In our representative democracy, officials are elected to represent the citizens of our country and formulate laws and policies. However, the essence of democracy is majority rule. Consequently, our elected officials should represent what the majority of all citizens want. It is this concept, majority rule, upon which our country was founded. The decisions of the majority are binding on all, even the minority. But there is a caveat. Our constitutional democracy requires a majority rule with minority rights, a concept first expressed by our third president, Thomas Jefferson:
All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression.
What Jefferson meant was that while the majority sets the rules, it must consider the impact on the minority. As John J. Patrick stated in Understanding Democracy: A Hip Pocket Guide:
Majority rule is limited in order to protect minority rights, because if it were unchecked it probably would be used to oppress persons holding unpopular views. Unlimited majority rule in a democracy is potentially just as despotic as the unchecked rule of an autocrat.
But Jefferson also stated, “… the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail.” Again, Patrick: “Both majority rule and minority rights must be safeguarded to sustain justice in a constitutional democracy.” But, could justice be sustained if the minority, rather than the majority, prevailed? Could our country survive if the desires of the majority are ignored? No. The democracy concept would be negated; democracy would become extinct. I fear that is what is happening in the United States today.
The Senate is split 50-50 but does not represent the vast majority of the citizens in the country. Ian Millhiser, a senior correspondent for Vox, analyzed the 2020 Senate election to see how representative it was. He found that the Democratic half of the Senate represents 184,541,791 people but the Republican half represents only 142,991,983 people, a difference of 41,549,808 people! If the Senate composition reflected the will of the country there would be 56 Democrats in the Senate, a number that reflects the Democratic vote. The Senate, although its vote impacts all of us, does not represent the majority of the country. We are very close to minority rule, if not already there.
According to Trinity College political scientist Kevin McMahon regarding the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch,
On April 17, 2017 the United States Senate confirmed a nominee for the High Court appointed by a President who had failed to win the popular vote with the support of a majority of senators who had garnered fewer votes—indeed far fewer votes—in their most recent elections than their colleagues in opposition.
This confirmation was followed by that of Brett Kavanaugh and then Amy Coney Barrett. In the case of Barrett, senators who voted against her represent 13,524,906 more people. Clearly the voice of the majority was not considered. We now have three justices who are in office for life only because of a flawed system.
Remember Jefferson’s words, “the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail.” If the will of the minority prevails, it can impose that will on the rest of the nation even if the vast majority of the citizens are opposed. That is quite like what an autocratic, despotic government can do.
What can be done? Fortunately, we do have some tactics we can employ, such as ending the filibuster and eliminating the Electoral College. Democracy reformers need to keep their focus to prevent the minority from imposing their will on the rest of us, or democracy will die.
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