L&Qs&Cs: The Unfortunate Built-In Trend of American Politics

Vox, Ian Millhiser, 14 Feb 2022: Why Democrats can’t get a fair shake in the Supreme Court, in one chart, subtitled, “Republicans get their dream nominees, while Democrats struggle to confirm moderates.”

The core issue is the familiar one that every state gets two senators, so that almost empty states like Wyoming are as well-represented in the Senate as a populous state like California.

The fact that each state gets two senators, regardless of population, has a massive distorting effect on American politics — especially because Republicans are more likely to control low-population states. Thanks to this malapportionment, every voter in red Wyoming has 68 times more impact on the makeup of the Senate than each voter in blue California.

And why do Republicans control low-population states? Because low population states are mostly small towns, and small towns tend to be homogeneous, while those seeking to escape homogeneity for whatever reason head for the big cities.

I noticed this in one of my first posts on this blog, back in 2013, citing a Facebook post by Robert Reich:

Why is it that most progressives live in cities and on the coasts where there are major ports, while most regressives live in rural areas far removed from the nation’s major ports and cities? The same pattern holds in other nations and regions of the world. Historically, fascist movements have begun inland; liberal movements, around major seaports and cities. It’s probably because major ports and cities are far more exposed to the rest of the world, and to a diverse range of people and a broad range of ideas, while rural inland areas are more homogeneous and insular. America’s regressives — trying to stop abortions, prevent gay marriages, keep their guns, hold back immigration, militarize the border, limit voting rights, prevent the teaching of evolution, deny climate change, tear down the wall between church and state, and cut safety nets — reflect the values and views of those who are cut off from the realities of the 21st century. Our problem is they have disproportionate political power, and are determined to hold onto it as long as they can.

This is still true, nearly a decade later, and increasingly problematic.

I’ve heard the argument that the framers built the Senate this way precisely to prevent populous states from bossing around smaller rural states, the way they presumably can in the House of Representatives. Well, OK. But this principle breaks down in the Senate and therefore the Supreme Court, as the Vox article explains. It means that 1 1/2 of the branches of government — half of the three — are increasingly, perhaps irredeemably, conservative.

And *this* is problematic because the problems the world — not just the nation — are facing are global, and require cooperation not just among states but among nations. The Covid pandemic being a minor crisis, relative to the much larger issue of climate change. Which too many conservatives simply refuse to believe in, or can’t be bothered to sacrifice short-term benefits (coal) to take action against.

The chart in the article (click for bigger) contrasts the seats won by Republicans, over the past 30 years (left column), with the aggregate national vote (right column), which has almost exclusively leaned Democratic.

This is a genuine, existential problem. If the people who can’t be convinced there are problems that need to be addressed increasingly come into power, we are doomed. (And the relatively authoritarian nations like China who *can* direct the entire country toward some purpose to survive such problems, at least the local ones, will survive, and win.) There is someone like this in California just now (via some article in the SF Chronicle a couple days ago), a farmer in the northern (very conservative!) part of the state who wants to unseat Governor Newsom, and steer state policies to the things important to… farmers. He has no college degree. His followers won’t care.

Beware politicians, of any stripe, who presume to “know” what the people want. No doubt they get feedback from their fans, at their political rallies, but those are deliberately created “bubbles” more insular than even one’s community or social media group.

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