Our Constitution, for all of its value, is a piece of crap. I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of you at the end of that sentence. For those of you still reading, allow me to explain.
The American political system is dysfunctional. Hell, some would call it pathological. For some people, the reason for the dysfunctional nature of American politics is because modern politicians play “street ball” with the Constitution. This is a common conservative argument. For others, including many scholars, American government is a Fox reality show because of the Constitution.
Forget that the Constitution allowed for a continuation of chattel slavery. It’s as monumental a tragedy as there is in American history, but that’s common knowledge. Consider instead that the Constitution fails to perpetuate the very core of American politics — democratic government.
A quick glimpse into the United States Senate, for example, reveals that the two senators from North Dakota wield the same degree of influence as the two senators from Texas, even though five Texas cities have more people in them than the entire Peace Garden State. This is not representative democracy in the “majority rules” sense.
But there’s an apportioned House of Representatives, right? Yes, there is, but if this were actually a democracy, that’s all there would be — a single Congressional house reflective of population.
Expanded democracy allows for the states to stick the finger to the federal government, whether the argument is legitimate or not, further exacerbating an already staggering degree of mistrust and defiance while seeking to undermine federal authority.
Consider also that even though there has been long-standing, vehement opposition to the very existence of the Electoral College, we will all take to the polls in November and hope that our vote will actually make some kind of difference, despite the men and women who live in “battleground states” being the subject of nauseating, endless, and repetitive cable news rhetoric because their votes actually do make a difference.
Consider even further the ridiculous implementation of a “checks and balances” system, that while noble in its conception, has become a bastardized shit-storm protocol that continues a 230-year tradition of political gridlock, save for when one “faction” holds control over the executive and legislative branches of government simultaneously.
But the cardinal sin of the United States Constitution, if there can be only one, would have to be Article V, which makes the process of constitutional amendment almost as difficult a proposition as the American people, collectively, suddenly not giving a rat’s ass about the Kardashians.
Article V of the United States Constitution states:
“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”
Consider also that the Constitution is over 200 years out of date linguistically, which I’m certain contributes to the overall fundamental lack of understanding regarding what the Constitution actually says.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t parts of the United States Constitution worth preservation and revere. There are many meaningful aspects, but at the same time, there are some amendments and clauses within the document that either have no actual value or are in desperate need of clarification.
Take the First Amendment, for example. Each clause of the First Amendment is disputed not just by the populous, but also by scholars. The Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, for example, are routinely the battleground on which the Religious Right and American secular movements go to war. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the secular groups shout. “‘In God We Trust’ is unconstitutional!” The Religious Right pivots, chuckles, then retorts, “Nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.”
The degree of conflict pertaining to these clauses should at least warrant clarification.
The First Amendment is also supposed to guarantee free speech and press freedom, but censorship has and continues to run rampant in American culture. Let’s not even get into how inconsistent the application of libel is in the United States.
When it comes to the Second Amendment, the American people seem to be possessed by the vengeful ghosts of Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in the late 2000s that the Second Amendment allowed for the possession of firearms by the citizenry, that Court’s decisions are new and contrast previous Supreme Court decisions. Furthermore, there is mention of a “well-regulated militia” within the text, leading to another degree of controversy surrounding the actual wording of the amendment. Again, this should at least warrant clarification, especially since the decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) do not explicitly clarify the degree to which American citizens can have guns in their homes.
In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment made the production, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal. 13 years after alcohol prohibition went into effect, another constitutional amendment repealed it. It may sound frivolous to point out that two constitutional amendments directly invalidate each other by design, but it serves a larger point. There are portions of the United States Constitution contradicted, at least in application, by other portions of the United States Constitution.
Moreover, there exists controversy in how one even views the damn document. There are rigid “constitutionalists,” such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who believe the meaning, and thus the enforcement, of the United States Constitution is clear in the wording of the document. This means that there are people who expressly believe that we must interpret the United States Constitution on grounds laid out centuries ago, long before many of our modern issues were acknowledged as issues, much less conceived. Conversely, there are those who believe in a “living” constitution, meaning that the document must adapt to the changing times. Consider whether or not the framers of the United States Constitution would have written the Second Amendment as they did knowing that over 30,000 people are killed by guns every year in the United States. Would they have even included a constitutional amendment pertaining to firearms at all?
But with all of this criticism of the United States Constitution, of which there is more than mentioned above, might there be a way to make the document more feasible for the times in which we live? Could the United States Constitution be made more clear? Could some of the fat be trimmed from it?
The answer is yes, but the process in which we might do that would likely be strenuous, especially considering the controversial nature of even bringing it up.
There seems to be a degree of cultural inflexibility when it comes to even proposing United States Constitution 2.0, especially if it comes up in Congress. Supreme Court decisions that reinterpret pieces of the document in such a way that is deemed offensive or obtuse are criticized heavily by pundits and politicians alike. Some take it further and openly defy the rulings. We’ve seen this following the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), notably in actions taken by Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore and county clerk Kim Davis, the Kentucky woman who became Mike Huckabee’s Joe the Plumber.
Bringing it up as a topic of intellectual discourse among the citizenry is also problematic.
At this point, any reevaluation of the United States Constitution has to work its way through the court system to ultimately be ruled upon by the nine most powerful, most unaccountable judges in the country. That’s not to downplay or in any way criticize what they do, but the legal process needed to send a case to the Supreme Court is long and drawn-out. There are some things that need to be examined immediately.
I wish I had an answer on how to fix it. I would send that idea to everyone who would even remotely be involved in the process. But, just because there doesn’t exist a tested, discernible resolution doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist. The United States Constitution is a problem and it’s a problem that is in need of rectification. Perhaps if we spent more time working on a solution than nearly coming to blows whenever the idea is even presented, we could figure out a way to reestablish the United States Constitution as an all-important, exemplary document.
But if there is anything that those who support a reset button on the Constitution agree upon, it’s that the process likely starts with Article V.