Updated on Sunday October 17, 2020 at 17:58 EST
This week, Senator Mike Lee accidentally tweeted out a true statement.
The US Senate is supposed to be part a system of “checks and balances” to “prevent tyranny.” We are never told against whom are we checking the power and what is the balance?
In 1787, during the constitutional convention, James Madison describes the primary function of the senate.
The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge of the wants or feelings of the day laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe; when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. Various have been the propositions; but my opinion is, the longer they continue in office, the better will these views be answered
According to the New York Delegate’s records:
The Advantages of Government cannot be extended equally to all—Those remote from Seat of Government cannot be placed in a Situation equally advantageous with such as near it—Distinctions will always exist—that of Debtor and Creditor—Property had made Distinctions in Europe before a Nobility was created—Inequality of Property will produce the same Distinctions here—The Man in affluent Circumstances has different Feelings from the man who daily toils for a Subsistence. The landed Interest has now the Supreme Power—a Century hence the commercial may prevail—The Government ought to be so organized as to give a Balance to it and protect one Order of Men from the predominating Influence of the other. The Senate ought to represent the opulent Minority—If this is not done the System cannot be durable” (Strayer, Delegate from N.Y., p. 84).
In either version, James Madison said that the function of the senate is to protect the opulent minority from the majority. James Madison realized that if we have true Democracy, people would vote to be less poor. The function of the senate was to maintain a level of inequality so that the those who had money would be protected from those without.
With these profoundly undemocratic motives, the each state got two senators, who were appointed. But, after the 17th amendment, we have direct elections to the senate. Does this make the Senate any more Democratic?
The answer is no.
If we take the overall “popular” vote in the senate, the discrepancy is alarming! In 2018, the Democrats (including the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats) won 59% of the popular vote. However, they got only 47 seats!
The senate, by design, has been getting more undemocratic as people have been forced to move towards the coasts since the manufacturing industry has been decimated in the midwest.
If you want to compare the population of the Dakotas to that of Manhattan:
As for the class character of the senate, half of the senators are in the top 5% of the wealth bracket in the US.
And this shows in their responsiveness to the issues.
In fact, according to a 2015 study by Duke University, the Senate is completely unresponsive to popular opinion. They say, “The biggest conclusion we can draw from this (admittedly limited) study is that, while neither the Senate or the House appear to vote based on strict 50% public support threshold, it does seem that the House responds to changes in public support, while the Senate does not. Indeed, the absence of an elect of localized public opinion on Senate voting behavior is a remarkably stark finding, and it suggests that Senators act more independently of public opinion than Representatives do, which would be a validation of the Framer’s vision of the Senate as being more shielded from the capriciousness of the public”
The obvious question: In that case, why does the Democratic party pretend that these are losing propositions?
Obviously, they have imbibed the class consciousness of their donors. Now, they spend the majority of the time persuading their voters that ordinary issues likes healthcare for all and making sure we have a habitable planet is not popular amongst a mysterious group of right-leaning voters that can never be defined.
Of course, there are many other structures within the Senate that renders it even more reactionary and anti-democratic, which I hope to get into another day. But, just the existence, the campaign financing needed to be a Senator and how a senator is selected ultimately tilts the senate towards reaction and against the poor.
We must remember that the senate was well-designed to serve its original purpose: “to protect those with property from those who were considered to be property.” Unless we seriously reform or eliminate it, we cannot even dream of a better future.