That old hackneyed joke — If pro is the opposite of con, then isn’t Congress the opposite of progress? — has never rung truer than it does today. It’s particularly the case in the upper house, where forward movement on voting rights, climate change and other critical issues is being held up by Republican obstructionists in the Senate (and their conservative Democratic accomplices). Folks have been floating the idea of ending the filibuster to bypass the logjam. That would be a good start, but the real problem is the Senate itself.
Like the electoral college and first-past-the-post voting, the Senate is an undemocratic relic that needs to go. It’s an artifact of a different time and a political reality totally unlike our own.
When the country was founded, it had only 2.5 million people. The central government was weak by design. Each of the former colonies was like a mini nation with its own particular interests, and the overriding concern was to strike a balance among them. They couldn’t even conceive of the kind of complex issues that require a national response like we face today, e.g. infrastructure, telecom regulation and so on.
At the time, the disparity in population sizes wasn’t so great, either.
Virginia, the largest state, had 700,000 more people than the smallest. Today, California, with 39.4 million people, has a greater population than the 20 smallest states combined. And the majority of those sparsely populated states — the Dakotas, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Louisiana — are deep red.
That’s how you end up with policies far removed from what the public actually wants. Roughly 36 percent of the country approved of Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthy. It was passed with the votes of 51 Senators who represent approximately 44 percent of the country.
Other policies that have majority or supermajority support, such as Medicare for All and marijuana legalization, aren’t viewed as politically feasible because the Senate is so alienated from the will of the people.
The public demand for action on climate is even stronger, with bipartisan support for many specific solutions to the crisis.