This is no time to destroy great foundation of our Constitution

The longest serving member of the House of Representatives has an idea. Abolish the United States Senate and, he says, get rid of the Electoral College while you are at it. In his new book this month, former Democratic Representative John DingellJohn DingellThe continuous whipsawing of climate change policy A quiet, overlooked revolution in congressional power The Memo: Trump tests limits of fiery attacks during crisis MORE Jr. of Michigan, who served in Congress from 1955 to 2015, makes several suggestions for drastically changing the structure of American government. Having inherited his seat from his father, John Dingell Sr., he served in the House for more than 59 years, only to be succeeded by his wife, current Representative Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellDingell pushes provision to curtail drunk driving in House infrastructure package 18 states fight conservative think tank effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards Pelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' MORE.

Based on this vast experience, Dingell, who not surprisingly opposes terms limits, has concluded that getting rid of the Senate and the Electoral College would be “the end of minority rule in our legislative and executive branches” and save American democracy. This is a serious proposal and deserves to be taken seriously, not the least because Dingell gets the crux of the problem, which is the decline of the constitutional system of checks and balances. Yet, while he is sensible about the way out of the dilemma, as Congress needs to restore and exercise its powers as a constitutional institution, his proposed solutions are seriously misguided.

The source of the problem, according to Dingell, is the Constitution. The great compromise of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was to create a House based on population and a Senate based on states with a fixed number of members per state to overcome the divide between large and small states. While this may have been acceptable for a few measly colonies, not so for an extensive popular democracy. Nowadays, Dingell asserts, “not only is that structure antiquated” but it is “downright dangerous” because “sparsely populated, usually conservative states can block legislation supported by a majority of the American people.”


Dingell believes that his other target, the Electoral College, also leads to minority rule. Or as he more colorfully puts it, “the vocal rump of a minority of obnoxious asses can hold the entire country hostage to extremist views.” This is because the number of electors for each state is determined by the number of representatives plus senators, which disproportionately favors the small states once again. Opponents of the Electoral College note that twice in the last 18 years, the president has been elected based on the Electoral College formula despite losing the popular vote. This, apparently, makes the election results illegitimate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump on Kanye West's presidential run: 'He is always going to be for us' Marie Yovanovitch on Vindman retirement: He 'deserved better than this. Our country deserved better than this' Trump says Biden has been 'brainwashed': 'He's been taken over by the radical left' MORE, as Dingell puts it, an “imposter to the throne.”

Might I suggest that the greatest minds in American history be given a little more credit? In reality, the great compromise not only ensures the protection of the minority against the “tyranny of the majority,” but also prevents the minority from thwarting the legitimate rule of the majority. “If a faction consists of less than a majority,” as James Madison explains in Federalist 10, “relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society, but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.”

The Constitution divides Congress into two chambers chosen by two different political constituencies and with different terms of office precisely to restrain unbridled popular passions and control the legislative branch in relation to the rest of the government. It will be messy, full of conflict, and at times the Senate will move slowly. This is how the Founders ensured that the settled will of the majority would be reflected without the rights of the minority being trampled. Likewise, the Framers rejected direct election of the president. The Electoral College was carefully designed to create a deliberative body, encourage serious study of the candidates, give due weight to states regardless of size, and keep the executive branch removed from Congress and its corruptions. While it is tempting to give credence to the simple argument of the popular vote, a democratic republic of this magnitude and diversity is not simple.

We have heard such proposals before. The popular vote mechanism being pushed today was first proposed by Hubert Humphrey in 1956, and Birch Bayh proposed ditching the Electoral College altogether in favor of direct election in 1979. Abolition of the Senate was proposed by its first socialist member, Victor Berger of Wisconsin, in 1911. Indeed, this past summer, an editorial in the New York Times, penned by staff of a socialist magazine, called for “the establishment of a new political system” of a strong federal government powered by a proportionally elected unicameral legislature. Dingell wants a unicameral legislature as well, and to get rid of the 22nd Amendment, so President Obama, like Franklin Roosevelt, could have run again and again. More democracy in order to have more government!

Such attacks have been part and parcel of modern liberalism over the course of the 20th century and threaten to get worse in the days ahead. Yet, despite the constant barrage of such reform proposals, the American system continues to survive precisely because of the elegance and prudence of the great compromise. For a bold experiment now more than 200 years old, that is extraordinary. Whether it is despite or because of the inflamed passions of the moment, this is no time to destroy the foundation of the longest surviving Constitution in the world. Indeed, as Dingell reminds us, “The Founders gave us a precious yet fragile gift. If we do not protect it with constant vigilance, we will most certainly lose it.”

Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is an associate vice president and the dean of educational programs for Hillsdale College, where he oversees the Allan Kirby Jr. Center in Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington.