Abolish the Senate and Electoral College? Why Not Tear Up the Constitution?
Former Congressman John Dingell, Jr., a partisan Democrat whose immediate family has controlled the same seat in the House of Representatives for 86 years, has some suggestions for fixing Congress. We should abolish the Senate and the Electoral College because they're undemocratic, "despite the constitutional hurdles of doing so." In 2015, Dingell retired from the U.S. House seat he's held since 1955, the seat he inherited from his father, John Dingell, Sr., who first won it in 1932. The seat has passed to John Jr.'s much-younger wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, who was just re-elected in November. (Full disclosure: For 20 years, my wife and I have lived in Dearborn, Michigan, which is inside the Dingell fiefdom and looks as though it may be in perpetuity.)
Dingell is kvetching about "the complete collapse" of respect for government since he first held office and "an unprecedented cynicism about the nobility of public service itself." Things were much better in 1958, when "73 percent of Americans trusted the federal government 'to do the right thing almost always or most of the time.'" Now it's down to 18%, and Dingell blames this decline mostly on Republican wrongdoing like Watergate, the Iraq War, and "Ronald Reagan's folksy but popular message that government was not here to help." "[W]orst of all by far," he writes, is "the Trumpist mind-set" held by "jackasses who see 'deep state' conspiracies in every part of government[.]"
What really burns Dingell is how his party's numerical electoral advantage – widely expected to continue growing as caravans of illegal aliens flood into the country – isn't translating into an America run strictly according to Democrat ideas. Why not? Because "sparsely populated, usually conservative states can block legislation supported by a majority of the American people." Flyover Republicans, and the protections for political minorities built into the Constitution, are holding up progress! This is especially the case in the Senate, where California's 40 million people have only two senators, "while the 20 smallest states have a combined population totaling less than that ... have 40 senators." We have this "antiquated" and "downright dangerous" political imbalance only "because of an 18th-century political deal" – a deal, it should be noted, that someone thought should be preserved under glass at the National Archives.
Dingell never specifies how the current structure of the Senate is "downright dangerous," nor does he explain why the Great Compromise over Senate representation made sense in the 18th century, when a tiny Rhode Island could object to being bullied by Massachusetts, but it's now "plain crazy" for the 20 smallest states (and a lot of the bigger ones) to resist being bullied by California.
It's obvious that Dingell positively resents the minority, whom he variously describes as "usually conservative," a "vocal rump ... of obnoxious asses [who] can hold the entire country hostage to extremist views." He dismisses 63 million Trump-supporters as "jackasses ... a minority of a minority ... the weakest link in the chain of more than three centuries of our American republic." (That makes twice in one article he calls Americans who won't vote Democrat "asses." Did I mention I'm one of his family's constituents?)
The reality remains that while Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote with 48%, Trump still won 46%, which isn't the insignificant minority Dingell imagines. He shares the conceit of his party that Democrats' less than half of the electorate constitutes "a majority of the American people" and that the slightly smaller less than half of us is a negligible fraction of extremists.
Other proponents of erasing the Senate, like Parker Richards at The Atlantic, point to the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh as evidence of Senate "disproportionality," because the majority "represented just 44 percent of the country's population." Jay Willis at GQ has the same complaint. "An undemocratic body yields undemocratic results. The 50 senators who voted to confirm the wildly-unpopular Brett Kavanaugh represent only 44 percent of the population." Yes, Kavanaugh's unpopularity was wild – wild, baseless, and irrational, stoked by false witnesses, a lying media, and a hyper-cynical Senate minority willing to destroy an innocent man to mollify their abortion-industry backers. The speed with which a credulous public was turned into a hysterical mob baying for Kavanaugh's blood on no evidence whatsoever reveals the genius of the Framers' interposing a safeguard between the often naked madness of an inflamed majority and what James Madison called "the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions."
To say the Kavanaugh confirmation is proof that the Senate is undemocratic is essentially to say that a truly democratic body – reacting to the shrieks of the #MeToo movement and a public opinion distorted by sound bites and Twitter – would have denied the nomination. That result might have been more democratic, but it would also, based on false witnesses and the slanders of the mob, be the kind of "pernicious" result Madison wanted to prevent.
Dingell says the "jackasses" who share Trump's mistrust of government are "the weakest link in the chain" of the republic, but he's wrong. People who mistrust government understand the republic better than he does, because it was people who mistrusted government who created it. "If men were angels," wrote Madison in Federalist 51, "no government would be necessary." As it is, while the people are "the primary control on the government," because people aren't angels "experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." But if it's progressives trying to throw off those precautions, and not we, how are we the weakest link?
On the other hand, Democrats are growing increasingly exasperated with how the Constitution's auxiliary precautions keep putting the brakes on their agenda. In 2001, when Barack Obama was an Illinois senator and law professor, he complained about the Constitution as an impediment to the goal of radical income redistribution. While it dictates "what the Federal government can't do to you," he said, it fails to command "what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf." This past year has seen the sudden rise of mainstream Democrats wanting to abolish ICE, which enforces constitutionally mandated naturalization and immigration laws. Large segments of the party are embracing democratic socialism, heedless that socialism requires the extinguishment of guaranteed individual liberties. Nearly 40% of Democrats support repealing the Second Amendment. Now John Dingell, the "Dean of the Congress," in addition to abolition of the Senate and Electoral College, is calling for the "elimination of money in campaigns" at the expense of the First Amendment.
Oddly, Dingell repeats Ben Franklin's warning about "constant vigilance" if we're to protect the "precious but fragile gift" the Founders gave us. But their gift was a Republic, "if you can keep it." Some of us are trying to keep it. Dingell and many of his fellow Democrats sound awfully anxious to throw it away.
T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.