Recalibrating our Political System

Like many progressives, I would be delighted to have a Green New Deal as well as a host of other progressive programs that would immediately and directly help the American people. However, this is not going to happen anytime soon. Joe Manchin has shown that he can single-handedly prevent it now; he has in the past. His help from Republicans will grow exponentially if they reclaim one or both houses of Congress this coming November.

All the same, political power in the United States is distributed in a way that gives Republicans far more influence than they are warranted. They hold half the seats in the U.S. Senate despite the fact that their senators represent only 43% of the population, compared to the Democrats 57% In other words, 43% of the American people are represented by the 50 Republican senators; the remaining 57% by the 50 Democrats. That is clearly unfair.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, five million more Americans (3%) voted for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates, and yet the Democrats have only a few more seats than the Republicans. Once again, this is unfair, especially as we will shortly have new elections for the House with hundreds of districts that are gerrymandered.

The Supreme Court is heavily weighted towards Republicans, in a particularly pernicious way since five justices were appointed by Republican presidents who lost the popular vote. They became presidents only because of the antiquated Electoral College.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito were appointed by President George W. Bush who lost the popular election to Al Gore by 500,000 people. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett were appointed by Donald Trump who lost the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton by three million popular votes.

Over half (5 out of 9) of the justices who were appointed by semi-illegitimate presidents. This has been a grave and great injustice and needs to be corrected.

These problems of disproportionate power in the hands of Republicans exists in all three branches of our government. This is why we need a recalibration of how power is distributed in Washington and in our states. Recalibration is different from retribution. Changes should not be designed to make it “the Democrats turn.” Instead, it should be time for “fairness to prevail.”

Here’s how we would do it in three steps:

  1. Either abolish the Electoral College or codify the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in which the electors in all states are bound to vote for whomever one the national popular vote, not the vote in their state. This would be fair because our presidents would be elected solely on the basis of the vote of the people – the people who he or she represents.
  2. Outlaw gerrymandering, the practice of dividing geographic areas into legislative districts in a way that gives one party an advantage over another. By outlawing gerrymandering, the number of seats from each party from each state would come close to reflecting that party’s percentage of voters in the state.
  3. Institute some permanent and temporary changes to the Supreme Court:
    1. Permanent: Put term limits on how long a Supreme Court justice can serve, perhaps twenty years.
    2. Temporary: Because the court is currently leaning so far to the right, allow President Joe Biden to nominate three additional justices to the Supreme Court, temporarily constituting the court with ten members. Each of Biden’s nominees would be linked to one of the three Trump appointees. They would leave the Court when that particular Trump appointee no longer serves. The president at that time will then select one nominee to replace the two. When all six of the Trump and Biden appointees (exclusive of Ketanji Jackson Brown) are no longer on the court, it will be back down to nine members.

It is fair to ask how could this come to be. Why would Republicans accept these three changes, all of which would help Democrats, at least in the short run? These would be difficult changes to enact under any circumstances.

Naturally, there is no guarantee that Republicans would accept any of these changes. However, if the American people knew that Democrats were going to take a temporary pass on the most impactful items in their legislative agenda in order to spend several years focusing on recalibrating our democracy, it is possibly that many independents would join Democrats and a few Republicans to get this done. No guarantees, but the idea of advancing and simplifying democracy has a natural appeal to a great many voters. It’s worth a try because Manchin and the Republicans are not going away.