A Response to Ian Millhiser:
The Constitution of the United States has failed
In light of our many failures as a nation over the last two hundred years, and the fact that many of them stem from interpretations of the Constitution, I find it refreshing that someone is finally willing to challenge our national delusion that the Constitution sits next to the Old Testament as the ultimate revelation of God to our fledgling democracy.
The men who wrote the Constitution, every one of them white and every one far better off than most Americans of the time and now (for that matter) recognized the flaws they wrote into the document and planned for those who followed them to amend it. Which they did, almost immediately, with a series of amendments called for by the same landed gentry Millhiser criticizes. You know, the ones who insisted on slaves and a senate and representation by smaller states in the face of growing populations in the north.
I doubt the Constitutional deliberations were as peaceful as the deliberations depicted here.
Many of these amendments laid the foundation for our modern political freedoms. One or two are as deeply flawed as the slave-holding clauses of the Constitution. The biggest mistake in the document was making it so damn hard to amend. We haven’t mounted a successful campaign to amend the Constitution since I won the right to vote as an eighteen-year-old. The catastrophic defeat of the equal rights amendment almost guaranteed that the process would become so divisive, change would become insurmountable.
That some of our founders accepted some of the most bizarre elements of the Constitution in order to ensure the document was signed should not be considered a defect of character or a political miscalculation, as much as Millhiser wishes to say otherwise. Those men made a choice, a tough choice, but one that didn’t seem so clearly immoral in the eighteenth century as it does today. Many Americans arrived in this country under indentured servitude. The outcry against slavery wouldn’t take on the moral urgency we fell until the decades immediately before the Civil War.
It’s easy to judge the moral enlightenment of a thinker from the privileged position of having three centuries to witness the effects of an institution. We should just as well criticize them for not granting the right of same-sex marriage. And our grandchildren will judge us for not acting more quickly to embrace immigrants and transgender rights.
The flaw in the Constitution is that it tries to codify the expectations of a nation of immigrants, people who have forgotten their own families immigrated, displaced native peoples, politically passionate progressives and racists committed to preserving the last vestiges of a corrupt institution.
The United States is a nation of immigrants, people who forgot they descended from immigrants and the racists who revile them (who descended from immigrants as well).
The Constitution didn’t make a two-party system driven by massive infusions of politically weighted cash inevitable. We chose to do it. The Constitution didn’t put the Republicans in power, or hand them the tools of voter-discrimination and gerrymandering. They dreamed those tools up on their own, and we voted for them (or chose to allow them to hijack the conversation so they would be elected).
We can break the cycle by refusing to vote for either of the two parties anymore. I vote green quite often. I used to vote all-green and email Democratic Senators and legislators to tell them why they lost my vote. I threw my lot in with Obama and Hillary and started to divide my votes to ward off Republican control of legislative houses, but that’s proved ineffective. I suspect I will return to voting for third parties, or “none of the above” which I have been advocating in columns, on local radio and on social media for years.
In fact, if we could pass an amendment requiring elections to be tossed out if no one gained fifty percent of the vote (including votes for “none of the above”), we would go a long way toward breaking the back of the two-party machine.
I also think it’s time for the Libertarians and Greens to put their differences behind them, find a slate of three-to-five issues they can agree on with popular appeal, and invade the local elections together. Let the Libertarians take on Republican precincts and Green candidates progressive ones. When they unseat the two parties in city and county commissions and state legislatures, the Democrats and GOP will be forced to broker deals with independent candidates.
It’s time for the independents to coalesce like the nation’s founders, put their differences aside and share three issues to capture local office. Then build success from the ground up.
Success grows from the bottom. As the two minor parties gain steam and support, they can separate and challenge under their own steam. If our founding fathers could agree on something as morally obnoxious as slavery (although eighty years was too long to remedy the bargain), surely the independent parties can work together for twenty to garner seats in the Congress.
I say this because we will not fix the Constitution with a Supreme Court appointment, and most likely not usher through another successful amendment with the two-party system strangling policy thinking. So we have to bite the bullet, take the long road and work with people with whom we morally disagree on a number of issues — right and left — just like the founders did.