The Washington Post features an essay by E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann … the authors of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported,” from which parts of this article are drawn.. The authors explain Why the majority keeps losing on guns. Scriber thinks their analysis extends much more broadly and deeply.
Why does our political system make it impossible even to consider solutions to gun violence? After the massacre in Las Vegas that has so far taken nearly 60 lives and left more than 500 injured, the first reaction of the many politicians who carry water for the gun lobby was to declare it “premature” to discuss measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
The “premature” word echoed from President Trump’s White House on down, and those who used it were really saying that Congress would never enact even modest efforts to prevent mass shootings. This is damning evidence of the stranglehold that far-right lobbies have on today’s Republicans, who extol law and order except when maintaining it requires confronting the National Rifle Association.
But something else is at work here. As we argue in our book, “One Nation After Trump,” the United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. Claims that our republic is democratic are undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy. Nowhere is the imbalance more dramatic or destructive than on the issue of gun control.
The non-majoritarian nature of our institutions was brought home in 2013. After the Sandy Hook slaughter, the Senate voted 54 to 46 in favor of a background-checks amendment crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Those 54 votes were not enough to overcome a filibuster, which the GOP regularly abused during the Obama years. Worse, since most large-state senators voted for Manchin-Toomey, the 54 “yes” votes came from lawmakers representing 63 percent of the population. Their will was foiled by those who speak for just 37 percent of us.
Ending the filibuster would not solve the problem; in some cases, it might aggravate it. As The Post’s Philip Bump has noted, if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16 percent of Americans could overrule those representing 84 percent.
And this problem will only deepen. David Birdsell, a Baruch College political scientist, has calculated that by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states — and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators.
Gerrymandering, the electoral college, and voter suppression “further skew electoral outcomes, as does the power of money in politics.”
Our paralysis on guns reflects a looming legitimacy crisis in our system. In the short run, advocates of sane gun laws should keep up the pressure, particularly in election showdowns involving candidates who resist any steps to make our country safer. In the long run, we need reforms to make majority rule a reality.
In case you missed it, the underlying dimension here is liberal-urban <—> conservative-rural. Overlay on that dimension the 37% vs. 63% mentioned above in connection with the failure of the background checks amendment after Sandy Hook. Even though there were 54 “yes” votes, the measure was filibustered.
This is not good news for Democrats. The issue is larger than guns alone. If the demographic trend continues, we may very well see Philip Bump’s scenario in which an 84% urban, multiethnic, Democratic majority is completely suppressed by a 16% rural, alt-white, ultra-conservative minority.
I have to wonder if we have already passed a tipping point on this one. Few solutions are apparent short of doing what AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona suggests: Amend the Constitution to reform the U.S. Senate. Given that the members of the Senate representing just 37% of the population already control the show, the chance of such an amendment gaining any traction seems increasingly remote.