The shoot out in Las Vegas has focused our attention on gun control again. However, we expect again, that Congress will do little to control the use of guns in the US. The NRA is an impediment because it funnels millions to members of Congress. We all expect and understand the power exerted by the NRA. This article tells a different story. It explains why the majority of Americans do not get what they want. The explanation is simple. We have a non-majoritarian democracy in the US.
The over-representation of rural states in the Senate is part of this problem. Each state is represented by two senators without regard to population. For example, if 50 senators from our 25 smallest states vote for a bill along with the Vice President, Senators representing 16% of the population will overrule the 84% majority. After the shooting of school children in Sandy Hook senators representing 63% of the population were overruled by senators representing only 37% of Americans.
The Senate used the filibuster on numerous occasions to defeat Democratic proposals in the Obama administration. That was possible even with a Democratic majority in the Senate because several Democratic members of the Senate, from conservative rural states, voted with Republicans to enable filibusters.
The problem of over representation will worsen over time. By 2040 70% of the population will live in 15 large states. They will be represented by only 30% of the Senate membership.
Donald Trump lost the popular vote in the 2016 election by the largest percentage of any president who won a majority in the electoral college. His huge majorities in very conservative rural areas overcame the smaller majorities who voted for Clinton in metropolitan areas where 84% of our population chooses to live. Our electoral college system over represents rural voters. Trump's campaign took advantage of this disparity by pitting himself against the "cosmopolitan elite" who live in metropolitan areas who do not share the values of rural Americans or their economic interests.
The House of Representatives is also over represented by conservatives by the use of
gerrymandering. Districts have been redrawn in states controlled by Republican legislatures so that the democratic vote in metropolitan areas is overcome by redrawing districts so that the democratic vote is confined to a smaller number of districts.
There is not much that can be done about the over representation of small states in the Senate without altering the Constitution. It may be possible to do something about gerrymandering, but don't hold your breath. The Supreme Court is now hearing a case about gerrymandering in Wisconsin. There are more conservative votes in the Supreme Court today because the Senate majority refused to consider President Obama's nominee prior to the election. Trump appointed a conservative to that seat.
One of the consequences of our non-majoritarian democracy is that our government increasingly reflects the values of rural Americans who receive most of their information from talk radio, Fox News and the social media. That is a big change from days in which the three major TV networks reported the news for most Americans. It is much easier today for fringe groups to communicate with each other and we have a president who communicates directly to his base via Twitter. He also attacks our major media outlets as sources of "fake news" that he tells his base to ignore. Foreign governments have also demonstrated their ability to exacerbate the divisions that exist in our nation by exploiting the business models of the social firms. They get almost all of their revenue from advertising and their systems have been set up primarily to increase advertising revenue. Unlike the major media, in which the sponsors of ads are made public, the sponsors of ads in social media are often invisible to the recipients of the ads. The system has also been set up to encourage messages and images to go viral to users that are easily targeted by invisible sources of fake news and false conspiracies. Rural Americans, and less educated Americans, are more susceptible to conspiracy theories and fake news. They are at the center of Trump's minority base which does not represent the values and ideas held by the majority of our citizens. They have been lied to by Republicans in order to win their votes. That makes it difficult for Trump and the Republican Congress to pass legislation. They have to continue feeding lies to their base. Republicans must pretend to build a war; they have to lie about global warming; they have to lie about tax reform; they have to lie about Russian intervention in the election etc. etc. etc.