Gongol.com Archives: July 2022

Brian Gongol

July 6, 2022

The United States of America The compromise is the point

The complaint most commonly lodged against the United States Senate is that it is an institutional obstacle to the will of the majority, and as a result it is an undemocratic stain on the country. While it is deliberately counter-majoritarian, the opponents of the Senate make the mistake of believing that democratic systems can -- or even should -- perfectly reflect the instantaneous will of the majority without some kind of damper. ■ Consider the United Kingdom, where the Prime Minister is facing a revolt. A giant swath of his cabinet has resigned, and he could be ousted by his own party or even tossed out of office by Queen Elizabeth. Boris Johnson could even call an election to try to avoid losing his job. None of those outcomes represents a clearly democratic one -- including a snap election, since the motivation for holding a vote would be to serve the specific interests of an individual politician, rather than the perceived will of the public. ■ Or consider France, where the President won re-election via a two-round electoral process which has twice put a far-right candidate in the final round. The process itself may have precipitated the collapse of the country's two traditionally mainstream parties, and the most recent parliamentary elections have left the country's legislature in a deeply unstable state. ■ America's particular form of legislative balance derives from our unusual history of viewing the individual states as the organic form of government -- thus, the original thirteen colonies became states which united themselves. This unusual form gave rise to creating equity among the states within the Senate. But other countries seek other forms of balance through equity -- via quotas to achieve gender balance among legislators, and some follow rules to allocate votes to achieve proportional representation. ■ Yet other checks and balances could be appropriate, too, in the name of democratic fairness. A national legislature could require occupational representation, just for example -- requiring a house in which the seats were allocated according to the distribution of jobs in the general public. It is a matter of prudential judgment whether that form of balance -- a damper on the will of the pure numerical majority -- would be more or less fair than any other system of representation. ■ And that is the overarching point: Every self-governing society picks rules for achieving some form of protection for groups with valid interests in curtailing pure majority rule, and no one way is perfect. Everyone ends up dissatisfied sometimes. But disclaiming the counterweights within a system is rarely if ever more productive than learning to harmonize one's own interests with the different majorities needed to achieve those outcomes. In a democratic system, compromise is the point.