US government, Supreme Court, Senate, president run by minority views

  • Americans overwhelmingly support a number of policy proposals, such as background checks for all gun owners and paid maternity leave.
  • But those incredibly popular proposals are not being put into practice by our politicians.
  • That’s because those in power — including the Senate, courts, and White House — represent a small minority of the country’s population and are unduly influenced by special interests.
  • It is unsustainable.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
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Ask any middle schooler about the basic role of government and they will answer — correctly — that it is to represent the views and ideas of the American people. Policies supported by a clear majority deserve action.

Today, representative democracy is on the brink as our government demonstrates an unprecedented disconnect from public opinion.

For instance, 83% of the public supports background checks for gun owners, but that hasn’t come to fruition. Some 77% of Americans want Roe v. Wade upheld, but that precedent keeps getting chipped away at. And 84% of the nation supports paid maternity leave, which has yet to become law despite President Donald Trump’s promising it during his 2016 campaign. We see time and time again that even overwhelmingly popular public views don’t translate to policy.

That’s because our three branches of government live under minority rule.

There is a disconnect between Capitol Hill and Main Street. Trump, whose rise was fueled by his message of taking on a “rigged” political system that failed to reflect the views and values of everyday Americans, understood and exploited that reality.

But the problem predates Trump. With gerrymandering as the standard and open primaries out of favor, politicians have tacked more to the base of their parties and away from the middle.

As a result ideas move or stall based on the power of a small group of primary-election voters and politicians who have gamed the system to block ideas that are overwhelmingly popular.

While minority views should be protected and voices outside of the consensus heard, the issue is that all three branches of the federal government are now in the hands of a group of politicians pushing distorted views to the mainstream:

  • The Senate: The structure of our Senate made sense in 1789 as a guarantee that smaller states would be heard. Today, smaller states have a significantly disproportionate voice, and the Republican Senate majority represents a historically low proportion of the country’s population.

    The narrowest majority of 50 senators who last year confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court represent just 44% of the US population. Many of these senators are the same ones blocking action on issues backed by most Americans, like gun safety, election reform, and climate change.

  • The courts: A Senate majority representing a historically small percentage of the population enables an equally problematic court system, well beyond the Supreme Court.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has done more than his part to ensure an imbalanced federal judiciary through his unprecedented stonewalling of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and lower-court appointees. Contrast that with his rush to confirm Trump’s nominees from the Supreme Court down to the lower federal courts. All these judges are cementing in place conservative policies that many in the country would find shocking.

  • The presidency: The presidency of course is the most egregious example: Two of the past three presidents, not coincidentally both Republicans, lost the popular vote in their first election. The Electoral College is antiquated — and it is opposed by the majority of Americans.

    In fact, by some analyses, Trump could lose the popular vote by as many as 5 million votes, a margin twice the size of his popular-vote loss in 2016, and still win in 2020. The fate of the free world has come down to a handful of all-or-nothing races in battleground states instead of reflecting the full diversity of the country.

It’s only going to get worse

While the grip of the minority has so far caused serious distortions in our policymaking, it’s clear that the push to concentrate power is only going to get worse.

The GOP consistently pushes the envelope to cement control, especially as it reads the tea leaves and see an electoral future that looks grim for their party.

Their desperation to lock in unpopular Republican policies is the basis for their embrace of Trump, their efforts to pack the federal courts, their embrace of the Electoral College system that advantages them (for now), and their gerrymandering. We’ve even seen similar strategies on the state level in Wisconsin last year and North Carolina in 2016.

Given these moves, Democrats must make minority rule the rallying cry for 2020 and beyond. Democratic arguments and ideas reflect the majority of Americans’ views, and Democrats need to make the case that voters should be outraged by the disconnect between public opinion and public policy.

Elected Democrats must put a disproportionate emphasis on issues that the public supports and shine a light on how our current government impedes the progress that the nation demands.

Democrats have a powerful opportunity to rally the rare, undecided voter around the idea that their representatives should, as the name implies, represent the people. By mobilizing Americans against the state of affairs, Democrats can position themselves as the ones who will get things done on the issues people care about.

Michael Gordon has a long history in Democratic politics and communications strategy. He worked in the Clinton White House and as a spokesperson for the Clinton Justice Department. He also has served on multiple national, state, and local campaigns.

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