Isn’t time we got rid of that eighteenth century anachronism, the United States Senate?
Supposedly, we Americans believe in the idea of democracy but of course the country is not, strictly speaking, a democracy and the senate is a decidedly anti-democratic institution designed, the cultural critic Richard N. Rosenfeld wrote several years ago, “to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will. In fact, the founders of this country were decidedly hostile to democracy and the constitution “was meant to prevent democracy in America” and the senate has always fostered a politics of minority rule “in which our leaders must necessarily pursue their unpopular aims by means of increasingly desperate stratagems of deceit and persuasion.”
Our congressional and executive branches reflect the British system after which they were modeled. The British parliamentary system recognized “the king, Britain’s largest property owner, the hereditary House of Lords (Anglican bishops and titled aristocrats, . . . and a House of Commons (which represented a rising mercantile class of property owners who demands for representation gave rise to” the Glorious Revolution. In our system, the president represents the rule by one (monarchy), the senate represents rule by the few (aristocracy), and the house, the most democratic branch, rule by the many (democracy). The Roman philosopher Polybius, who laid out this division of government, “insisted that each of these forms, unless balanced by the other two, would degenerate into tyranny, oligarchy, or mob rule, respectively.
In Common Sense, Thomas Paine “urged that any American government consist of only one democratically elected legislative chamber, with no aristocratic or kingly branch to veto its decisions.” And in fact, the first government of the United States, the Articles of Confederation adopted just such a system. Unfortunately, the Congress gave each state in the Confederation only one vote in Congress rather than apportion votes by state population. Benjamin Franklin too argued for a one-house legislature which he “likened to ‘putting one horse before a cart and the other behind it, and whipping them both. When the ruling class decided that the Confederation no longer met their interests, they dissolved the Articles of Confederation and replaced them with the Constitution with its rule of one (the president), few (the senate), and many (the House). For Paine and Franklin, wrote Rosenfeld, “two legislative chambers were a prescription for deadlock, and, with the advantage of hindsight, who among us would disagree?”
In the United States today, “U. S. senators from the twenty-six smallest states, representing a mere 18 percent of the nation’s population, hold a majority in the” Senate, and therefore, under the Constitution, regardless of what the President, the House, “or even an overwhelming majority of the” citizens want, “nothing becomes law if those senators object.” “The nine largest states, containing a majority of the American people, are represented by only 18 of the 100 senators in the senate.” Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, New Hampshire, and several other states have only 600,000 or so residents. Each of those states has two senators. California, with 33 million residents, or Washington with 6 million residents each has two senators. Why is it that the 600,000 residents of Alaska have equal votes in the senate as the 33 million residents in California?
Because, as Rosenfeld wrote, the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will.
It’s time to get rid of the senate and institute a one-house, unicameral legislature in the United States.