It would be interesting to discover the kinds of legislation passed and how the conversations in Congress would evolve if the 536 federally elected officials really did mirror the rainbow of people living and voting in the U.S. We’ll have a new census in 2020, so we’ll get an update on population changes over the last 10 years. We already know we have about 326 million heads to count. We live here personifying a nearly 250-year-old idea, and that idea includes equal representation in our government. The Founding Fathers spent a lot of time and debate on just how that should look in practice. The result was to provide representation centered around where we live. That wasn’t bad at the time but may need modification.
U.S. population splits almost equally between men and women–women have a slight numbers advantage. So, to be fair, there should be an equal split of men and women in Congress. Today, there are 23 Senate women (17 Democrats and six Republicans). With 100 Senators, the math is pretty easy–23% women–27% short of equality. The House of Representatives is worse. Only 19% of the House are women.
19 different states have at least one woman Senator (four have two) and 35 states have at least one woman Representative. The sad news here is that 15 states have no female representation at all. If women got 31% more congressional representation (135 individuals) and 27 more senators, I think debate and floor conversation would sound much differently than it does today.
African Americans make up about 14% of our population. There are 52 Black officials in both houses. That equals just shy of 10% representation, the closest number we’ll find to representation equal to population. This gets much uglier when we find that there are only three Black senators (two Democrats–one Republican and two men–one woman), just 3%.
The ethnic category of Hispanic is the fastest growing minority in the U.S. The 2020 census will show their numbers pushing 20%. Even though there are more Hispanic citizens than Blacks, there are fewer representatives–38 total, 34 House members and four elected to the Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto, first-term Senator from Nevada, is the first elected Latina ever to be seated in the Upper House.
Continuing comparisons of ethnic and racial representation in Congress to include religious representation, we find the U.S. a 75% Christian nation. There are 30 Jewish, four Hindus, three Buddhists, and two Muslims elected. There are no admitted atheists in Congress, but one secular group claims there are some 30 who are “closeted atheists.” That goes unconfirmed, rendering our law-making contingency 93% Christian. It is no wonder many fierce Christian advocates try to claim the United States to be a Christian nation even though history and laws say “no.”
I’m not blaming the elected majorities for the abysmal imbalances. Everyone is free to run for office, and I encourage anyone who can make their case for being qualified and willing to display their unique talents to go for it. I am blaming the minorities and women for not seeking office in greater numbers. I’m blaming the voters for being complacent with the status quo. And, I’m especially blaming an engrained American relic–the notion that claims only white men can do this job properly.
It would be easy to start rattling off all the ills that beset Congress, but that would be cherry picking. Plus, there are tons of success that have made our grand experiment in democracy work improving lives. White men created and started to codify self-rule and carried it forward. However, the truth is that continuing to accept the notion of electing mostly white, Christian men as the only chance to sustain democracy is revolting.
We have succeeded in becoming the melting pot we set out to be, and it is way past time that we start making our governmental decisions and laws with the input and sanction of a Congress that looks and thinks much more like the United States as a whole looks and thinks.
We know from example that the best ideas come from compromise gleaned through a wide range of ideas. Progress doesn’t come from a think-tank of like-minded participants. Inbreeding makes life strains weaker, not stronger. That scientific truth can be carried forward to include how a species governs itself.
I’m not suggesting a quota or that we elect a candidate simply because they fit an ethnic or racial profile. But, I am more than suggesting, I’m making a plea for many more minority individuals to honestly evaluate their skills, steel their nerves, and step into the arena. The frightening task of breaking through the barrier of white/male/Christian privilege that has been allowed to rule, what Hillary Clinton called the glass ceiling, is daunting. Elections need more pioneers to join the likes of Sens. Cortez Masto, Kamala Harris, Tim Scott, Cory Booker, and Reps. Keith Ellison and Andre Carson (the lone two Muslims in Congress). Success will come with numbers.
As for the Executive Branch–if we go strictly by the numbers to achieve parity, we’ll need to elect 45 women in a row to the presidency. 13 of those women presidents need to be Black, 20 need to be Latina, and 34 of them need to be non-Christian before we elect another man.