If you had to list the top five reasons for political polarization and the collapse of American confidence in American government, where would you start? Would you focus on discrete events such as the Iraq War or the Great Recession, or discrete policies such as trade or health care? Would you focus on larger cultural forces, such as the fact that we’re sorting into geographically distinct political and religious enclaves?

All of these factors matter, some a great deal, but let me suggest an underappreciated factor that belongs in that top five. For several generations, Congress — the branch of government closest to the people — has slowly but surely abdicated its role in American constitutional government even as the power of the federal government grew. The American people are increasingly divorced from an increasingly powerful national government.

Here’s the plain truth — if you live in a safe red or blue state, you may never in your entire life cast a single meaningful vote to influence the two most powerful instruments of modern governance, the presidency and the judiciary. You’re left with casting votes for the (unintentionally) weakest branch, a legislature that seems to want to do anything but the job the Founders gave it.