Joe Manchin Sucks, the Senate is Absurd

Photograph Source: DonkeyHotey – CC BY 2.0

Yes, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (Demublican-WV) is a repugnant reptile who richly deserves your contempt. His vapid, fascism-enabling opposition to ending the Senate filibuster and to passing the We the People Act (H.R.1) is despicable.

The filibuster, which requires 60 of 100 Senate votes to hear and pass a bill, is an arch-reactionary practice long used to block elementary civil rights, labor, and other reforms. As long as it holds, Congress is a big sadistic game of right-wing Simon Says.

You can forget about seeing the passage of serious and substantive liberal and progressive reforms, no matter how much support such reforms have from, well, we the people. The re-legalization of union organizing (as in the House-passed Protect the Right to Organize Act)? Serious gun control measures to block the insane, escalating epidemic of firearms violence and mass shootings? Substantive police reform to end the continuing epidemic of racist police brutality?

You can forget about all that and more as long as the neofascist white nationalist party of Trump, January 6, and the Big Lie has the power to invoke the filibuster and say “no, sorry, we no like, that’s communism.”

The We the People Act would block racist and partisan gerrymandering, increase campaign finance transparency, and outlaw much of the current New Jim Crow assault on minority voting rights underway in red state America – an assault that is driven by the big fascist lie claiming that the 2020 presidential election was stolen for Joe Biden.

So, say it with me: F’ Joe Manchin very much.

Say it twice. Say it some more.

And then get it out of your system.

I say this for two reasons. First, Manchin is a proxy and excuse for other dreadful, dollar-drenched Senate Democrats and for a corporate Democratic president also named Joe. These Senators and Biden get to seem to wholeheartedly embrace and advance liberal and progressive measures that the Democratic Party’s base backs. The establishment Dems do so with the knowledge that the measures can’t become law because of the filibuster kill-switch and because Manchin and his fellow Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Republicrat-AZ) are in place to stop the Democrats from turning it off. Manchin and Sinema make it possible for Congressional and executive branch Citigroup Democrats to simultaneously (a) tell liberal and progressive voters and pressure groups “hey, we tried,” and (b) tell Big Business and conservative funders and lobbyists, “hey, that measure we ‘backed’ and that concerned you never really had a chance of passing. Don’t sweat it: we had to cover our asses with our progressive voting base.” That’s the game.

Second, and speaking of systems and Simon Says, there’s something much worse than even the horrific filibuster rule about the U.S. Senate – something actually (unlike the filibuster) in the Constitution that nobody really wants to talk or even think about. I am referring to the ridiculous anti-democratic over-representation of the nation’s most Caucasian, rural, and reactionary regions in the extremely powerful upper body of “our” (their) unnecessarily bicameral Congress, where Wyoming, home to less than 600,000 people, has as many representatives (two per state) as California, home to nearly 40 million (more people than the population of 198 different sovereign nations).

How bad is this violation of the elementary democratic principle of one person, one vote? It’s surreal. Here is a list of how many U.S. Senators the nation’s ten most populous states would have if they had the same population-to-senator ratio as Wyoming:

California (bright blue/strongly Democratic): 136

Texas (red): 102

Florida (purple): 76

New York (bright blue): 66

Pennsylvania (purple): 44

Illinois (bright blue): 43

Ohio (red): 40

Georgia (purple): 37

North Carolina (purple): 37

Michigan (purple): 34

Imagine if the nation’s top three cities (all bright blue) were U.S. states enjoying the same population-to-U.S. Senator ratio as Wyoming. New York City would have 30 U.S. senators, Los Angeles would have 14, and Chicago would have 9.

Imagine the formula for New York City’s boroughs: Brooklyn would have 9 senators, Queens would have 8, the Bronx would have 5, Manhattan would have 6, and little Trumpist cop-filled Staten Island would be overrepresented with 2.

Wyoming is the extreme case, of course, but feel free to replicate the exercise using other low-population red/white states (North or South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, fascist Iowa, etc.) as the basis of your calculations. The numbers will look only slightly less absurd and depressing.

Strange as this may sound in a nation that proclaims itself “the world’s greatest democracy,” it is now possible, as Daniel Lazare has calculated and written “to cobble together a Senate majority out of states that account for just 17.6% of the U.S. population.”

That is ridiculous – well at least it is from a democratic perspective.

Addressing this anti-democratic imbalance would require a constitutional amendment. But, as Lazare (whose work on the nation’s “frozen republic” constitution should be required civics reading in every American high school and college) has shown, such amendments are close to impossible on substantive matters under the U.S. Constitution’s fifth article.

If that sounds like authoritarian checkmate and Simon Says, that’s because it is under the rules of “our” (their) holy national charter, drafted and passed in the time of Louis XVI by and for slaveowners, merchant capitalists, and publicists for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare and for whom liberty meant property, not popular sovereignty.

If this sounds like a call for a new charter, that’s because it is. We can’t go on like this.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).