How the Founders' original design would affect the US Senate
There have been many details exposed over the last two years about how our government at all levels is not what we thought it was, and none of what we're hearing bodes well for this republic.
Let's focus on one issue: the U.S. Senate. It's clearer than it has ever been that it's just a collection of elected officials, behaving as if they're independent actors with no restraint. It's as if they have no allegiance to anyone. The citizens of their respective states matter not, except once every six years, when they play the "how can I fool them again" game. They're a law unto themselves. Oh, and the welfare of their respective states? They couldn't care less.
How did this come about? The 17th Amendment.
Nineteen thirteen was a terrible year for our republic. It delivered a double–constitutional body blow: first, imposing a federal income tax — the 16th Amendment — and then the general election of U.S. senators — the 17th Amendment.
Prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislatures appointed senators. Each state had its own process for this. The senators were the gating mechanism against a House of Representatives that had a penchant toward foolishness. Given the fruitcakes we see there today, it's clear the Founding Fathers knew what they were doing.
With the ratification of the 17th Amendment, the individual states gave up that protection they had against the stupidity of the House. And here we are today, the states living with a dangerous level of political shenanigans in both chambers of Congress without the original circuit-breaker protection of their respective senators. Instead, these senators are now free agents, bounded only by their egos, a thirst for power, and a lack of interest in the impact of congressional legislation upon their respective states.
Will the states ever correct this mistake? Who knows? But if you want to understand what the people stand for, given their political values, here's an exercise worth considering.
When we look at today's Senate (117th Congress), here's the political landscape:
- 50 Republicans
- 48 Democrats
- 2 Independents (caucus with the Democrats)
- 1 Democrat V.P. (tie-breaker)
Across the fifty states, the current legislative landscape is as follows (National Conference of State Legislatures, June 2022):
- 30 states, both chambers Republican
- 17 states, both chambers Democrat
- 2 states split between chambers
- 1 state nonpartisan (Nebraska — unicameral)
So what would the current U.S. Senate look like based upon what the Founding Fathers originally designed? I'm going to make some assumptions. Both chambers of the Republican states choose two Republican senators. The fully legislatively Democrat states (both chambers) choose two Democrat senators. The split chambers choose one Republican and one Democrat senator. Nebraska, unicameral, nonpartisan, chooses one Republican and one Democrat senator.
The political landscape of the Senate would now be as follows:
- 63 Republicans
- 37 Democrats
Fascinating. In the Senate, for Republican citizens, it has felt as though they're the political majority being ruled by a political minority. Turns out the Republican citizens aren't paranoid. The Republican majority is being ruled by a Democrat minority.
Senate general elections are statewide, which can skew the results because of urban population centers dominated by one political party. It's these population centers, controlled by Democrats, that have given us this illogical senatorial make-up today.
Elections for state legislatures produce results more in line with where the voters stand. States configure their legislative districts differently from their congressional districts (granted, not perfectly). Because of the election results produced by the granularity of legislative districts, they produce a better picture of the will of the people in a state.
Like the Electoral College, legislatures choosing senators were a critical component of a Republican form of government. They were a bulwark against the insanity of a manipulated democracy present in the House of Representatives.
Even if the country can't get back to the states being represented by choosing their respective senators, taking the temperature of the country modeled on the Founders' original intent has the potential to provide valuable political guidance. I suspect that Donald Trump figured this out a long time ago.
J.H. Capron is an author and writer living in the Hudson Valley of N.Y.
Image via Max Pixel.