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American Democracy Didn't Just Get Blown Up. It's Always Been A Sham

04/07/2017 02:41 EDT | Updated 04/07/2017 04:31 EDT

Just hours before Trump fired conventional missiles into Syria, the Republican-led U.S. Senate this week invoked the "nuclear option" to push Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch past a filibuster.

This historic procedural move -- so evocatively named because killing the filibuster is an irrevocable change that means the majority party no longer has to listen to the minority party -- is being seen as "the death of the Senate and its long history as the world's greatest deliberative body."

Except here's the thing about the U.S. Senate -- despite its newly deceased reputation, it has long been the least lower-case democratic institution in America.

designated survivor

The bombed out Capital Building in the Kieffer Sutherland drama "Designated Survivor" (Image: ABC)

Yes, that includes the electoral college that swept U.S. President Donald Trump into power with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

Don't get me wrong, it's absurd that someone could lose by so much and still somehow win, especially coming so soon after not-president Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by more than a half-million ballots. The electoral college is a weird system that mostly benefits a few swing states and allows people to become president without getting the most votes. Still, it's only happened five times.

Then there was the not-representative 2012 House of Representatives election when Democratic candidates actually won 1.4 million more votes but wound up with 33 fewer seats than the Republicans thanks to gerrymandered districts. This time out the Republicans got one per cent more votes and 10 per cent more seats.

The Republicans' 52-senator majority actually represents around 35 million fewer Americans than the Senate's 48 Democrats.

But back to the now post-nuclear Senate, which usually gets a fairness pass because every state gets the same two senators and you can't gerrymander a state.

Except not all states are created equal.

Montana, for instance, has a population of one million and gets two senators. California, on the other hand, has a population of nearly 40 million and, yep, also two senators. That means a Montanan's Senate vote is almost 40 times more powerful than a Californian's.

There are six other states with even fewer people, and they also get two senators. In fact, it takes the 22 least-populated states to equal California, the most populated.

So those 44 senators, almost half the Senate, represent the same number of people as California's two.

california The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California. (Photo: Gettystock)

Now if you think that this disproportionately benefits Republicans, you are correct. There are tiny blue states, too, but most of the smaller states trend red. (Oh, and if you guessed that most of these less-populated states also have a higher percentage of white people, you'd be right about that, too.)

What I'm getting at here is a startling fact: the Republicans' 52-senator majority actually represents around 35 million fewer Americans than the Senate's 48 Democrats. That's roughly the population of Canada.

Thirty-five million. Let that sink in.

Remember when Trump said American democracy was rigged? Well, even a stopped clocked is right twice a day.

I got that number not by counting votes, but by adding up the populations of each state and apportioning it to the relevant party -- or splitting in the case of states with one senator from each party -- because senators are not just representing voters, they are representing people.

Though if you do look at voters, USA Today noted in a piece about how "Democrats won popular vote in the Senate, too" that Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska got 111,000 votes and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York got 4.8 million votes.

But once in the Senate, they have the same say, including determining which party controls the Supreme Court.

Remember when Trump said American democracy was rigged? Well, even a stopped clocked is right twice a day.

While the House of Representatives uses population to determine how many house seats each state gets, the Senate is a result of the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, in which small states were give the same representation as large states to convince them to join the union.

Fast forward to 2017, and a Republican Senate majority representing 35 million fewer Americans has installed a Supreme Court justice from a president who got 3 million fewer votes after refusing to even hold hearings for Merrick Garland, the judge proffered by Obama who got 9.5 million more votes in 2008 and 5 million more votes in 2012.

Ever since the original-recipe Tea Party threw off the yoke of British imperialism -- crying "no taxation without representation!" -- they have seen themselves as an example of liberty for the world.

Or as Ronald Reagan famously said while still governor of California, "America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere."

ronald reagan 1974 Ronald Reagan during a press conference in Sacramento California. (Photo: Gettystock)

That, of course, has never been the full story. Right after the Connecticut Compromise they came up with the Three-Fifths Compromise enshrining slavery by determining that blacks were "three-fifths" of a person, and even then still couldn't vote. Neither could women or Native Americans.

In fact, true universal suffrage wasn't achieved until the 1965 Voting Rights Acts, a bill that was gutted by, yep, the Supreme Court in 2013 leading to eight states immediately passing voter restriction laws. In 2016, that was up to 14 states.

This week, The Nation reported that "so far this year, 87 bills to restrict access to voting have been introduced in 29 states" in an article headlined "The GOP Has Declared War on Democracy."

Yes, Republican radicals have been working hard to reduce the number of voters, because changing demographics have shown that's the way they win, while the Democrats win when more people come to the polls.

If the definition of democracy is "one person, one vote," then American democracy has never fit the bill.

But if the definition of democracy is "one person, one vote," then American democracy has never fit the bill. That's because right there in the constitution is a compromise that means that not all votes are created equal.

So even if the GOP hadn't gerrymandered the House, even if Trump had won the popular vote, even if there weren't all these new voter restriction laws in place, the Senate still gives voters in smaller, whiter states more power than those in big diverse ones.

While worsened by the Republicans' so-called nuclear option, this democratic defect was built in since day one. It's a feature, not a bug.

All Trump and his radical Republicans have done is remove the facade. But Americans deserve a democracy that actually functions like they think it does, and the rest of the world deserves a beacon that can back up its claims.

So, Trudeau, how about getting back to that proportional representation promise and see if Canada can be that new shining city?

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