Within the next few months, Brett M. Kavanaugh will get a vote in the Senate to determine whether he joins the Supreme Court. In all likelihood, that vote will be close but will work out in Kavanaugh’s favor. Republicans currently have a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate, and even if the ailing John McCain (Ariz.) doesn’t vote, if they hold the rest of their members (and they will) the result would at worst be a 50-50 tie that Vice President Pence would break.
That vote will be a vivid reminder that we are living in an age of minority rule. In fact, that is one of the central features of this political era. The Republican Party represents a minority of the American electorate, yet it controls not only all three branches of the federal government but also most state governments, as well.
Why do I say that a vote in Kavanaugh’s favor is an example of minority rule? Because the body that will confirm him is built in its current formation to almost guarantee Republican control, despite the fact that most American voters selected Democrats to represent them there.
Using Dave Leip’s invaluable election atlas, I added up all the votes cast for Democrats and Republicans in the 2012, 2014 and 2016 Senate elections, which put the current Senate in place. I didn’t bother with the few special elections since 2012, which in total wouldn’t change the results much, but I did include Bernie Sanders’s and Angus King’s last elections, since they are nominally independent but caucus with the Democrats. Here are the results:
Republican votes: 102.3 million
Democratic votes: 117.4 million
In the elections that determined the current Senate, there were 15 million more votes cast for Democrats than for Republicans. Yet Republicans maintain control and therefore get to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Well, that’s just how it is, you might say. Blame the framers. And that’s true: They set up a system in which Wyoming’s 580,000 residents get two senators and California’s 40 million residents also get two senators.
But that doesn’t mean it’s fair or right or that Democrats shouldn’t be livid in cases like this where it leads to such an antidemocratic outcome. And the GOP’s built-in advantages combine to make the country much more hostile to the policies the majority actually wants.
So we will now have an intensely conservative Supreme Court in which five of the nine justices were appointed by Republican presidents, despite the fact that in six of the past seven presidential elections, the Democratic candidate won the most votes. That’s because of the electoral college, another feature of our system with a built-in Republican advantage.
Were it not for the skew of the Senate, Mitch McConnell would not have had the ability to refuse to hear the nomination of Merrick Garland, in which case the margin would have been 5-4 in favor of Democrats. Were the presidency determined by which candidate got the most votes — as it is in every other democracy on earth — Hillary Clinton would be president right now, and the margin would be 6-3 in favor of liberals.
There’s a related situation in the House, where most analysts believe that in order to take control Democrats will have to not just win the popular vote, but win it by a huge margin of 6 or 7 points. And all this is why enormously popular policies like minimum wage increases, greater funding for education, and universal health coverage never see the light of day, while our national legislature eagerly cuts taxes for the wealthy and corporations whether that’s what the public wants or not. And one of the things you can absolutely count on from the newly (even more) conservative Supreme Court is that they will approve every step Republicans take to suppress the votes of those inclined to oppose them, making their continued hold on power all the more likely.
In other words, our entire political system is built to give the Republican Party a series of advantages, even when they represent a minority of the public, as they now do. In some cases that’s by their design, and in some cases it’s a happy accident, but it all points in the same direction. And when Republicans have power, they work ceaselessly to make the system even less democratic and more rigged in their favor.
So every time the Supreme Court issues another ruling that cheers conservatives, whether it’s restricting reproductive rights or gutting campaign finance laws or undercutting environmental regulations, we should remember that it was made possible by a minority president with the aid of a minority Senate.
When he ran for president, Donald Trump told his voters that they were the victims of a rigged system. Nurture your rage, he urged them, and strike a blow against that system by voting for me. In truth, he was the product of the rigged system, not its enemy. So maybe it’s time for liberals to finally get angry about it.