In America Is Having a Moral Convulsion, David Brooks concludes “When people in a society lose faith or trust in their institutions and in each other, the nation collapses…”
America is now on the precipice.
35% of Americans trust our scientists.
20% of Americans trust our Congress.
37% of Americans trust each other.
Whether one’s political proclivities lean left or right, most Americans will agree that America needs a reboot.
Expanding the House of Representatives from 435 to 8,300 members should be our first step in recreating an America and an American dream which will work for everybody.
America Needs a Reboot
In his treatise, Mr. Brook’s posits that America’s decline is largely a result of a lack of “social trust” which he defines as “whether the people and institutions in it are trustworthy, whether they keep their promises and work for the common good… (and, he concludes that) …When there is massive distrust of central institutions, people shift power to local institutions, where trust is higher. Power flows away from Washington to cities and states…” as people “revert to (the security of their) tribe.”
Assuming his insight is correct, that our societal response to our social distrust problem is to shift political power to ever smaller, local units of political representation, then there is a solution to America’s demise, namely the reconfiguration of the House of Representatives.
How the House of Representatives was Created
In 1787 the structure of the House of Representatives was created by our Founding Fathers when they enacted the Great Compromise. It specified that the House of Representatives would be composed of one representative for every 40,000 “inhabitants” (counting each slave as three-fifths of an inhabitant.) It was our Founding Fathers’ intent that the members of the House of Representatives would be directly elected by the people and be “of the people.”
In 1789, there were 59 members of the House of Representatives. The Apportionment Act of 1792 specified that there would be 105 members of the House of Representatives. After each decennial census, Congress mostly increased the number of Representatives until it reached 435 members in 1913. The Reapportionment Act of 1929 capped the total number of Representatives at 435 (partially a result of the size of the House chamber) and it “allowed states to draw districts of varying size and shape,” a euphemism for gerrymandering.
The House of Representatives is Not Representative
As a result of the 435 cap, the number of people who are represented by one House member has continually increased and is now far beyond our Founding Fathers’ intent. Today, on average, there is one Representative for every 760,000 inhabitants. However, this ratio is not uniform being as high as 1:528,000 (Rhode Island) and as low as 1:1,089,000 (Montana.) Thus some states now have more representation in the House than others and this imbalance only contributes to American’s perception that our Government is not run fairly.
As each House member now has so many constituents it is impossible for a Representatives to meet with all/most of their constituents during their term in office. The lack of personal interactions between the members of Congress and their constituents surely exacerbates American’s social distrust for their Federal government and promotes the sentiment that DC is out of touch with “the people.”
Reconfigure the House of Representatives Based on America’s Founding Principles
I believe we could repair America’s distrust for our Federal government, and improve the function of the Federal government if we changed the composition of the House of Representatives so that each member of the House had only 40,000 constituents (similar to the Great Compromise of 1787.) For today’s US population, this would result in House of Representatives that had about 8,300 members.
The Logistics of a House with 8,300 Members
Some will argue that a House of Representatives composed of 8,300 members will be incapable of doing conducting the House’s business. Recent history has shown this is an erroneous assumption.
America’s private sector‘s response to the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that many medium, large, and very large businesses can function effectively and efficiently when their employees work from home. Today, most of America’s insurance, banking, financial, real estate, education, high tech, and healthcare industries now have their employees working from home and 90% feel confident that they will continue to be productive. Most unexpectedly, these businesses made the transition from on-site to remote operation over the course of only a few months – far easier than anyone would have predicted.
In October 2020 the US Senate demonstrated that the Judiciary Committee was able to function effectively during its Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett when the participants included both live and remote Senate committee members.
Contemporary history has demonstrated that the House of Representatives would be able to function efficiently and effectively with 8,300 members, using some combination of remote and on-site work, and the larger number of Representatives would confer some unique advantages over our current system.
Benefit of Smaller Districts: End Gerrymandering
The creation of smaller congressional districts will assuredly reduce or eliminated gerrymandering. The districts will be to small for state representatives (who design the districts) to dilute-out a minority’s political power by including them in a district with a much larger group of citizens who have dissimilar political or social convictions.
Benefit of Smaller Districts: Reduced Influence of Big Money
Markedly increasing the number of House of Representatives would make it much more difficult for powerful entities to influence legislation, as it will be logistically more expensive and complicated to “buy-off” a majority of 8,300 politicians vs 435.
Benefit of Smaller Districts: Improved Social Trust
Representatives will be able to interact with their constituents regularly because they will be physically in their district all/most of the time and only have 40,000 constituents. As “trust is an imprint left by experience,” these extensive personal interactions will go a long way toward decreasing the distrust and enmity that America now has for our Congress and Federal government.
Benefit of Smaller Districts: A Congress that Looks Like America
As most Americans live in enclaves in which they share similar socio, political, religious opinions as their neighbors, the smaller congressional districts will increase the probability that a Representative’s constituency will be relatively homogenous. As a result, the Representative will be able to aggressively champion the proclivities of his/her constituents without being too concerned that they might alienate a majority demographic of their constituency. This aggressive support for the unique cultural needs of their constituents will help garner “trust” and increase their constituents’ faith that our democratic institutions will serve their needs.
Backlash Against Smaller Districts
Of course, it can be expected that some members of the House of Representatives will be loathed to expand the size of the House as it will mean a diminution in their political power. It can also be expected that some members of the House will see this as an opportunity to conduct the business of the House in a new way, build coalitions around long-ignored issues and increase their stature within the House of Representatives.
I would expect most liberal politicians to support the expansion of the House because it will increase the voice of minority communities which are more commonly represented by Democrat/liberal politicians.
It is hard for me to predict how conservative members of Congress will react to this proposal. If they are true to their beliefs that America should return to the principles of our Founding Fathers’ then I would expect that they would embrace the proposal as it accurately reflects the will of our Founding Fathers. On the other hand, as it would likely decrease the influence of the rich and powerful (their major constituency) and increase cultural diversity, they may aggressively oppose this proposal.
The Status Quo is the Only Unacceptable Solution
In his final paragraph, Mr. Brooks’ wrote:
For centuries, America was the greatest success story on earth, a nation of steady progress, dazzling achievement, and growing international power. That story threatens to end on our watch, crushed by the collapse of our institutions and the implosion of social trust.
We must begin the process of repairing the lost social trust which is a necessary precondition for rebuilding an America that works for all Americans.
We can begin this decade’s long process by expanding the number of members of the House of Representatives so that it more intimately reflects the needs of our citizenry and this can be done in a manner that is consistent with the principles of our Founding Fathers, current Federal law and without the need to resort to a Constitutional Amendment.
America needs a reboot. The only “wrong” solution to repairing America’s “social distrust” problem would be to maintain the status quo.
October 18, 2020