America desperately needs constitutional convention
The Champagne Socialist
We need to amend the Constitution and we need a new Constitutional Convention. We need to amend it to such an extent that the final product will be so different from the eighteenth century-born original that it’s unrecognizable. Unless we do that, then nothing on the left wing’s wish list will ever get delivered, short of a miracle. Everything we’re fighting for right now will wind up being an outright failure or a half-hearted concession that will be whittled away at anyway. The manufactured gridlock and dysfunction, from Washington on down, will continue to frustrate liberals and leftists alike. Even President Obama’s agenda, a man twice elected by a majority, will be further straightjacketed by our antiquated and undemocratic constitutional machinery. Unless we amend the constitution, the #blacklivesmatter movement and the People’s Climate March, both which I involve myself with, will have been in vain. I’ll also look back at that visit I made to Occupy Wall Street back in high school as one of the many bloopers of my adolescence.
We must remember that our Constitution is the world’s longest surviving, dating back to 1787. It has been left fundamentally untouched, and that’s not something to be proud of. The rest of the world, including our peers amongst the advanced, industrialized nations like France or Japan have changed their constitutions to meet the needs of their development. Yet, America continues to be saddled with a neo-medievalist eighteenth-century document drawn up by slaveholders in powdered wigs. Born before the British innovations of parliamentary sovereignty and the fusion of powers could take hold in the North American colonies, our Constitution reflects the ancient, petty, narrow-minded aversion by feudal, countryside elites to centralized government that has plagued British politics. Emigrants to the New World had a habit of freezing in time and, or reinvigorating the medievalist, agrarian backwaters that were dying in an England that had gone through a tumultuous period of revolution, centralization and rapid urbanization by 1776. Virginian slaveholders and Puritan extremists alike were eager to live the lavish, backwoods-dwelling lives Oliver Cromwell interrupted.
The Founders, genteel bunch that they were, didn’t really want a government that was remarkably different from before. Yes, Britain was a monarchy, but by the time of the colonies’ tantrum, parliament was already in the driver’s seat of state affairs. Cries of ‘tyranny!’ laid at the well-pedicured feet of George III look melodramatic coming from a man like Thomas Jefferson, who owned some six hundred slaves over his lifetime. Unlike the French revolutionaries, the Americans didn’t set up a unitary state, but one with a constitution that fragmented government against itself with a byzantine structure of checks, balances, and competing sovereignties between the states, their subdivisions and the feds. Although preamble boldly declares popular sovereignty with, “We the People…” it flatly contradicts itself soon after by denying voters the power to directly elect their president. It locks us in with an Electoral College and makes it nearly impossible to change. It also set up the Supreme Court, a coterie of old men in velvet robes unaccountable to democracy. The law then isn’t something that humans do to make use of their evolving needs and desires, but something that we just have to live under. Like Moses coming down from Sinai, commanding us to live under some God-given parchment, so go the Founders.
And our Constitution has failed democracy ever since. Secession, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t just some hissy fit, but a longstanding element of legal thinking arising from the ambiguity as to where ultimate sovereignty laid. The question as to whether the Union was a voluntary experiment, or a more united nation-state, was fought through a civil war. The federal government emerged stronger than ever and with the agrarian fetishes of Jeffersonian-Jacksonian democracy sloughed off –– Industrialization took off and our cities grew enormously. Yet, the Constitution remained fundamentally the same, and its failure to rein in the Southern states’ Democrats helped end Reconstruction in our last great experiment in interracial democracy. At the end of the relatively brief New Deal order with the Warren Court, the Brown decision and all, Americans elected Richard Nixon. A conservative faced with hostile branches of government at all sides, he built up an ‘imperial presidency’ through war-making and Watergate. The hydra of divided powers had birthed a super-charged executive branch.
The imperial presidency persists. Look at Obama and his drones. Look at George W. Bush. Bush, who lost the popular vote, stole the 2000 election with the Electoral College’s help. As for the Senate, it is surely the world’s most undemocratic legislative body. Since every state gets two senators, one Californian voter has some 1.5 percent of a Wyoming voter’s power. Wyoming’s population is smaller than NJ’s Bergen or Middlesex counties. Senators from Mississippi or Utah can then filibuster and kill reforms voters from demographic mega-states like California or New York demand. These states are less urbanized and diverse in general. With growing inequality between the classes and races, and growing repression in the form of mass incarceration, we need to radically reform and amend our Constitution. As political scientist Daniel Lazare said, the alternative would be, “the old pre-reform Mississippi state legislature stamping on democracy — forever.” I’m sorry Lincoln’s ghost, but that’s not a Union worth saving. But hey, maybe Hillary can save us.
José Sanchez is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science. His column, “The Champagne Socialist,” runs on alternate Tuesdays. You can follow him on Twitter @comradesanchez.