America is on the precipice of a second revolution. The first led to the creation of a constitutional republic and the second one could end it. The Democrats, deeply frustrated by the federal government’s dysfunction, are pursuing revolutionary changes. They are especially eager to fundamentally alter the design of the Senate and Electoral College, which serve to protect the interests of states. The most imminent potential change is removal of the Senate filibuster.
The solution to government dysfunction, however, is not revolutionary change that would dramatically intensify today’s partisan war but incremental innovation that enables bipartisan policy through modernizing the country’s ideological coalitions and how they interact. The conservative movement needs to create the institutional capacity required to advance bipartisan legislation on a wide range of issues. The ideological left and right could then effectively engage in joint legislative campaigns around shared interests, beginning with populist initiatives consistent with conservative principles.
As the 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke noted in Reflections on the Revolution in France, “it is with infinite caution” that anyone should pull down or replace structures that have served society well over the ages “without having models and patterns of approved utility” before their eyes. He applied this principle in supporting the revolution in America, while opposing the one in France, where revolutionaries radically (and viciously) transformed the political and societal structures of the country.
The Democrats almost have enough votes to remove the Senate filibuster, which they believe is necessary to overcome partisan gridlock and effectively govern. But instead of partisan gridlock, there would be partisan oppression. In our closely divided country, the parties would take turns imposing their will while earnestly seeking to reverse gains made by the other when in power. Partisan oppression would ensure the republic-killing factionalism that James Madison warned about in Federalist Papers No. 10. This factionalism would almost certainly eliminate any real interest in bipartisan compromise, which has been a defining characteristic of our republic.
Democrats also seek to remove what they derisively call the “anti-democratic” and “outdated” elements of America’s constitutional republic with the goal of moving towards a European-style parliamentary system. Their primary focus is on fundamental changes to the Electoral College and Senate. Some on the left even want to abolish these institutions.
Both institutions serve to represent the interests of states, which remain just as vital today as they were at the nation’s founding. The less populated (i.e., small) states that founded the republic fought hard for these state-focused institutions. They realized that if control of the republic’s institutions was determined solely by population, the big states would run the country and small state interests would not be adequately represented.
The founders resolved this concern for the legislative branch with the Great Compromise, which apportioned Senate membership equally among the states and House membership by each state’s population. For the presidency, they applied the Great Compromise principle to protect small state interests by establishing the Electoral College. This institution is composed of electors selected by the states and the number of electors from each state is based on its total number of representatives in the House and Senate. The creative tension between big states and small states established by the Great Compromise is foundational to our constitutional republic.