by David McElroy
Note: I don’t edit old articles such as this one, because they were what I believed to be accurate when I wrote them, but I have finally discovered almost four years later that the source of this graphic was actually a Buzzfeed article about what the results would have been if only white people had voted. The article will remain as it is, but please do not use this to make a political point about voting, because that might or might not be accurate. (I suspect if non-taxpayers were excluded from voting, the results would have been what I said here, but the data isn’t there to say so.) If you’d like to know why I don’t think it matters to argue these points, you’re welcome to read this article from July 2016 explaining how my priorities have changed in the past few years.
As long as you’re 18 years old and can fog a mirror, any U.S. citizen can vote. But what if we made one simple rule change? What if you had to have paid income taxes to be eligible to vote?
According to a graphic which has been attributed to CNN, the network looked at exit poll data from the election and told us what would have happened in the recent presidential election. After subtracting voters who pay no income taxes, Barack Obama would have won only 11 states. Instead of 332 electoral votes, he would have had only 97 electoral votes. (Click the map for a bigger copy.) Mitt Romney would have beaten him by a margin of 4.5 to 1 in electoral votes. It would have been a blowout win for the Republicans.
I was surprised to see CNN even point this out, because the suggestion that this is even a legitimate way to look at the data isn’t something that is typically brought up in polite company. The idea that people who don’t pay taxes are “second-class citizens” in some way is enough to get you declared racist and any other pejorative that some folks can think of.
But let’s think about it. Why is it that people who don’t pay taxes — which is about half the population — get to decide who pays taxes and how much money the actual taxpayers have to pay? What right do they have to have anything to say on such matters? If they’re not contributing to the money — and have nothing to lose from demanding higher taxes — why should they be allowed to have a say about what money is raised and how it’s spent?
I wrote satirically Tuesday about this dilemma — that of individuals being treated as equals when it comes to dividing power, but those with higher income and more wealth being required to shoulder the burden of supporting the rest when it comes to paying the bills. Why is it impolite to point this out? Why is it wrong for those who pay taxes to say to the non-taxpayer, “You aren’t paying anything, so you have no right to say how much the rest of us have to pay or how it should be spent”?
The progressive movement was largely a reaction to the belief that the lower classes weren’t having any say in how the country was governed. In the last hundred years or so, that situation has been changed in radical ways. If you don’t understand history, you might not understand how dangerous this is or why the original system was set up as it was. (Remember that I oppose the state in any of its forms, but don’t take my explanations about the original system as compared to the current system to be an endorsement of the old system if we can “return to the original Constitution.”)
The founders of this country were strongly opposed to democracy, so the United States was never intended by its founders to be a democracy. You won’t find that mentioned in history books anymore, and most historians have ignored the point. (I doubt most historians today could even explain the difference between a democracy and a republic.) The fact that most of these historians are philosophically on the progressive left has clouded their ability to tell the truth about the past.
For instance, in the Federalist Papers No. 10 and No. 51, James Madison wrote:
“Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
You can find example after example of similar statements. They saw democracies — those places in which every person has an equal say in everything — to be unstable and evil. Yet that’s what we’ve become — and that form of government is now glorified and praised by our textbooks, teachers and presidents.
In a republic, the rights and interests of various groups are supposed to be protected and respected. It’s understood that those with wealth and higher income deserve to have their interests protected, because their interests are very different from those of the lower classes. In the same way, a republic is supposed to protect the interests of those lower classes as well.
The American founders came up with a system of checks and balances in the legislative system that was supposed to force a balance between the two groups. Have you ever wondered why we have two houses in Congress, instead of the one which is typical all over the world in parliamentary systems? It’s because the Senate was supposed to protect the interests of the existing power structure and the House of Representatives was supposed to protect the interests of the lower classes.
If you look at the history of the Roman Republic, the picture will be much more clear. In Rome — far before it turned into an empire — the Senate was supposed to be a wise body of men, but they represented mostly the upper classes. The struggle for power within the Roman Republic was between the upper classes, represented mostly by the Senate, and the tribune of the Plebs, who represented the lower classes.
This is far too complex to explain how it developed here, but if you’re interested, I recommend an excellent six-part series of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast called “Death Throes of the Republic.” Listen to all six parts and then compare it to what’s gone on in this country for 200 years and you’ll be wondering why people aren’t noticing the parallels.
The American founders came up with this compromise that didn’t allow any legislation to pass unless it could pass the Senate and the House, so either group had an effective veto on things that went too far outside of their own interests.
Think about the name of the U.S. House. It’s called the “House of Representatives,” because it was designed to represent everybody. It was the body that was designed to be democratic. The Senate, however, was more like the old Roman Senate. It represented the Establishment.
Did you know that U.S. senators used to be selected by state legislatures? They were chosen by the legislature because those were the people who were going to represent the interests of the individual states — and the interests of the states were going to coincide with the interests of the upper classes in those states. It wasn’t until 1913 that direct election of senators came about, because of the desires of progressives to hand more power to the lower classes.
The founders’ compromise system that tried to split up power in this way was an ingenious effort to solve the problem. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it at least accepted the idea that not everybody had the same interests — and that those interests needed to be protected in different ways.
After the progressive reforms of the last hundred years, power has shifted. The half of the country that pays zero income taxes has just as much political power as the half that pays all the income taxes. Is it any wonder that we’re seeing class warfare as the freeloaders — yes, that’s an accurate term in this context, not an insult — are increasingly demanding that those with money give them even more?
There isn’t a way to overcome this problem in any coercive system. No matter what safeguards you build in, one group or another is going to seize more and more power. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m ignoring the things that the people of the upper classes are doing to fight back through other means. Some of those means (such as pouring money into electing candidates who won’t bleed them dry) are legitimate and others of them (such as getting their pockets lined because of backroom dealing) are very illegitimate.
This is yet another reason why we need to be able to go our own separate ways if we desire. If some people want to set up and live under a pure democracy or representative democracy in which power is equally distributed, that’s their right. If others want to live in a proprietary enclave that protects their wealth and income by preventing the governing structure from taking the money — essentially a private city — that’s their right. If others want to live in communes or socialist utopias, that’s their right, too.
There’s no reason for there to be “one size fits all” for the 325 million or so who live here. There’s no reason we can’t all live under the systems we choose. It requires us to give up the notion that we have any claim on anybody else. It requires us to accept that we own ourselves and what we produce — and that other people own themselves and what they produce.
If we accept that and accept that we have the right to split up as we want to, we can all live as we choose. If we keep trying to live as we’re living now, what was once an experiment with building a republic will end just as badly as the Roman Republic.
The Roman Republic devolved into an empire. If we’re not there yet, we’re at least in a gray area. The Roman Empire eventually collapsed. The American Empire is in danger of collapsing for many of the same reasons. We need to be thinking about what we’re doing to do when the day of collapse gets here, because it’s coming.
Update: I now have reason to doubt whether CNN produced the graphic that appears with this article. As I originally noted, I was surprised to see such information coming from a mainstream news source. I can’t say now where the map came from, but the origin of the graphic doesn’t change the point I made, so I’m leaving it with this disclaimer.