America’s two overwhelming majorities: The end of the Founding Fathers’ historical prescription

America’s two overwhelming majorities: The end of the Founding Fathers’ historical prescription

In this column, Alfredo Toro Hardy argues that the abandonment of the U.S.’ antimajoritarian tradition will profoundly impact its governability, its communal bonds, and even the possibility of retaining its superpower status.

 In the past, the United States was vertically split by its multiple divides. This was consistent with the anti-majoritarian nature of its political system, as constructed by its Founding Fathers. Nowadays, however, partisan identities have merged with those multiple divides. This has translated into two overwhelming majorities.

These antagonistic majorities have become differentiated identities, which coexist side by side demonizing each other. A virtual civil war of identities crisscross America. As a result, a dangerous horizontal fracture has materialized. One, that not only detaches the political system itself, but society as a whole.  Under these circumstances, the decision-making process is not only blocked, but a radical change of political course becomes unavoidable every time that a new political correlation of power takes place in Washington.

Hobbes and the Founding Fathers

Let us provide some context to this argument. Thomas Hobbes did not have faith in the human nature. Left to their free will, he believed, humans tended to flow into the worst excesses. To save them from themselves, a strong State was needed – the so-called ‘Leviathan’. This was called for to provide law and order in exchange for taking liberties away.

The Founding Fathers of the United States shared Hobbes’ mistrust of human nature. However, the medicine that they envisioned went in a totally different direction. Instead of proposing an all-powerful State, they aimed at dividing power as much as possible. This allowed for political factions to check one another, through a sort of negative equilibrium of forces. To move ahead, competing powers and factions had no other option than to bargain and compromise (Micklethwait and Wooldrige, 2015, pp. 45,46; Rauch, 2021, p. 188).

To the extent that every obverse had its reverse, amid the proliferation of countless single interest groups, society could check itself. To make this happen, however, minorities had to be protected from the homogenizing wave of a too powerful majority. Under these circumstances, the role of the State was to allow that interest groups could preserve their space, without being swallowed by overwhelming majorities. This defined the anti-majoritarian nature of the American political system.

This anti majoritarian nature projected itself, at the same time, over governmental institutions. A classic example of it is the two senators assigned to each state of the Union, independently of the size of its population. As a consequence, Montana or Kentucky are worth as much as California or New York. This balances the system of representation by population in the House of Representatives.

The fusion of the factions

The anti-majoritarian nature of this system, however, is being shaken to its bones by a curious fusion of the factions. The numerous obverse and reverse that were called to control each other, through bargain and negotiation, are now merging within two powerful and all-encompassing majorities – Republicans and Democrats. Examples in this direction are abundant.

There is an economic divide whereby, while some believe that lowering taxes can promote investments, others believe in redistribution by way of taxation; there is a regional divide, expressing the dichotomy existing between regressive hinterland areas tied to rural or decaying industrial zones, and booming coastal cities associated to intensive knowledge industries.

There is a racial divide in which a shrinking white population perceives itself  as a besieged fortress, while an expanding coloured one feels discriminated against and vulnerable; there is a cultural divide whereby some hang to the past as an identity anchor, whereas others want to reinterpret that past under the light of current values; there is a religious divide where the immovable certainties of the “revealed truth” clashes with reason and with the moderation invoked by a more secular population.

There is an environmental divide whereby those who support fossil fuels and traditional basic industries are confronted by those aiming for a green economy able to save the planet; there is an arms bearing divide where while some feel entitled, others feel threatened; there is an abortion divide in which where some see an attack against human life, others see an attack against their bodily rights; there is a gender divide by which L.G.B.T.Q.I. communities feel stigmatized and non-binary gender identifiers are not recognized, while on the other hand anti-discrimination protection for sexual and gender identity is promoted;  there is a knowledge divide where some disparage science and merit, while others strongly defend them.  And so on and so forth. 

The end of the “e pluribus unum”

Until not long ago these differences emerged within vertical social fractures. This allowed that countless groups, with contrasting beliefs, could balance each other. Given its anti majoritarian tradition, no other country on earth was so well prepared to deal with these vertical divisions as the United States. But this system has been been turned upside down. Republicans and Democrats are now delineating two antagonistic visions of society, based in the aggregation of those vertical fractures. This results in a gigantic horizontal societal fracture. One, in which two irreconcilable majorities face each other in an existential confrontation.

Everything that each majority represents threatens the existence of the other. This gigantic horizontal fracture is not only disjointing the country’s institutions but destroying the communal bonds that held society together. The Latin words that symbolize America’s ideal of society “e pluribus unum” - from the many one - have lost all their meaning. In its place, a seemingly unmanageable social polarization has emerged.

It has been argued that today a single vote can encompass a person’s religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighbourhood, and even his or her favourite grocery store. As a consequence, partisanship becomes tantamount to a mega-identity, with all the psychological and sociological implications that come with it. Hence, being a Democrat or a Republican, translates into a person’s core identity. Not surprisingly, it has been argued that red states and blue states are becoming different countries altogether (Klein, 2020, p. 69; Bouie, 2023).

Can the U.S. retain its superpower status?

A Sisyphus kind of syndrome has taken hold of Washington: A heavy rock has to be carried to the top of the mountain, to see it rolled down with the arrival of every new Administration or any new correlation of power. Thereupon, the process begins again. Planning beyond the next four years has become a fruitless exercise. The prevalence of either the blue or the red country, at any given time, has overwhelming consequences. This, of course, is reproduced at the state level as well. While the two big majorities have become irreconcilable, the country is turning out to be increasingly ungovernable: “If the people on the losing side of an election believe that those on the winning side are digging the country’s graveyard, how do they accept and respect the results?” (Bruni, 2024).

Can the U.S. effectively compete with China under these circumstances? Can it retain its alliance system? Can it guarantee its superpower status? Fortunately for Washington, Xi Jinping fallen foul of many of the 101 items on the autocrat’s mistakes list. However, that’s certainly not enough, as Beijing could put its house in order. America’s zigzagging will be no match to China’s strategic consistency, in the same manner in which Washington’s longstanding allies will end up losing all patience with its fickleness. Moreover, no superpower status can withstand the rapid erosion resulting from this red and blue dance of inconsistencies.



Alfredo Toro Hardy, PhD, is a retired Venezuelan career diplomat, scholar and author. Former Ambassador to the U.S., U.K., Spain, Brazil, Ireland, Chile and Singapore. Author or co-author of thirty-six books on international affairs. Former Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor at Princeton and Brasilia universities. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations and a member of the Review Panel of the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

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Bouie, J. (2023).  “Red States and Blue States Are Becoming Different Countries”, The New York Times, December 12.

Bruni, F. (2024). “Trump’s Final Battle Has Begun”, The New York Times, January 2.

Klein, E. (2020).  Why We’re Polarized. New York: Avid Reader Press.

Micklethwait, J. and Wooldrige, A. (2015). The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State. London: Penguin Books.

Rauch, J. (2021). “What’s ailing American Politics?”. In Goldberg, J. (Editor). The American Crisis: What Went Wrong. How We Recover. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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