I peruse an email every day from the New York Times, linking to the offerings of their op-ed page and usually with a smart, chatty, liberal intro by columnist David Leonhardt, who is also associate editor of the Times Opinion operation.
But Leonhardt is on vacation and the Times is allowing various outsiders to write that daily note. Today, the first day of this experiment, they handed the task over to Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara of the socialist magazine Jacobin. They took their opportunity to blame the U.S. Constitution for Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate.
This was both surprising and interesting, perhaps especially to Constitution nerds like me. Here are their first two paragraphs:
Consider a few facts: Donald Trump is in the White House, despite winning almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. The Senate, the country’s most powerful legislative chamber, grants the same representation to Wyoming’s 579,315 residents as it does to 39,536,653 Californians. Key voting rights are denied to citizens in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other United States territories. The American government is structured by an 18th-century text that is almost impossible to change.
These ills didn’t come about by accident; the subversion of democracy was the explicit intent of the Constitution’s framers. For James Madison, writing in Federalist No. 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention” incompatible with the rights of property owners. The byzantine Constitution he helped create serves as the foundation for a system of government that rules over people, rather than an evolving tool for popular self-government.
I write often about the shortcomings of the American system of politics and government, and many of them definitely derive from the Constitution, which is, as Day and Sunkara say, almost impossible to change. That’s partly because the bar for amendments is so high, and partly because most Americans are raised to treat the Constitution as a sacred document, handed down from God to Washington to us.
I was, nonetheless, taken aback to see the Jacobin analysis in the voice, however temporarily, of the old gray lady we call the New York Times.
So I pass it along here, and invite you to read their full argument. And in case you don’t care to read the whole thing, here’s their closing:
As long as we think of our Constitution as a sacred document, instead of an outdated relic, we’ll have to deal with its anti-democratic consequences.