Overview:

Dumb luck put Donald Trump in the White House. Bigger cities and angrier rural folks changed the game.

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You may be unaware of it, but the Democratic Party has been on quite a win streak of late, capturing the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections (1992-2020), including when Donald Trump won the White House in 2016.

The question is, how was Trump able to win that election when he got far fewer votes—a whopping 3 million fewer—than his opponent, Hillary Clinton? His losing popular-vote margin was even worse in 2020—7 million—and, still, he could have won with just a few more votes in key battleground states.

The Electoral College isn’t the only bogeyman

Of course, one partial answer to this conundrum is existence of the now-moribund Electoral College, which in the current political zeitgeist distinctly favors rural states over more populous ones in national elections.

But that’s only part of the story of how the country has come to be ruled not by the desires of a diverse, consensus majority of citizens—as the republic’s Founding Fathers intended—but by a conservative, Christian minority bent on establishing a theocracy.

New York Times senior write David Leonhardt, a Pulitzer Prize recipient for his coverage of the Great Recession (2007-2009), clearly explained this contrary historical situation in a September 17 essay, “A Crisis is Coming: The Twin Threats to American Democracy.”

The jewel in the crown of this conservative takeover of American politics and, with Trump, of government, is the newly arch-conservative Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Through luck and political trickery, Trump was able to nominate—and seat—three new conservative, “originalist” justices to the court: Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

All were raised Catholic and remain devout Christians, according to media profiles. Two still identify as Catholics, while Gorsuch attends Catholic-like services at his wife’s reportedly liberal Episcopal church.

With the advent of the court’s new holy trio, the six-member conservative wing of the court has already ruled affirmatively in cases ultimately privileging religious over human rights, and overturned Roe v. Wade, which for 49 years had federally guaranteed women’s legal access to abortion services (which the Catholic Church has steadfastly demonized and opposed).

But how did this figurative minority-conservative coup d’état occur, when Americans are generally understood to be moderates who largely oppose the hard-right agenda?

Two threats pushed US democracy off the rails

Leonhardt contends that two new, unprecedented political threats have joined to cleave the nation in two and seriously jeopardize our democracy:

The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election ….

The second threat to democracy is chronic but also growing: The power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.

Most threatening is the second, that the American majority is no longer calling the shots. Republicans are already gaslighting the populace (more than 30 percent of whom still believe Trump won in 2020), broadcasting—without evidence—the fraudulent narrative that all voters should be wary of the next election’s integrity and fairness. And the GOP is embedding unelected conservative allies as election workers in battleground states and also fielding 2020-election-denying candidates on the 2022 ballot for public offices that oversee elections.

The strategy in 2022 and projected in 2024 is the same as in 2020: to steal the election by obstruction, chicanery and, if those don’t work, intimidation if they lose. Remember the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in which five people ultimately died and hundreds were injured? That was the intimidation scenario.

Political scientists are worried.

“There is the possibility, for the first time in American history, that a legitimately elected president will not be able to take office,” said Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who studies democracy.

How did the political terraforming happen?

When America was a more rural nation, voters in both hamlets and cities roughly tended to have similar political views, Leonardt reported, but as U.S. cities became much larger in the last century and rural populations declined, the Electoral College still favored increasingly-empty rural states even as cities in populous states—along with multiplying voters—were growing exponentially.


Read: Secular government vs. theocracy


Remember representation in the US Senate for the least populous state, Wyoming (population 580,000), is exactly the same as for California (39.24 million): two senators each. As most GOP senators today are staunchly conservative, particularly in rural states—who have the same senatorial clout—the congressional deck is clearly stacked against teeming city voters in more populous, politically diverse states. Even the U.S. House is more conservative than the country as a whole.

Also note that in the Electoral College, which technically elects the US president by proxy, each state is allowed as many electors as it has congressional senators and representatives. So, again, less populous states have a representative advantage.

Congress more conservative than American majority

Substantial changes in demographic/geographic realities and in political ideology have led to this chasm, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this year. The researchers noted:

Between the 92nd Congress of 1971-72 and the current 117th Congress, both parties in both the House and the Senate have shifted further away from the center, but Republicans more so. …

As Democrats have grown more liberal over time and Republicans much more conservative, the “middle”—where moderate-to-liberal Republicans could sometimes find common ground with moderate-to-conservative Democrats on contentious issues—has vanished.

Yet only Republicans are now trying to torch American democracy in favor of a Christian autocracy.

Republicans wrestle with ‘visceral fear’ of changing America

This GOP combativeness stems from a visceral fear among conservatives, especially white ones, “that the United States is being transformed into a new country, more racially diverse and less religious, with rapidly changing attitudes toward gender, language and more,” Leonardt reports.

It’s a fool’s errand. In the next two to three decades, white Americans are projected, for the first time ever, to become a “majority minority” demographic, when non-whites will then comprise the majority. Long-majoritarian U.S. Christianity is also expected to become a minority faith in the country sometime during that same span, OnlySky’s Hemant Mehta reported.

So the current conservative outrage in America is, in fundamental ways, a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” to quote Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

On the other hand, unlike the idiot MacBeth was referring to as a metaphor for life, Republicans might actually burn the house down.

The critical takeaway from all this is that a minority of Americans is currently the tail wagging the majority dog, and it’s dangerous to our democratic republic.

With the midterm vote in November, we will see if Democrats and moderates can transform the dynamic so that even if Trump runs in 2024, he will lose again. Hopefully, even more bigly than the last time.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...