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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Majority Rule Is a Bit of a Constitutional Myth in America


Among the many things we have come to know about American history, thanks to Donald Trump and his allies, is that the United States of America was not created as a democracy or even as a democratic republic. The anti-democratic provisions of the U.S. Constitution have been exploited by the right to assure that minority rule remains our country’s ongoing reality.

The origins of minority rule can be found in the compromises agreed to at the founding constitutional convention, which was called to replace the original “Articles of Confederation,” which were tilted even more toward minority rule. Those articles gave each of the 13 original states one vote and required unanimous agreement to amend them.

The U.S. Senate, which gives equal power — two votes — to every state regardless of population, preserved that undemocratic principle. Thus we have a situation where Wyoming has the same number of votes in the Senate as California, even though the latter has 65 times the population of the former.

With the less populated states having vastly different values and politics than the most populated states, the result is what we have today, where Senators representing 40 percent of the population outnumber Senators representing 60 percent of the population.

This will never change, because the process of amending the Constitution also has at its endpoint a situation in which all states carry the same weight in ratifying any amendment.

The most offensive violation of voting equality is found in the District of Columbia, where 705,000 Americans — more than live in Wyoming or Vermont — have no voting representation in either the House or Senate.

Then, of course, we have the Electoral College created in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which is anti-democratic in the number of electors assigned to each state. And it gives discretion to each state as to how it appoints its electors. All but two states have adopted a winner-take-all rule for appointing electors, which is about as anti-democratic as it can get.

But wait, there’s more!  The Constitution allows any state, through its legislature, to ignore the presidential vote of its population and send whoever it wants to the Electoral College. Thanks to gerrymandering, most legislatures could go completely against the will of its citizens if it so chooses.

As if the Constitution doesn’t do enough damage to the principle of one person/one vote, the Senate’s filibuster rule makes it impossible to pass critical legislation approved by up to 59 of its 100 members. And that’s a rule which the Senate imposes upon itself. Since no law goes to the President for his signature without a vote of both houses of Congress, the U.S. Senate routinely kills legislation approved by the majority of Representatives in the House and even by the majority of its members.

So here we are. America has a form of government that is less democratic than most countries in the “free world.” And now, as we are learning from the Select Committee on the January 6 Assault on the Capitol, the Republican Party is taking maximum advantage of the Constitution’s anti-democratic provisions to cement minority rule in the United States.

What I haven’t mentioned above is the origin and reasons for the anti-democratic provisions of the Constitution. It was all about white supremacy. The creation of a Senate which gave the southern slave states the same number of votes as the more populous northern states, was all about preserving slavery as a southern institution.

In my July 28, 2022, column (which you can find at  I describe how the Constitution was written to protect and preserve slavery. There was in fact slavery in all 13 colonies, and the majority of “founder fathers” were slaveholders. The Declaration of Independence expressed some nice sentiments and railed against King George for “making slaves” of colonists, but when it came to forming a government, the colonists chose to protect their own institution of slavery.

We are aware by now that racism is the “original sin” of the United States, and that systemic racism has been and continues to be a factor in our political life. And since any change to our Constitution must follow the rules of that document, we are in fact shackled by it into a future of minority rule.

While right-wing extremists like to brandish their AR-15s (as they did in the Michigan statehouse) and talk of civil war, they could probably relax, because our Constitution and our courts are on their side.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Let’s Look at the Christian Evangelical Aspect of Trumpism


At a recent open house, I had an interesting exchange with a professed Christian woman and Trump supporter. I asked her if she was concerned about the anti-democratic and fascist actions and statements coming from the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

She replied that she was not concerned because “God is in control. It will all turn out fine.”

Really?  Is Jesus’ hand on the wheel, and he’ll keep us from crashing and dying?  (Oops, I forgot — our afterlife with Jesus will be better, so why worry about dying?)

But let’s say we don’t want us, our country, or democracy to die. Can we really count on being saved by divine intervention? I don’t think so, and my answer is, like hers, rooted in my Christian and spiritual training. It has to do with “free will.”

I was taught that God may forgive us for our sins, but he gave us free will to commit them. Jesus certainly didn’t have his hand on the wheel when Hitler implemented the “final solution” of exterminating all Jews.

I believe, for example, that God charged us with stewardship of the our planet, but we are free to destroy it.  And therefore I believe that those fighting to address pollution and climate change are the ones doing “God’s work,” as he commanded us to do.

When asked by the wife of Philadelphia’s mayor at the time of the constitutional convention whether we have a republic or a monarchy, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The mayor’s wife, Elizabeth Powel, shot back, “And why not keep it?” to which Franklin replied, “Because the people, on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.”

Social media have supercharged that “over-eating” because it allows and encourages our God-given free will to spread lies that destroy trust in government, blur or purposely distort facts, and, when combined with the current misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment, embolden the kind of armed insurrection we saw on January 6th and likely will see again.

Karl Marx famously called religion “the opium of the people,” and there is no better manifestation of that dictum than the Christian right and “Christian nationalism.” As with opium, they can’t be talked out of their addiction.

To quote the headline of my May 28, 2020, “Talking Turkey” column, “Forgiveness is an important trait, and Trump supporters get to practice it a lot.” They have forgiven Trump, I wrote, for failing to criticize the Charlottesville demonstrators who chanted “Jews will not replace us.” They forgave him for the Access Hollywood tape and having his fixer pay off a porn star with whom he committed adultery. And that was just the beginning of his trespasses for which he never attended church to confess his sins — only losers would do that! — and seek God’s forgiveness. 

But it does no good to criticize the man. We need to focus on those who propagate his insanity, like Steve Bannon, or who, as elected officials, refuse to disavow Trump’s Big Lie because they fear retribution if they acknowledge the facts as they know them.

We have countless Republican candidates running for election and re-election who are committed to the Big Lie, and committed to lying about the next election if they lose. I recall that shortly after the 2020 election, when Donald Trump began asserting the election was stolen, one astute TV commentator said that what he feared most was that Trump would run again in four years, lose again, and say again that the election was stolen.

We have always trusted our electoral system — until one president with a cult-like following said it could not be trusted. Enough people believed his lie that a statistically significant percentage of the population no longer trusts our electoral system. And those people are armed to the teeth with assault weapons! We “trusters” haven’t seen the need for assault weapons, so we are at their mercy if they assert the next election was stolen and choose to stage a coup.

God may save the King, but only we can save ourselves. When the “other side” controls the courts (they already control the Supreme Court) and get elected to the positions responsible for certifying elections, we are all screwed. They’ll call it God’s will. Yes, because it will be man exercising the free will with which God endowed them.

Click here to read comments on this column from my own minister and from a retired Lutheran pastor who read this column prior to publication. Your comments are welcome too!