Why America Has Minority Rule

As the election season heats up, saving American democracy has become a central preoccupation of those of us who fear a second Trump administration. But even if we are able to turn back the threat posed by MAGA and Trump, we will need to face the fact that America hasn’t been a true democracy–or democratic Republic– for quite awhile (if ever), even if your definition of democratic rule incorporates the limits on majority rule imposed by the Bill of Rights. (I do accept that definition–the Founders created a system that empowered majority decision-making on many things, but limited the power of government when such limits were necessary to protect individual rights. Those are limitations we can live with.)

Other limitations, not so much. Thanks to the composition of the Senate and other obsolete electoral mechanisms, America is currently governed by a (largely rural) minority.

I’ve frequently alluded to that reality, and to both the pressing need to change it and the difficulty of doing so, but as my oldest son noted when he shared a link to a Mother Jones article, “This article provides an excellent overview of the situation.”

He’s right.

The article was abstracted from Ari Berman’s new book, Minority Rule: The Right-Wing Attack on the Will of the People—and the Fight to Resist It, which will be published April 23.  Berman began by quoting a recent speech by President Biden, in which he warned: “We’re living in an era where a determined minority is doing everything in its power to try to destroy our democracy for their own agenda.”

That’s undoubtedly true. But the crisis Biden described—and the choice facing the nation this November—is much older and deeper than Trump. A determined minority has been trying to shape the foundations of American governance for their own benefit since the inception of the republic. For more than two centuries, a fierce struggle has played out between forces seeking to constrict democracy and those seeking to expand it. In 2024, the country is once again immersed in a pivotal battle over whom the political system should serve and represent.

Berman writes that the United States has historically been a laboratory for both oligarchy and genuine democracy, and that understanding that fight requires us to grasp what he calls the “long-standing clash between competing notions of majority rule and minority rights.”

The founders, despite the lofty ideals in the Declaration of Independence, designed the Constitution in part to check popular majorities and protect the interests of a propertied white upper class. The Senate was created to represent the country’s elite and boost small states while restraining the more democratic House of Representatives. The Electoral College prevented the direct election of the president and enhanced the power of small states and slave states. The makeup of the Supreme Court was a product of these two undemocratic institutions. But as the United States has democratized in the centuries since, extending the vote and many other rights to formerly disenfranchised communities, the antidemocratic features built into the Constitution have become even more pronounced, to the point that they are threatening the survival of representative government in America.

I was especially struck by the following paragraph, which succinctly sums up where we find ourselves today:

The timing of our modern retreat from democracy is no coincidence. The nation is now roughly 20 years away from a future in which white people will no longer be the majority. New multiracial coalitions are gaining ground in formerly white strongholds like Georgia. To entrench and hold on to power, a shrinking conservative white minority is ­relentlessly exploiting the undemocratic elements of America’s political institutions while doubling down on tactics such as voter suppressionelection subversion, and the censoring of history. This reactionary movement—which is significantly overrepresented because of the structure of the Electoral College, Congress, and gerrymandered legislative districts—has retreated behind a fortress to stop what it views as the coming siege.

The article reinforces what numerous legal scholars and historians have argued, that the compromises the Founders made in the late 1700s–intended to keep the new nation together– are enabling minority rule in 2024, and ripping the country apart in the process. In 1776, there was fear of majoritarian excesses–what many of the Founders called “the passions of the majority.” Today, we face the excesses of a frantic and fanatic minority–a minority empowered by long-ago structures aimed at a very different target.

The article is lengthy, but well worth reading in its entirety. As my son noted, it provides an accurate and comprehensive description of the systemic problems that have hollowed out American democracy and brought us to the current impasse.


  1. “To entrench and hold on to power, a shrinking conservative white minority is ­relentlessly exploiting the undemocratic elements of America’s political institutions while doubling down on tactics such as voter suppression, election subversion, and the censoring of history.”

    Is it that minority power which is bringing us into the warning from the 1960s and 1970s of cashless/checkless financial control of our entire personal lives? Turning us into a completely electronically financial control, taking away our personal preferences to control our own money; the many in the hidden minority of the average Americans who do not want to turn control of our entire lives over to phones, debit and credit cards to live our day-to-day lives. The proposed objective to stop using USPS to send payments or cash due to thievery of mailed payments and personal mail needs to be compared to the millions of hacked electronic payments and, primarily, the hacking of our personal and financial information available to the hackers who avail themselves of this information. That “shrinking white minority” control is based in the refusal of both parties to force corporations (including medical corporations) and the super-wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.

    I have only seen three of the super wealthy speak publicly that they should be paying a higher tax rate; Warren Buffett, President Barack Obama and Stephen King. And none of them are dealing directly with the problems of those of us keeping our monthly bills paid by the manner we choose to pay which has worked for centuries and is being removed from our control.

  2. In other words, the oligarchy doesn’t want to give up ruling the US despite the changes throughout the country. It’s pretty evident that some oligarchs are funding racism and Theism to accomplish this, but the demographics have been against them for a few generations.

    Quite frankly, the Boomer generation destroyed this country. The last forty years have taken us to the brink. When it started, China was the US’s puppy dog. Now, they are kicking our butts and leading the world, except for military spending. We’re now entering a protectionist phase with China because they’ve learned to play our game and beat us at it constantly. The oligarchy drives this protectionism. They are using Washington politicians to block competition. It won’t work.

    The younger generations will correct our mistakes. They have access to the world in the palm of their hands. They no longer need TV, radio, or printed news. They can go to the sources all around the world. The US oligarchy is in deep trouble, and so is their preferred capitalist ideals.

  3. As Sheila said – “Today, we face the excesses of a frantic and fanatic minority”.

    Their frantic and exceedingly undemocratic power grabs are tearing our country apart.

  4. In order for a fledgling civilization to avoid self-destruction, it must use its natural resources to educate its people to the point of choosing to use the gifts of its planet wisely, collectively limiting individualism in favor of wise choices on a global level.

  5. Not exactly on subject, but felt the need to share. From Robert Reich this morning:

    Last Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos asked New Hampshire’s Republican governor Chris Sununu about his recent switch from supporting former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley for the Republican presidential nomination to supporting former president Trump.

    “Your words were very, very clear on January 11, 2021,” Stephanopoulos reminded Sununu. “You said that President Trump’s rhetoric and actions contributed to the insurrection. No other president in history has contributed to an insurrection. So, please explain.”

    Sununu responded, “For me, it’s not about him as much as it is having a Republican administration.”

    Near the end of the interview, Stephanopoulos said: “Just to sum up, you would support him for president even if he is convicted in classified documents. You would support him for president even though you believe he contributed to an insurrection. You would support him for president even though you believe he’s lying about the last election. You would support him for president even if he’s convicted in the Manhattan case. I just want to say, the answer to that is yes, correct?”

    Sununu replied, “Yeah, me and 51 percent of America.”

    Stephanpoulos: “I’m asking you about right and wrong. You’re comfortable with the idea of supporting someone who’s convicted of a federal crime as president?”

    Sununu: “No, I don’t think any American is comfortable with any of this. They don’t like any of this, of course, but I mean, when it comes to actually looking at each of these trials as they kind of take place whether it’s this year or next year or as they kind of line up. Right now this is about an election. This is about politics.”

    Hello? Politics is not about right and wrong?

  6. The USA has always been economically oligarchic – catering to the interests and power of propertied citizens. Equality and true merit be damned.

    But with Citizens United (2010) and the “release the $ hounds” effect of “corporations are persons” and “money is speech”, the fiction of the USA as a democracy is increasingly less possible to sustain, our society’s deeply entrenched blindness/false consciousness notwithstanding.

    The USA has more and more hallmarks of an oligarchic plutocracy.

  7. The article you cite paints a pretty bleak picture. Even if there is a blue wave in the next election, will the Democrats be either willing or able to make any of the fundamental changes that seem to be necessary to shift the U.S. toward a better balance of power, i.e. reforming Senate and House rules, eliminating the electoral college, putting an end to gerrymandering, dealing with the bias of SCOTUS, etc.?

  8. Todd,

    It wasn’t boomers who established Citizens United’s disaster. They didn’t legalize gerrymandering either. The electoral college is part of the originators, most of whom were younger than 40 in 1789. So is the Senate’s composition.

    When you start throwing stones at a population, know that you’re probably looking into a mirror.

  9. The founders worried so much about the tyranny of the majority, they never even had a thought about the tyranny of the minority. Being a realist, I have always thought that power corrupts. One of my poly sci professors said, “The only rights we truly have are those that government chooses to give us.” Since I was still a bit naive, I admit that I was initially shocked, but as I thought about it I realized how true it is.

    Thinking about our current situation, it’s clear that those founders were naive in the extreme. I’m sure that they all knew Aaron Burr, but they never imagined a sociopath taking office? They did give us a way to make essential changes, but at the same time, they set a high bar to enact Constitutional Amendments. That leaves us with only one choice and that is to vote.

  10. I have often thought that we need a constitutional convention, one in which we abolish the present system of government and adopt the parliamentary system, but have been so fearful of opening up our organic law to the dictates of the Magas and other fruitcakes that I have only occasionally written about it. The Magas are racing against the clock, a clock that tells us 2034 is the year the white majority ceases to exist, and who knows what they would demand as bottom lines in a new constitution? Embedded racism? An end to Marbury v. Madison? What?

    Who needs a senate? A filibuster? The gerrymander? The perpetual brawl between House and Senate? Nebraska with its unicameral government has proven that one house is sufficient to attend to the public’s business, as have the UK and other European countries. We could solve a number of problems we must
    live with under the present Constitution while explicitly readopting the progressive goodies in that now out-moded law of the land into our new constitution which, inter alia, now allows a Supreme Court to legislate. See Dobbs, Citizens United et al. Who elected them?

    The new constitution could rid us of Marbury and define the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, end gerrymandering, filibustering etc., and most importantly, establish voting districts based on population (no more Wyoming with two senators and California with two senators – hardly a lesson in democracy).

    Parliament time?

  11. Gerald,

    Too bad we won’t live long enough to see your idealistic elements come to fruition. I think we’ve crossed the rubicon for democratic government – something Marx also predicted when he prophesied about capitalism. Citizens United removed all hope for our country to do things for the people that made sense. “If it doesn’t show a short-term profit, it doesn’t get done”.

    Read the articles today about bridge infrastructure and the coming disasters.

  12. Lester Levine @ 9:18 a.m.; thank you for posting, in full, the Republican’s 2024 presidential campaign foundation.

  13. We all know the past. Here is the future:

    The consequences of the climate change we relentlessly created, artificial intelligence (AI), and the end of Capitalism as we know it due to its success at redistributing the wealth workers create away from them to others.

    I won’t be here to see it but I always assumed that we are collectively smart enough to pull off a fairly intelligent reaction to those changes with some grace.

    I haven’t changed that opinion in terms of some of the people but now am pessimistic about “collectively”.

    All things considered, true democracy might have had what it takes to navigate those waters, but it seems our fractured democracy will struggle to.

  14. If our rights are only what government allows us then they aren’t inherent, and we are being ruled by priests or modern-day kings (oligarchs). When government officials are selling off their powers for hire to the highest bidder (business, dark monied foreign powers) the democratic fabric is weakened by their corruption.
    Keeping a reportorial spotlight on the lies, and corruption in our government is paramount to maintaining the current structure that does offer some justice in US system. At least the IG’s are back in town; hope they’re not corrupt.
    If gerrymandering in Indiana could be broken up and an impartial panel could draw the districts, we would be halfway home. We might even assert referendums for better representation.
    I guess it’s still true today that because “they are risking their capital” they get special consideration and breaks. There’s a huge problem when their capitalistic risk impedes the inherent rights of others. We deserve a clear chance to progress toward a better life for ourselves and that’s a cause worth fighting for.

  15. Gerald, let me point out that the parliamentary system includes the notion of no confidence votes. What does that mean? It means that we would have more elections. Think of the House of Representatives as a parliament unto itself. Do we really want to be like the House? You only need a few discontented to force a vote. We always have a good number of those who are not content. I’m not ready to go there.

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