industrial (for those days) States vs agricultural States. Each feared dominance by their counterpart in the new government.

The solution was to base representation in the lower chamber of Congress on a State’s population, but to allocate to each state, regardless of size, two seats in the Senate.

It worked reasonably well for a while. We tend to forget, though, that it led to our bloodiest war ever in the 1860s, primarily over slavery but also clearly rooted in festering north/south issues of domination.

Today, we are focused on an illegitimate and accidental President with many serious flaws. Perhaps we should be looking more broadly and deeply at the schisms in our society which gave rise to this President. Those divides will continue to plague us even when Trump is gone, until we seriously address them.  

The core concepts underlying the structure of our Constitutional system are:

  1. Checks and balances among the three branches –executive, legislative and judicial—which required and allowed oversight to discourage and prevent abuse of powers;
  2.  Two-year terms for members of the House of Representatives (those closest to the people themselves), a four-year term for President (now limited to two terms), and six years for Senators, with one-third of that body elected every two years;
  3. The House has the power of the purse and the exclusive right of appropriations;
  4. The Senate has the power to confirm or deny all Presidential appointments;
  5. The Executive branch (the President) has the power to execute all laws and manage all expenditures

Despite the brilliant design of this system, it was destined to fall short in a country and population that was growing and changing and had several very real dysfunctions, slavery foremost among them.

The founders wriggled around those problems by ignoring them, hiding them, and making what now seem shocking accommodations (like the “three-fifths” rule that counted blacks as 3/5ths of a person!!!).

The main accommodation was to give each State the same number of Senators. No one imagined today’s reality where Wyoming, with a population of less than 600,000 would have the same representation as California, whose population is 68 times larger. And, today, a majority of the 100 Senators is elected by less than 20% of the country’s whole population. 

Similarly, a large majority of the country’s most educated population live in the few big states on both coasts.

And, the relatively small population engaged in agriculture live in a few geographically large states in the middle of the country.

Normally, political ‘power’ follows peoples’ feet and votes. And, when people feel and believe their political ‘power’ is appropriate and real, they tend feel OK and go with the flow.

But, when people feel they are shut out of the system, they get unhappy and angry.

That is what has been happening in America now for several decades.

The people in the educated, most populated parts of the country feel they are being squeezed and denigrated by the people in the smaller states who feel that they are being looked down upon and not listened to by the richer, more educated people in other States.

In the simplest terms, a lot of people who do not know or often see ‘those other folks’ are assuming that they cannot like or trust them. There has been little to no communication or data to support or justify such views, but hyper-partisan modern media and the ugly side of the Internet is happy to advance this narrative in its own interests (profits, chaos).

In a somewhat similar situation in China some years ago the Chinese literally shuffled the deck and forced moves on quite a lot of people around physically so they would see the rest of their world through their own eyes.

If our present situation continues to fester for too long, it might again ripen into the kind of breakdown that 150 years ago led to our Civil War.

I leave to wiser heads the question of how we might shuffle our deck effectively.

But that is what we need today!


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