In many ways America is not a democracy

The majority of Americans think that climate change is real, that it is caused by humans and that this is not going to end well for us humans.

A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation confirms this. The poll clearly says that most Americans are believers in climate change and its dangers:

“The Washington Post poll finds that a strong majority of Americans — about 8 in 10 — say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly 4 in 10 now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”

Places like this can only survive if we can stop climate change.  Rocky Mountain National Parks.  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
Places like this can only survive if we can stop climate change. Rocky Mountain National Parks.

If this is true, then why do we keep on electing presidents and senators who are climate deniers or worse. Well, one reason is that In many ways America is not a democracy, especially when it comes to electing presidents or senators.

Let’s start with congress.

Our federal representatives in House of Representatives are elected somewhat democratically. Representatives are elected by direct, popular vote. Voters vote for their choice of representative in their legislative district and the candidate who gets the most votes wins. This is democracy in action.

However there is one little catch. The legislative districts that elect House representatives are set up by the local state legislature. And unfortunately most of these legislative districts are gerrymandered.

So what is gerrymandering? Here is an answer from a 2019 New York Times article.

“Gerrymandering is a way that governing parties try to keep themselves in power by tilting the political map steeply in their favor. The goal is to draw boundaries of legislative districts so that as many seats as possible are likely to be won by the party’s candidates. Drafters accomplish this mainly through two practices commonly called packing and cracking.

A packed district is drawn to include as many of the opposing party’s voters as possible. That helps the governing party win surrounding districts where the opposition’s strength has been diluted to create the packed district.

Cracking does the opposite: It splits up clusters of opposition voters among several districts, so that they will be outnumbered in each district.

An efficiently gerrymandered map has a maximum number of districts that each contain just enough governing-party supporters to let the party’s candidates win and hold the seat safely, even during “wave” elections when the opposition does especially well. And it packs the opposition’s supporters into a minimum number of districts that the opposition will win overwhelmingly.”

As you can see, even the House of Representatives does not really conduct democratic eletions. Again, in many ways America is not a democracy.

Most Americans treasure our National Parks.  In a un-democratic America, National Parks cannot last.  They will be exploited for their coal and minerals  and oil and timber and whatever else can be turned into capital.  The National Parks Conservation Association says that, "National parks are cherished by Americans and an overwhelming 95 percent of voters want the federal government to ensure they are protected for the future and available for their enjoyment."  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
Most Americans treasure our National Parks. In a un-democratic America, National Parks cannot last. They will be exploited for their coal and minerals and oil and timber and whatever else can be turned into capital. The National Parks Conservation Association says that, “National parks are cherished by Americans and an overwhelming 95 percent of voters want the federal government to ensure they are protected for the future and available for their enjoyment.”

And when we get to the Senate things get worse. Senators are also not elected democratically. This is because in Senate elections some peoples’ votes matter more than others. This begins with the fact that every state gets 2 senators, no matter how many people live in that that state. Wyoming which has 583,000 people gets exactly the same number of senators as California which has 40 million people. So, per capita, people in Wyoming have a much larger political voice in the Senate than Californians do.

Wyoming is a very conservative state and California is a very liberal state. But most of those liberal votes in California are wasted. The forty million Californians have the same two votes in the senate as the 500,000 Wyoming residents have. It the senate was democratic, California would have 160 senators and Wyoming would have two.

Another well loved National Park is Glacier.  Only in a democratic America will parks like glacier be protected by the constant predation of capitalism.  This doesn't mean American should be socialist or communist.  It just means it must really be a democracy.  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
Another well loved National Park is Glacier. Only in a democratic America will parks like glacier be protected by the constant predation of capitalism. This doesn’t mean American should be socialist or communist. It just means it must really be a democracy.

And it gets worse according to an article in The New York Review of Books titled “The Tyranny of the Minority, from Iowa Caucus to Electoral College” by Corey Robin on February 3, 2020: Cory Robin says that,

“Eighteen percent of the American population—on average, whiter and older than the rest of the population—can elect a majority of the Senate. And if those senators are not united in their opposition to a piece of legislation, the filibuster enables an even smaller group of them, representing 10 percent of the population, to block it.  

And should legislation supported by a vast majority of the American people somehow make it past these hurdles, the Supreme Court, selected by a president representing a minority of the population and approved by senators representing an even smaller minority, can overturn it.”

So, as you can see there is not much democracy in the way the  American senate works.

Basically the same thing happens in presidential elections because we elect presidents via the electoral college.   The candidate with most most votes does not always win.  And this is happening more regularly lately.  In the last five presidential elections, the candidate with the most votes lost twice.  This would be Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.  Hillary won by almost 3 million votes and still lost the election.

It is the electoral college that causes this kind of  disaster.

Here is how the electoral college works.  Each state has a bunch of electoral votes.  How many votes each state gets is determined by adding the number of its senators to the the number of US house representatives it has, ie the number of legislative districts the state has.   So Wyoming has 3 electoral votes: 2 because it has 2 senators and 1 for its single house representative.

At first glance this looks democratic because the number of representatives a state has is based on the population of the state.  So the representatives part of electoral votes is democratic.   But the senate part is not democratic, since each state has 2 senators.  This means that some citizens have more political power than others.  Again, your vote is worth more in some states than in others.  Wyoming wins again and California loses again.  If all votes counted equally California should have many more electoral votes that it does.

This edge can make a difference in very close elections.  However this isn’t the real problem with the electoral college.  The real reason the electoral college system is bad is because it is a winner-takes-all system.  

If a presidential candidate wins in any state by even one vote, that candidate gets all of the electoral votes of that state.   And all the votes that were cast for his opponent are just forgotten about.  

In the 2016 election Trump won the midwest battle ground states  by  just a few thousand votes,  but  he got all of these states electoral votes.   He won the three main battleground states by 107,000 votes. “The election was effectively decided by 107,000 people in these three states.”

Trump won the election on electoral votes even though Hillary won the popular vote by 2.87 million votes.   Doesn’t sound even a little bit democratic to me.

If presidential elections were won or lost based on the popular vote, all the votes for Trump and all the votes for Clinton would have been tallied up for each candidate and then the one with the most votes wins.  All of those votes for the losing candidate would not have been forgotten, they would have keep on adding to the cumulative totals for each candidate.

If you ask me, this is what democracy looks like.

Slickrock Paintbrush in Arches National Park.  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
Slickrock Paintbrush in Arches National Park

And then there is the reason we have an electoral college in the first place.  This is the really surprising part.

We have an electoral college because America began as a slave state. In the 1787 constitutional convention the North wanted the presidency to be decided by a popular vote. They were for democracy: one person, one vote and the winner is the one who gets the most votes.

However, the South realized that If this happened it would lose every election since much of its population was slaves and slaves could not vote.

So the south held out for an electoral college where each state got a certain number of electoral votes based on population. And it argued that slaves should be counted as part of their population. They argued that each slave should be counted as 3/5 of a person. And they had a lot of slaves.

The North realized that they would never be able to create the new US constitution without the support of the slave holding south so they decided that they had to compromise. They had to accept the electoral college that the slave states wanted or there would be no constitution at all.

Here is how Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale historian who specializes in the constitution, explains it:

So what’s the real answer [for why we have the electoral college?]  In my view, it’s slavery. In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge percentage of its population was slaves, and slaves couldn’t vote. But an Electoral College allows states to count slaves, albeit at a discount (the three-fifths clause), and that’s what gave the South the inside track in presidential elections. And thus it’s no surprise that eight of the first nine presidential races were won by a Virginian. (Virginia was the most populous state at the time, and had a massive slave population that boosted its electoral vote count.)

This pro-slavery compromise was not clear to everyone when the Constitution was adopted, but it was clearly evident to everyone when the Electoral College was amended after the Jefferson-Adams contest of 1796 and 1800. These elections were decided, in large part, by the extra electoral votes created by slavery. Without the 13 extra electoral votes created by Southern slavery, John Adams would’ve won even in 1800, and every federalist knows that after the election.

Horses grazing in Teton National Park.  The Snake river in the background.  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
Horses grazing in Teton National Park. The Snake river in the background.

And that’s why we have the electoral college today. It is part of the US constitution at the insistence of the slave holding south. And now it is going to be very difficult, or more probably impossible, to get rid of it. Republicans are in the same spot as the slave holding South. If presidential elections were determined by the popular vote, the Republicans would find it very difficult to win elections..

One of the main reasons presidents and senators who are climate deniers keep on getting elected in a country that believes that climate change is real and wants to fix it, is that America is not a democracy when it comes to electing its presidents and senators and representatives..

This is why the same old polluters and oil profiteers keep on winning elections.

In many ways American is not a democracy and the voice of the people is not heard. Instead our country and our economy is manipulated by those who know that plundering the earth means more money in their pockets. And so they manage to tilt elections by hook or crook.

Mostly the crook part, I think.

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More reading on this subject

What is Gerrymandering

The Tyranny of the Minority

Trump is on the wrong side of history.

Trump is winning the 2020 election online

The real reason we have the electoral college

The Electoral College’s Real Problem: It’s Biased Toward the Big Battlegrounds

Opinion | Actually, the Electoral College Was a Pro-Slavery Ploy


Waterfall in Zion National Park
Waterfall in Zion National Park
Baltimore Oriel.  Without democracy in America, birds like this could never be protected.  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
Baltimore Oriel. Without democracy in America, birds like this could never be protected.
The Sea of Grass in Everglades National Park.  This park could never exist without the protection demanded by the American people.  If we lose our democracy it will all be gone.  And unfortunately In many ways America is not a democracy.
The Sea of Grass in Everglades National Park. This park could never exist without the protection demanded by the American people. If we lose our democracy it will all be gone.

Summary. Many Americans know that climate change will destroy the natural America they love. And they vote to save natural America. If this is true, then why do we keep on electing presidents and senators who are climate deniers or worse. Well, one reason is that in many ways America is not a democracy, especially when it comes to electing presidents or senators.

2 thoughts on “In many ways America is not a democracy

  1. very good article on the electoral college and the small state bias of the senate.
    the last part of the post on the power of polluters needs to be treayted as a separate
    problem related to the fact that money is considered speech. even if the electoral coy yllege and the senate were abolished the problem of money in politics would remain.

    1. Excellent point and absolutely correct.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Rocky Mountain Photography

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