Brock Willard managing editor
For anyone paying attention to politics, the first event of the year was the positively wild selection process for the Speaker of the House, eventually settling and leading to the election of Republican representative from California Kevin McCarthy. The absolute craze and frenzy around something as routine as election of the Speaker was fueled by a group of 20 far-right representatives (as if the whole of the Republican Party were not far-right enough) stalling McCarthy’s bid for speaker. On all but the fifteenth ballot, McCarthy had less votes than his Democratic opponent Hakeem Jeffries. How is that the man with the most votes loses? It’s because of the way our government is structured.
First, it needs stating that the United States Constitution is a 236-year-old document. Sure, it got us this far, but what has it really put us through? Its writers purported to champion the idea that all men are created equal, while owning people. It is accurate to say that these writers did not consider black people to be human beings and therefore not “men.” However, that does not make it morally justified and nor does it mean we can simply ignore that element of the Constitution when examining it. It would do the people of today a disservice to do so. This is all to really say that the Constitution is a document from a previous era whose people had different values based on the social pressures they experienced. I think everyone can agree that the world has changed in 236 years.
Secondly, the structure of our government is unusual when compared to other world governments who use a parliamentary system like we do. A parliamentary system is just a system where the laws of a government are enacted by a body of representatives. Most parliamentary governments throughout the world don’t use a two-chamber system but instead use a single chamber, and the other branches of our government also work this way. We don’t have two Presidents who must agree to do anything or two Supreme Courts who must come to the same conclusion for a law to be interpreted. This dichotomy within our own government’s legislative branch stems from the very beginning. The whole reason we have a Senate, and a House is because the Senate was established so that states (or if you like, land) have political power. If we’re truly a democratic nation, wouldn’t it make much more sense to have a system based on representatives selected by a certain grouping of people (that is, by population) instead of a system where large swaths of open land get political power? I’d say so.
Lastly, the system used by the House for determining the Speaker (like many of our electoral processes) is simply undemocratic. A Speaker-elect must receive a majority (an arbitrary number that can change) and not a plurality (the most votes) to be elected. I completely understand that a Democratic Speaker paired with a Republican house (or vice versa) would be a political catastrophe, but I think it’s demonstrative of the kind of absurdity that is baked into our political system all in the name of artificial (that is to say, constructed) political institutions that don’t adequately reflect the will or the demographics of the people they claim to represent.
The catch-22 of all of this is that the vagaries of capitalism have made it virtually impossible for our political institutions to change the way they operate in any meaningful way. That is why features of developed societies around the world such as universal healthcare or universal public education up to the college level are not likely to be enacted here, nor is it likely that any of the problems laid out above will see solutions in our lifetimes. It is important to remember the sentiment expressed by American author Ursula K. Le Guin in this quote: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings…”