Defining equality in the American political system
The aftermath of the 2016 election is a tale of two separate and competing definitions of equality. To those lobbying for the abolition of the electoral college, egalitarianism is expressed directly through the popular vote, which embodies the will of the simple majority — the only gauge necessary for determining what is “fair.”
To those who remain staunchly behind the electoral college, egalitarianism is slightly more nuanced. There is no moral mandate behind a majority by numbers. Each state is given a voice equal to their population, helping to ensure the equality of the states, which are the fundamental building blocks of America’s political union, while still apportioning representation to the people who live within them in a manner conscientious of population size.
This fundamental divide over what constitutes “fairness” is nothing new; it is a debate which precedes the country’s birth. Representation catalyzed the Revolution; the now famous phrase “no taxation without representation” was a protest against Britain’s Intolerable Acts. A long and divisive argument over whether it was more fair to adopt a system where national population or the size and influence of states was the basis for representation plagued delegates at the Constitutional Convention. The same argument continues today over the merits of the electoral college.
What is interesting is that the left, which generally argues that that markets need government regulation as a means of ensuring there is parity in access and distribution of resources, disregard the power of government as equalizer in the context of representation. Egalitarianism may be defined as “one person, one vote,” but is this ideal is not embodied in realpolitik. Major cities, under a purely democratic system, have an unfair advantage because they hold a greater percentage of the population and it is easier to achieve a plurality by going from city-to-city. How are rural areas to compete against this concentrated form of electoral power?
The electoral college is essentially a regulatory body which promotes parity through the states. As the fundamental building block of American federalism, the states are each given two votes, creating a neutral playing field which offsets the weight which states carry as a result of different population and demographic distributions.
The genius of the electoral college is only comprehensible if egalitarianism is understood with this configuration in mind. When it is synonymous with the largest bloc of people whom are given moral authority simply by being a majority, the American system thwarts justice at every term. However, this is because this view considers individuals as the only significant political actors.
But America’s system of representative democracy is built on hierarchical power. The individual is important, but so are state and local governments; as founded, the federal government placed the voice of state governments at par with the people by giving state the prerogative to appoint Senators to represent their interests in national matters.
Clearly, egalitarianism in the context of American politics requires an expansive definition of political actors. Individuals are not the only faction whose voice matters; every group whose welfare is affected by the federal government’s power must be given equal representation in electoral choices. This includes state and local governments too. Political egalitarianism, then, is not just a matter of which group represents the largest part of the polity. It involves greater context which reflects the federalist building blocks of Americas political system.
Originally published at The Politics of Discretion.