In a fair electoral system, Biden would have been the conservative candidate

Photo by Geoff Livingston

Democracy is a simple concept. It’s supposed to reflect the opinions of the people. But the way the system works in the US distorts those opinions, heavily favoring rural, conservative populations at the expense of educated, urban ones. Everybody agrees this is absurd (apart from the extremist conservatives who have been doing everything in their power for things to stay that way, but they are fighting against history and their steam is running out), and that changing things would require amounts of energy and political will that we might not see for a long time yet. But how long can this continue? Not only what the majority thinks isn’t ever accurately reflected in election results, but the scales are consistently tipped in the same direction: to the right.

This last election, saved at the last minute by a few hundred thousand ballots in Denver, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Atlanta, demonstrated more clearly than ever how the 18th century mechanism of the electoral college skews the results of the presidential election so powerfully that the situation fringes on a miscarriage of democracy. The reality of election results has become so far removed from the reality of the American opinion today that the entire system is completely out of touch, and the situation is simply unsustainable if you want to continue calling the United States a democracy.

Right, far right, alt right, conservative right… See a pattern?

The traditional division of bipartisan candidates, one on the far right, the other in the center right, corresponds to dominant opinions in the rural heartland, not in the country as a whole. And I’m not just talking about Trump: since Ronald Reagan at least, the agenda of Republican presidential candidates has shared more with Europe’s nationalist parties such as UKIP, the National Front or Lega Nord than with the traditional conservative values of the mainstream right. Guns, religion and deregulation: good. Government, abortion, gays, foreigners, minorities, poor people: bad. Well, like it or not, such a way of viewing society and the world doesn’t reflect what the vast majority of Americans think. At least not anymore.

As a voter, if you’re not in synch with these stale and anger-ridden opinions, all you’re left with is the combination of lukewarm societal liberalism and moderately right-wing economic policies served by the Clintons, Obamas and Bidens the American political system produces, which ironically pretty much matches the conservative agendas of right wing parties in the world’s other advanced democracies. Instead of left and right, Americans are asked to choose between right and far right.

Americans are much more left-leaning than the system lets them be.

Fortunately, thinks have started to be shaken up, especially since Trump’s election, thanks for the most part to Bernie Sanders’ rise in popularity. His unabashed and unwavering left-wing views imposed themselves in the American political debate with the help of Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a slew of others, forcing Democrats to finally dare tilt to the left and warm to the idea of supporting government programs that actually help the people (you know, crazy things like universal healthcare, unemployment rights and public investments), as they finally realized these ideas were well received by an increasingly large proportion of the country’s population.

That was a long time coming, though the results of the 2020 presidential election showed once again that the majority of Americans don’t go for the far-right agenda. Such was already the case in 2016 (as Hillary Clinton won the popular vote), but because of the antidemocratic mechanism of the electoral college, a huge surge in voter turnout was needed to translate that reality into national election results.

Even in Little Rock, Arkansas, the majority of voters went for Joe Biden (photo by Gary Marshall)

Thanks to the fact people got out and voted in larger numbers than ever in a handful of big cities in key states, Trump was defeated. Which obliterates the fact that all around the country, the majority of voters wanted Trump out too; not just in NYC and LA, but in Little Rock, Montgomery, Omaha, Des Moines, etc. Not to mention the series of state-level progressive laws that passed at the same time: $15 minimum wage in Florida, 12-week paid family leave in Colorado, increased taxes on the rich to fund education in Arizona, etc. There is a tremendous amount of voters out there who want something that is not sufficiently on offer in mainstream American politics: progressivism. In other words, Americans are much more left-leaning than the system lets them be.

The system is beyond obsolete

In a truly representative democracy, where the preference of voters is directly translated into election results instead of being distorted by the state-by-state electoral college, bipartisanship would be obsolete. Someone like Joe Biden would have been the right-wing candidate, supported by suburban and moderately conservative rural populations. There would have been an extreme right-wing candidate for the Christian, xenophobic crowd (take your pick, there’s no shortage of personnel here; Trump doesn’t fit the bill, he was an anomaly), and room for a progressive candidate on the left. And that progressive candidate would actually get a lot of votes, likely more and more with each election. I’m not saying he or she would win (though in time, that would probably happen. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 2028, anyone?), but the entire system would represent the reality of the American public opinion much more faithfully, and take a serious turn to the left in the process.

Such a systemic change will happen someday, maybe sooner than we think (the National Popular Vote bill has already been enacted into law by 15 states). In the meantime, as they were scrutinizing election results on November 3rd and the following days, commentators couldn’t help noticing that you could “see the country changing before your eyes”, as we watched red states turn blue. Newsflash: white, middle-aged, Christian rural voters haven’t been the majority among American voters for years. And now, even with a dysfunctional and outdated electoral system that gives excessive weight to their vote, the fact they are outnumbered is starting to really show. Just imagine what the results of a truly democratic system would look like…!

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Patrick H.

Patrick H.

French-American citizen of the world based in Paris. Former music journalist turned editorial content creator and concerned dweller of Earth.