Time to defund the Senate
In this April 2020 photo Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, walks to the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington. | Patrick Semansky / AP

Here are some fun facts and figures when talking about the United States of America and the world:

The population of California is 39.78 million. The population of Canada is 37.7 million.

The population of Los Angeles County is larger than every state with the exceptions of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Wyoming, with its population of 578,759 as of 2019, is much smaller than the population of San Francisco with its population of 881,549.

Now, for a very simple question—that would hopefully be known by all Americans—how many Senators does Wyoming get in representation? Two. California? Two.

Los Angeles County and San Francisco? Zero.

The United States Senate has to be, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most powerful, and conversely, one of the least representative democratic bodies on the planet. Born out of a compromise when creating the Constitution, even Alexander Hamilton and James Madison thought little of the Senate except as a matter of political expediency/blackmail in establishing the union in the first place. The makeup and election of Senators have stayed mostly the same since 1789, though with the exception of direct elections to the Senate implemented by constitutional amendment in 1913. Every state, regardless of population, would have two Senators to represent them: It would not matter if one had a population smaller than most major American cities, or if one state was larger population-wise than, say, Canada or Australia.

With the powers of voting on Supreme Court justices, treaties, approving Cabinet members, conducting impeachment trials, and by having six-year terms, it is considered the more prestigious of the two bodies in our Congress. Many members of the Senate are household names due to the small number of senators we have in the United States, who enjoy a re-election rate of 84 percent. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once crudely explained the difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives in political power as the difference between chicken salad and chicken s*it.

This lopsided system where a constituency of 578,759 has the same ability to elect the same number of Senators as a virtual nation state like California cannot, on the very face of it, be truly representative of the people of this country. It actually tilts the political chessboard—and was designed to this end—toward states that are rural, sparsely populated, and almost to a fault much more politically conservative than the nation taken as a whole. It’s a built-in gerrymander on a national scale, something that the GOP are more than happy to keep in place.

So why are we continuing to do this, when it’s obvious that the Senate is neither very representative of this nation, very small, and extremely powerful? In the 18th century it might conceivably have made sense to have such an aristocratic body in place due to the problems of communication and distance, as well as having an ill-educated population that could be easily swayed by a demagogue or outburst of self-destructive populist passion. In the 21st century, it’s the oligarchy enshrined by constitutional law.

It’s time that the United States takes a hard look at a body that for years blocked Civil Rights, enshrined into law procedures that require a ridiculous 60-vote majority to pass anything of worth via the cloture rule which is unconstitutional, and can block legislation from the more democratically representative body, the House of Representatives. Just like the police powers and budgets that have been considered sacrosanct since time immemorial, we should look to trimming some of the powers of the Senate.

An argument could be made that a small distinct body of individuals should be allowed to look into who becomes the next Supreme Court justice, what treaty should be signed, and who becomes the next secretary of state or attorney general. After all, you may want to have such a group whose only focus and time are devoted to closely examining those very specific and important issues instead of having a large body of 435 individuals do it, like the House of Representatives. (Though the House itself is also problematic for how small it is considering its average constituency of 747,000 people, the highest number of population-to-representative ratios in the developed world.) It would be like having a super-committee of a greater legislature.

But to have such a small body rule on every measure at every time is undemocratic and obscene to modern democratic practices. Perhaps it’s time to curtail the Senate’s powers, stop its ability  to block measures from the much more democratic House, and is happening today with the police, really scrutinize their common practices and politics.


Forbes West
Forbes West

Forbes West has a Master’s Degree in Political Science from California State University, Long Beach. He lives and works in Long Beach, California, and Ojima, Japan, in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. He is a published author of several books and a producer of several short films.