Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Our Endangered, Outmoded Constitution

Chile had constitutional rule for 140 years before 1973. There's no reason an American constitutional crisis couldn't have a similar ending

Americans like to brag about having kept with the same constitution since 1787, a world record by far in terms of written constitutions.  I've long thought this was a problem, since the American Constitution was drawn up before there had been other examples of modern republics to draw from.  It was also drawn up with the assumption that political parties would not be powerful forces in American political life and with the express intention of thwarting popular will.  The electoral college meant to put the vote  for president in the hands of the "right sort" of propertied man.  The federal system gave each state equal representation in the Senate, before a proliferation of low-population states made that body completely undemocratic.  That same Senate is allowed to make its own rules, rules that allow minorities to block votes with ease and even individual Senators to put a "hold" on an appointment without even providing a reason.  We have now reached a point of constitutional dysfunction that a Supreme Court justice can die and the Senate majority leader can proclaim that he has no intention of even considering the president's appointment, and he just might be able to get away with it.

This pronouncement comes after years of blocked judicial appointments and legislative gridlock.  Our system of government simply isn't functioning properly.  It's also completely schizophrenic.  The principle of "one person-one vote" is part of our judicial system, but when it comes to the Senate, Wyoming gets the same representation as California.  Despite its obsolescence, we still use the Electoral College which can, as in 2000, give the presidency to the candidate with fewer votes.  It also nakedly violates the principle of one person-one vote.

These have been endemic issues for a long time.  In recent weeks, the failures of our constitutional system have been put in high relief by the Republican Senate's apparent desire not to vote on any candidate that president Obama nominates for the Supreme Court.  This is an unprecedented move, and one that our dysfunctional system allows for.  In fact, while this case is getting attention, most people are unaware that the Senate has consistently been blocking Obama's nominees to lower courts as well.  Our higher courts are going unstaffed because an outmoded constitution assumes that such a thing would never happen.  When it was written, these kinds of partisan issues were never expected to be part of the task of appointing judges.  But guess what, they are.

Keeping our 18th century Constitution has also led to massive distortions in what rights our citizens have.  Because of the very ill-worded 2nd Amendment, owning an assault rifle has become an inviolable right.  But due to the 18th century values of the Constitution, education and health care are NOT things that the people have a right to, which is insane.  Compare this to Germany, whose Basic Law written after World War II guarantees rights to health care, education, and equal rights to both men and women.  (In America the ERA failed to get ratified in the 1970s.)

As a nation we sing hosannas to the legal millstone around our collective neck.  Of course, there is no real way forward.  A constitutional convention in this day and age would be impossible considering the depth of political division.  There is no way to compromise between a libertarian and social democratic vision of society.  The states have become so ingrained in our mental and physical maps that there is no erasing them or our ridiculously confused federal system.  The only thing to do is sit back and watch the current fatally flawed system be manipulated and gamed, until one day the whole thing just collapses.

Make no mistake, when the collapse comes it will be at the hands of radical conservatives.  They have shown a propensity for proclaiming their love of the constitution all while thinking that the ends always justify the means when it comes to accomplishing their goals.  They are rabid true believers who feel that they are "saving" the country, and thus can do whatever needs to be done. In the last twenty years we've already seen an impeachment over a BJ, a stolen election, multiple government shutdown hostage situations, restrictions on voting rights, unprecedented use of the filibuster, and now refusing to act on any Supreme Court nominee.  I'm beginning to think that the ultimate day of reckoning is coming sooner rather than later.  The history of the Americas is littered with examples of rightist reactionaries suspending constitutions in order destroy their leftist opponents.  Let's not pretend that the same thing can't happen here.

1 comment:

Terry said...

As Trump marches on, I tend more and more to despair for this country. Even if Bernie was to win (my choice, but I'll vote for Hillary if she gets nominated), the millions of people who apparently want that ignorant, toupeed narcissistic megalomaniac to actually be President of the United States SO depress me. They won't disappear overnight, we'll never be able to change most of them to reasonable human beings, and I can't see any way out - and I recall what happened in Germany after WWI, with the Germans humiliated and crushed by losing that war they started. Have we ever seen a good person rise from the ashes of a destroyed society? Germany got Hitler. It terrifies me to think we might get Trump.