America’s Compromised State
The lack of a coordinated national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has predictably resulted in an unmitigated economic and public-health disaster. The problem is and always has been that those in a position to do something about such crises do not speak for most Americans.
PRINCETON – A malevolent, incompetent Trump administration bears much of the blame for America’s failure to control COVID-19. But there is an additional, less noticed cause: the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, which handicapped American democracy at its inception, and has since undercut Congress’s response to the pandemic.
At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 small and large states disagreed about the basis of representation, with the former arguing for equality of states, and the latter for equality of people. The compromise was to establish a bicameral legislature, with one chamber for the people and one for the states. In the House of Representatives, people are represented in proportion to their numbers; in the Senate, each state has two senators, regardless of its population.
As a result, the four largest states today – California, Texas, Florida, and New York – hold only eight of 100 seats in the Senate, even though they account for one-third of the US population. Eight votes also go to the four smallest states – Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, and North Dakota – which together contain 1% of the population.