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Are we in a constitutional crisis? Or is it just a period of ‘constitutional rot’?

If you think everything is running normally and smoothly in the U.S. system of politics and government, don’t bother reading this post. On the other hand, if you’re concerned that our constitutional system is breaking down, or under grave danger of breaking down, what frightens you and what reassures you and how do you think it will turn out?

To put it another way: Are we in a constitutional crisis, such a serious breakdown that the future of the system is in question? Or are we going through a period of “constitutional rot”? According to one of the scholars I’ll be quoting below, a period of “constitutional rot” is something less serious than a “crisis,” something we’ve gone through before, where norms break down and the boundaries of appropriate conduct are tested. But we’ve weathered periods of “rot,” and, before the worst happens, Jimmy Stewart gives a great speech at the end of the third reel, and the day is saved, leading to a new and stable future definition of “normal” and functional U.S. politics and governance.

I don’t know the answer to the “crisis” or “rot” question, but I worry about it a lot. I’m a big Constitution nerd, a student of constitutional history, and have long thought our system has many sub-optimal features. But until the Trump years I never worried as much as I do now about the system breaking down or falling apart. And now I do worry. 

A series of worried letters

Two eminent constitutional scholars, old friends who have debated and collaborated through the years, also worry. Constitutional law and history professors Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin exchanged a series of worried letters during the year of Donald Trump’s rise to power and the first year of his presidency to discuss how the U.S. system was faring. The letters became a book: “Democracy and Dysfunction.” 

Levinson does use the language of a “constitutional crisis.” He doesn’t specifically say how it might end, but he believes weaknesses that have lurked within our system are stretched near to the breaking point.

Democracy and DysfunctionBalkin rejects that, or did until quite late in the two-year epistolary exchange. He argues that, so far, facts point to a case of “constitutional rot,” one which our system can survive and be restored to something closer to proper functionality. The changes needed to get back to that better place are not structural, but normative. Below, I transcribe and summarize some of their exchange.

Levinson, of the University of Texas, has criticized the Constitution as insufficiently democratic. In the letter to Balkin that opens the book, written in late 2015 before the rise of Trump would take over the discussion, Levinson listed some of his enduring criticisms of the constitutional system.

Our system makes it too hard (compared, for example, to a parliamentary system where a prime minister can be dumped by a vote of no confidence) to get rid of a president who has shown himself unfit, Levinson argues. It’s too hard to pass legislation, especially when the House and Senate are controlled by different parties — and even more so in the modern era of no-compromise. The Senate is structurally and deeply undemocratic, giving equal power to states irrespective of population. The 41 least populous states, comprising slightly less than half of the U.S. population, have 82 percent of the voting power in the Senate, while the nine biggest states,  collectively the majority of the population, hold 18 percent of Senate voting power. That’s undemocratic, Levinson writes. I agree.

You can argue that this is offset by the House where (disregarding such democratic distortions as gerrymandering), congressional power is distributed equally by population. But why should the basic rule of one-person/one vote be “offset” by an equally powerful body in which half the voters are dramatically overrepresented compared to the other half?

Levinson also (and this was before Trump’s election) hit the Electoral College system, which creates the possibility (and, it’s more than a possibility, it’s the current reality) of a president who won neither a majority nor even a plurality of the popular vote. And he argues that the bar for constitutional amendments (two-thirds of both houses plus ratification by three-fourths of the states) is such an “insuperable barrier to reform” that it changes the old “if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing” to, for constitutional reform purposes: “Because, as a practical matter, it can’t be fixed, let’s pretend it isn’t broken.”

Balkin’s rebuttal

In his first letter of rebuttal, still written before the Trump phenomenon takes over the conversation, Balkin suggests that Americans should seek to differentiate between the “hard-wired Constitution,” things that are embedded in the document, versus things that undermine the proper functioning of the system but are not hard-wired, and therefore are amenable to reform by means short of amendment.


He gives a few examples of things that could be more easily changed. The architecture of the Electoral College is hard-wired. But the “winner-take-all” aspect of the state-by-state electoral votes is not embedded in the Constitution. There are ways (for example, the “National Popular Vote” project which I’ve written about here) to reform the system without a constitutional amendment to ensure that the candidate who gets the most votes wins the presidency. 

Discussion moves to Trump

But by the second exchange, (before Trump won the election but after he had risen to the lead for the Republican nomination) Trump had taken over the discussion.

Levinson:

No serious political system should have to contemplate the possibility of being ‘governed’ by a narcissistic sociopath without any effective way – impeachment and the 25th Amendment really do not count – of getting rid of him until the next election four years later. … This is simply to suggest that those who place their faith in the Madisonian system of checks and balances … are deluding themselves. James Madison has, truly and irrevocably, left the building.

Jack Balkin
Jack M. Balkin
Balkin pushes back. The Constitution didn’t give us Trump, he argues. If you look for the factors that fueled his rise, they are changes in the media environment: the rise of a right-wing Fox News and internet-driven echo chambers that “have encouraged motivated reasoning, and insulate many conservative voters from the facts, opinions, and interpretations of facts contrary to their ideology and beliefs.”

He points to partisan polarization, and to “conflict extension,” which I take to mean that the two parties have sorted out more clearly on ideological lines (for reasons that are hardly constitutional), which leads to partisan bloc voting on almost everything. But such Trump-enabling tendencies aren’t rooted in the weaknesses of the Constitution, says Balkin.

Trump’s particular skill set, as Balkin sees it, has seized on “status anxiety” among white working-class voters to exaggerate polarization. Trump portrays himself as the only thing standing between those Americans and various forms of doom. This anxiety certainly isn’t a breeding ground for calm or compromise, but is not the fault of the Constitutional text, argues Balkin.

So rather than focusing on the “hard-wired” Constitution, Balkin focuses on what he calls the larger and more amorphous “Constitutional order,” which includes statutes, administrative regulations, political norms and conventions, the nature of the rigid U.S. two-party duopoly and constitutional doctrines that have been created by courts and that could be modified by a future court.

All of the above was written when a Trump presidency was a mere possibility. Then — and you could argue that the Constitution does at least make it possible for someone to win the presidency with neither a majority nor even a plurality of the vote — someone did just that, guaranteeing that the rest of the Levinson-Balkin correspondence would be dominated ever more by the question of how much the Constitution was to blame for Trump, and how much of a threat Trump poses to the nation.

‘The most serious existential crisis since 1860’

On Nov. 26, 2016, in the first exchange after the election, Levinson pushed Balkin to acknowledge that something perhaps amorphous but related to the Constitution had failed. He wrote that, whether hard-wired or not, the “blend of written institutional structures and unwritten conventions and political culture,” which are supposed to bar an unscrupulous, unqualified demagogue from power, had failed “largely for the reasons you outline; Trump realized better than did any other that the traditional media have become delegitimized by the rise of social media that privilege ‘truthiness’ and, indeed, outright lies over what used to be regarded as facts” enabling Trump to executive a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party” leading to “the most serious existential crisis since 1860.” (That last is, of course, a reference to the Civil War).


In December 2016, Balkin replied:

Demagogues do not usually sneak up unawares. Members of the public often know that demagogues are selfish, unethical and unscrupulous, but they convince themselves that turning to such leaders is the only way to smash corrupt institutions and solve the country’s problems. Once in power, however, demagogues become tyrants, bringing republican government to an end.

Sanford Levinson
Sanford Levinson
Balkin was worried, but not predicting such an end. The next election was just two years off, he noted, adding, “The president’s party usually loses seats in Congress during the midterm elections. If President Trump proves incompetent or unpopular, he may well lose control of one or both houses of Congress in 2018. Losing even one house makes it possible for the Democrats to serve as a check on executive misbehavior through congressional committee investigations” and other tools available to a party that controls all or part of Congress. And that happened.

But Balkin admitted to worries that changes in the power of the presidency since the founding — even though those changes were not added by amendment to the “hard-wired” Constitution — raise the fear of “constitutional dictatorship”:

As you and I have written in our work on constitutional dictatorship, over the years Congress has delegated so much control to the White House that in many aspects of domestic and foreign policy the president can act unilaterally. … We can only guess what Trump will do with the quasi-dictatorial powers of the modern presidency.

Crisis vs. ‘rot’

Soon after Trump’s inauguration, Levinson warned of constitutional apocalypse, while Balkin, sounding substantially more worried than earlier, continued to hold the line against a declaration of “crisis “ and continues to explain his theory of constitutional “rot.” 

Feb. 21, 2017, Levinson:

Far more than you, I remain in at least a semi-apocalyptic frame of mind, frightened both of a dangerously unfit and psychologically unhinged president and of a Congress that seems committed to collaboration so long as they believe he will sign their bills that will, to the maximum feasible extent, undo not only Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, but also much of the Great Society and even the New Deal.

Balkin, in April, noted that the Constitution remained in force and “various institutions of government – both formal and informal – have stopped [Trump]” from doing basic harm to the system. …You can [call it a constitutional crisis] when politicians are saying that they will not comply with the law, with judicial orders, or with the Constitution. … Or when there is a widespread civil unrest or rebellion. Until that happens, you are not in a constitutional crisis, and for that, at least, you can be thankful.”

Other checks and balances, outside of structural constitutional features, were working, he added:  

Begin with civil society. Trump is, and remains, a particularly unpopular president. There have been sustained protests against his administration from its inception. Donations have flowed to groups like the ACLU to fight his policies. The institutions of mass culture – from late night television shows to YouTube regularly make fun of him. Mocking Trump has reinforced the idea that he is not someone to be feared. Successful dictators inspire caution and silence. Trump inspires ridicule. …

Personally, I suppose you could overdo the distinction between “crisis” and “rot,” but Balkin persuades me that it’s not just semantic. I don’t know how to gauge the extent of Trumpian damage to our fundamental system until we get to the other side. But neither does Levinson’s use of “crisis” language strike me as overwrought.

If Trump loses in 2020 but refuses to leave office (declare an emergency, dispute the results and refuse to accept any ruling other than that he was robbed, or what if the dispute went to the Supreme Court and the justices said he could stay by a 5-4 party-line vote?) it would all seem to qualify as “crisis” or worse, at least to me.

The alarming sounding “rot,” as Balkin uses the term, is something the system’s antibodies might cure. A president who respects the constitutional system might take over or be forced by Congress to abide by the creaky old system and, sadder but wiser, the American system would go forward and the Constitution worshipers would likely take it as evidence that the magic of the document is self-perpetuating.

Dangers of changes in media and information systems

By mid-2017, Balkin’s letters moved on to analyzing the danger to our democracy of the changes in our media and information systems, hitting Fox News and the internet culture as elements of a “domestic propaganda machine” that have thrown their support behind Trump. He wrote:

Propaganda attempts to put everything in dispute so that nothing can be established as true, and everything becomes a matter of personal opinion or partisan belief. If everything is a matter of opinion, anything a political opponent says can be disregarded, and factual claims contrary to one’s own beliefs can also be disregarded…[leading to a situation in which inconvenient facts can be disregarded and Americans] “can simply make political decisions based on identity or affiliation with their political allies. …

In October of 2017, Levinson noted that when the framers created the presidency (no such powerful executive position existed under the Articles of Confederation) they worried about the danger of a demagogue rising to such power. So they built in a mechanism to safeguard against it.

The Electoral College

With cruel irony, Levinson notes that in the Federalist Papers (#68), Alexander Hamilton described the weird, complicated Electoral College process as designed to ensure against the rise of a demagogue to the presidency. His logic, as Levinson wrote: “the electors [would] be trustees for the public and would simply refuse to [elect] a scoundrel” for president. Hamilton wrote that: “The process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualification … filled by character pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” Levinson responds to that quote with: “One reads these words today and weeps.”

In his second-to-last letter, written in November of 2017 after one year of the Trump presidency, Balkin turns his worried eye to the danger of Trump‘s foreign policy, writing:

 In a very short space of time, Trump may manage to destroy a carefully constructed legal, political and economic order, built up through many decades of sacrifice and hard work, that not only services American interests, but also promotes international law and the use of diplomacy over resort to violence, and has managed to secure peace over most of Europe for generations. …

Trump took power at a crucial moment in world history. … China would like to displace us as the world’s preeminent power; Russia would like to knock us down a peg so that it can rise in comparative status. … Our most steadfast allies, Europe and Japan, wonder whether they can or should continue to rely on American leadership. … But at this crucial moment, Donald Trump, even if he never stumbles into war, has the power to destroy all that Americans have worked for in the last 70 years, to undermine American’s place in the world, and to generate a setback for world peace and prosperity from which we may never recover. If any one person has the power to bring an end to America’s leadership and destroy America’s power to do good in the world, it is not Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin – it is Donald Trump.

The last exchange occurred in January of 2018, which means, of course, the two scholars hadn’t yet seen the political course correction (which Balkin sort of predicted above) represented by Democrats taking over the House, thus reducing Trump’s ability to impose his will.

Levinson circled to the shortcomings of the Constitution as the root of the problem, and to beg the country to face up to them and fix them, now that Trump has demonstrated just how much trouble they can cause. He wrote: “’We the people’ seem to be like parents giving their six-year-old a book of easily lit matches and then going out for dinner, hoping that nothing amiss happens in our absence.”

He noted that, without changing the “hard-wired Constitution,” Trump and congressional Republicans had pushed through a tax cut, which gave much of its benefit and the only permanent cuts to the already-wealthy, by a process that flaunted the norms of how a bill becomes law in the old Schoolhouse Rock video. He wrote: “No hearings were held, and such debate as in fact occurred featured the presentation of knowing lies to the American public.”

Levinson called it “a technocratic fantasy to believe that a ‘well-designed constitution’ can save a polity with a political culture that does not, for example, recognize the existence of plural views and values and the concomitant need to negotiate with adversaries and even make compromises with them for the sake of civic peace.”

In his final “Dear Sandy” letter, Balkin predicted that while a Trumpish coalition may continue to win some elections, especially in the South, “the odds that it can form a new national majority coalition seem longer every day.” 

Writing before the 2018 midterms, which ended the total Republican control of Congress, he predicted the next political “regime” (a term some scholars use to refer to the various coalitions that have dominated U.S. politics for periods of time) will “feature the Democrats as the majority party” rooted in “the natural evolution of the Obama coalition – of minorities, professionals, millennials, suburbanites and women. … I predict that Americans will tire of incompetence and venality. They will cry out for a government they can once again trust. And they will mobilize to that goal. … I do not profess to know how Trump’s presidency will end. But I believe that Trump’s greatest gift to the country is the gift of destruction – not of the country, but of the coalition he leads and the complacent oligarchy that strangles our democracy.”

Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/20/2019 - 10:36 am.

    Good to see you back, Eric!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/20/2019 - 11:17 am.

    I used to be more inclined to agree with many of these criticisms, or maybe more inclined to switch to proportional parlementary systems… that was before Brexit.

    Now I’m more inclined to worry not so much about the design of the system as the complacency of it’s participants. I don’t think the system is a democratic as it should be, but I think the only way to remedy that is for citizens to step up and exercise the control the Constitution grants them. I can think of Constitutional changes we could make, but so long as power is concentrated in the current configuration, that’s not going happen either.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/21/2019 - 10:13 am.

      As with so many of the bad things throughout American history, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

      • Submitted by Kathleen Laurila on 08/21/2019 - 12:11 pm.

        With the elimination of teaching civics (among other subjects that emphasize good citizenship), the understanding of how citizens would go about changing the system.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/21/2019 - 10:03 pm.

      ” Now I’m more inclined to worry not so much about the design of the system as the complacency of it’s participants.”

      Nicely stated Paul, I couldn’t agree more.

      There’s not all that much wrong with the design of the system IMO, it was generally fairly well conceived.

      But it cannot be held together and preserved when there is nearly ZERO interest on the part of so much of congress, the judicial branch, and the public to DEFEND it!

      The founding fathers assumed that if the executive branch started exceeding it’s given authority, that congress and the judicial branch would step forward and check that power.

      Shamefully, that hasn’t happened in the last 3 years.

      You hear reporters say over and over again that many, many republican lawmakers have a low opinion of Trump, think he’s unstable and that he is often out of line – but they make it clear that those comments of theirs are “off the record”.

      Zero courage or integrity, they are just “going along” with whatever comes down the pike, keeping their heads down and getting by.

      So they remain silent, give in to whatever the president wants no matter how absurd, or worse with some they cheer-lead every thing he says and does in some cases.

      They’ve essentially totally surrendered the 1/3rd of the power that is supposed to exist with the congress, because they are so terrified of making Trump mad at them, which might hurt them in their next primary.

      It’s not like these guys are being asked to charge into a hail of bullets, as was the case with hundreds of thousands of troops in two world wars.

      No, they’re being asked to risk making a reality TV host mad at them, and to take the chance that this possibly might result in them losing their next primary election.

      Some of them are in their 70’s and 80’s, isn’t it time to bow-out anyway, and couldn’t they go out with some dignity and honor by standing up for our constitution, which by the way, they pledged to do?

      But nope, all field mice – I like my life here in Washington, why not warm this seat forever and die in office seems to be the theme

      The judicial branch has been largely taken over by the executive branch as well with toad Barr, and the supreme court has also taken a pro-Trump tilt.

      So the executive branch has largely gained control of the other two branches – now I WOULD call that a constitutional crisis.

      And meanwhile, with the general public, IMO most are so busy scurrying around with their own private concerns, that they literally could care less that their democracy is being stolen from them – as long as me and my family are doing okay right now, “who cares” seems to be the general theme for many.

      So I’d say it’s not that the constitution is “rotting”, it’s that far too much of the “leadership” of this country, and far to many of the citizens are pretty well “rotted” in that they are either seeking to personally benefit or at least not be hurt personally from the current state of affairs in Washington, or more commonly with the general public they could just care less as things to go hell in a hand-basket.

      And when you have a country, that is that selfish, self-serving, and apathetic, no worthwhile system of ANY kind is going to hold together very well!

      Ben Franklin, wise and world soul that he was, was asked by a woman in the street after a session of the congress drafting the constitution what form of government they were creating. He is said to have replied “A republic madam, if you can keep it”.

      That’s key thing here in 2019, “can you keep it”.

      He knew it would have to be fought for and defended.

      I am hopeful we can have a big change in 2020, and the republican party will pay for it’s unpatriotic, fawning subservience at the polls, and some of this ‘rot’, can be reversed!

      But let’s not blame the constitution for that rot – it’s just a framework, it requires decent people of conscience and integrity to defend the principles set forth in that framework, and that has been sadly lacking for nearly 3 years now.

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/22/2019 - 09:12 am.

        I think the Republicans abdication of power to Trump will be shown in the next election that the death of the Republican Party well is underway. As you say, the filling a chair for the rest of their life without consequences is killing their party. What’s left of the moderate Republicans have had their fill of Trump and their cowardly congressional colleagues. Leaving the party will kill off any sensibility the party may had left.

  3. Submitted by Misty Martin on 08/20/2019 - 11:53 am.

    Yes, welcome back, Eric! And yes, I agree, there is PLENTY to WORRY about, ever since Donald Trump became President. Plenty.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/20/2019 - 12:04 pm.

    As you point out, the real constitutional crisis would come when Trump loses in 2020 (likely) and refuses to accept the results of the election (less likely, since Trump’s woofs are seldom backed up by bites) and is backed by his base of 1/3 of the electorate.
    This could be another civil war, although not likely a hot one.
    It would be a breakdown of our social compact.

  5. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/20/2019 - 12:18 pm.

    Liberals are concentrated in a few states, so Liberals want a revised Constitution to eliminate the influence of States they do not control.

    Liberals don’t like what some people say, so Liberals want a revised Constitution that includes some restrictions on free speech.

    Too many people Liberals don’t like have the means of self defense, so Liberals want the Constitution amended to disarm them.

    The Supreme Court isn’t controlled by Liberals any longer, so Liberals want to add more Justices.

    Liberal Mayors and Governors don’t like border and immigration enforcement, so until those functions are changed to their liking, they will simply not comply with the law.

    Wow. Considering that about 1/2 of the country is Liberal, one might conclude this situation constitutes a Constitutional crises, but have no fear. None of these things are going to happen. The Constitution is secure as long as the other 1/2 of the country is here to defend it.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/21/2019 - 02:19 pm.

      Getting information from a person with zero credibility is worthless. Trump is not to be believed.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/21/2019 - 11:03 pm.

      ” Liberals don’t like what some people say, so Liberals want a revised Constitution that includes some restrictions on free speech. ”

      What?? Tell us what changes ‘liberals’ want made to the constitution to place “restrictions on free speech”.

      I don’t know what you’re referring to.

      Isn’t it Trump who has been trying since day one in office to take away freedom of the press by calling the media over-and-over-and-over again “the enemy of the people”? (which sounds like something the premier of the old Soviet union would say by the way).

      Hasn’t he banned some reporters, and talked about how certain media outlets and certain networks or TV shows should be banned or shut-down?

      I am an independent and neither a democrat or a republican, but I honestly are seeing President Trump as the one attempting to “place restrictions” on free speech, not ‘liberals’, and the republican party going along with that, as they’ve been going along with pretty much everything he says and does.

      As far as gun control goes, do you really believe that a person needs an assault weapon to “defend themselves”?

      Are you anticipating full-scale warfare in our streets, and imagining that the equivalent of machine guns are needed to ward-off the dozens of bad guys trying to break into your house all at the same time, and that a shotgun, handgun, or more conventional rifle isn’t good enough to defend yourself?

      ‘Liberals’ have NEVER suggested taking away all guns, so let’s not play that old bogus tune.

      If things ever get that bad that everyone needs an assault weapon, we’re all pretty much living in a horror story anyway aren’t we?, and you might also very well be killed by ‘friendly fire’ from your neighbor who maybe is also fending off hordes of bad guys by shooting a machine gun with rounds that go right thru drywall and into your home.

      I think it makes more sense to try to prevent that kind of breakdown in society than to engage in a fantasy that all will be just fine if we are all just armed like Rambo.

      If there’s really that many bad guys around, they’ll plug the tires in your car while you’re leaving the garage to make a grocery run and take you down while you are in your car and are a sitting duck

      All those bad guys probably already looted all the grocery stores anyway, so you probably should have stayed home and starved I guess.

      I don’t see a happy ending if things get that bad – again, I think it’s better to work on trying to prevent that kind of world from coming into being.

      I own a gun myself, but I don’t see that I need to have the equivalent of a machine gun to defend myself against one or two burglars.

      And I’d be horrified if I shot my own wife during a burglary or other incident, or if I killed or maimed neighbors who have homes about 10 feet on each side of our home, by sending dozens of rapid-fire rounds right thru drywall and hitting unintended targets.

      It’s not like most of us live in houses made of thick stone these days that an assault rifle round wouldn’t penetrate – today’s wood-and-drywall homes are not much of barrier to high power ammunition and are very subject to ‘over-penetration’.

      So let’s not pretend we’re just helpless and “unable to defend ourselves” when no on is suggesting taking away conventional hand guns and rifles, or that owning an assault weapon is going to mean that a person is going to ride out a complete breakdown of society such that hordes of bad guys are wandering the streets and storming our homes.

      Again, if firefights with rapid-fire assault weapons are taking place in your neighborhood, there’s a good chance you’re going to be shot anyway by all the stray rounds going every which-way from the weapons of both good guys and bad guys – don’t imagine that you’re going to be safe in that kind of society breakdown just because you own the equivalent of a machine gun.

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/22/2019 - 09:18 am.

        Your comments are right Henry.

        The Second Amendment says we can have guns, but it doesn’t say what kind of guns we can have. Why can’t they just set a “Weapons of War” category of guns, put the high capacity guns in there and make them off limits to the public. The public can still have guns, just not the guns designed for high capacity killing.

        • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/22/2019 - 11:19 pm.

          Thanks Tom.

          Yes, I agree, I really believe the founding fathers were pretty grounded, common sense type of men, and I think if they were transported to 2019, they would be the first to say that yes, it’s absurd to to allow these mass shootings over and over and over again because of some provision they put into place in 1791 to try to allow people to have muskets for their local militia.

          Those muskets took almost a minute to load a round and prep for firing, and I think George Washington, Franklin and the others would point out just as we are, the lack of common sense in saying that the 2nd amendment should be used to allow mass murder after mass murder by defending the right to own a gun that can kill 40 or more people in that same minute.

          I don’t honestly see any change to have limits based on lethality in my life time, but in an ideal world, that would be a good change that I really believe the men who wrote that amendment would give their blessing and support to.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 08/24/2019 - 01:06 pm.

      Ever notice how much time conservatives spend telling us what liberals think? This seems a staple of conservative argument: You have to begin your argument by mischaracterizing your opponent’s position so that you have a straw man to fight against.

      If your argument is strong, you don’t have to be afraid to lead with your own ideas.

  6. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/20/2019 - 12:42 pm.

    Crisis? Or merely rot? Those are some uninspiring choices.

    I think “rot” describes our current condition better, although the rot is so deep that the distinction between the two is very likely moot. The hyperpartisanship that defines our debate is not built into the Constitution. It has a more recent origin, going back only 30 to 40 years. Leaving aside the “toxic” influences of the media, or certain corners of the media (the media in the US, as far as I can tell, has always been “toxic”), is a symptom, not a cause. It’s far too simplistic to blame media bias, because there is little that can be done about it. The biased media is a creature of consumer choice in news outlets: everyone has a certain amount of confirmation bias, no matter what they might want to tell you.

    I put the rot down to two, closely related, things. One is the nationalization of politics. This nationalization may be the inevitable result of a stronger central government, itself the inevitable result of technological progress and political change. Whatever caused it, or continues to push it forward, seeing all elections through the lens of national politics makes it far too convenient to reject anything other than a straight party line. Why would I vote for the Republican candidate for Congress in my district when she’s just going to be a rubber stamp for everything the national GOP says? Why would I even listen to her? I already know I’m going to disagree with her, and I already know she is going to march in lockstep with the Republican leadership. An independent voice? As if.

    The second cause of the rot is the increasing apathy and disinterest with which Americans view their government at all levels. It’s a point of pride for many that they take on interest in politics, or even that they never vote. Needless to say, this makes the whole ideal of self-government elusive, at best. The fact that so many citizens are unwilling to engage politically except in extreme circumstances minimizes the incentive to come up with real solutions to problems, or to solutions to problems before they become crises. For example, the immigration system has been broken for years. The voices for changing the system were long limited to a few interest groups, or to extremists pushing their own agendas. Now, a demagoguing President has decided to make an issue out of it, and the loudest voices are drowning out all the others because “it’s an emergency! It’s an invasion!”

    The problems seem to be deeply-rooted cultural ones. Cultural change, however, comes slowly, and only after strong resistance. Voting Trump out of office will help, but it won’t be the end of the rot.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 08/22/2019 - 06:54 pm.

      ” The second cause of the rot is the increasing apathy and disinterest with which Americans view their government at all levels. It’s a point of pride for many that they take on interest in politics, or even that they never vote.”

      I agree completely RB and said much the same as expressed in your first sentence above.

      However, you’ve hit on something disturbing and something I think that is very true and that I missed with your second sentence above.

      As the second sentence says, it’s not just that many are nearly totally apathetic and so uninvolved that they don’t even bother to vote, but as you say it’s actually ” a point of pride ” that they are totally apathetic!

      Yes, I sense many are actually PROUD of being apathetic and paying no attention to what’s going on politically, and not caring and not voting, or voting but doing so as an afterthought and no real research.

      Some I believe actually think it makes them cool or hip or whatever to be apathetic and uninvolved – too cool to care.

      I have a good friend who is actually pretty much that way.

      He voted for Trump, but admits he doesn’t really follow the news, and when I tell him about Trump’s latest antics or glaring flaws, he’ll say things like “oh, they’re all corrupt in Washington!, Obama was just as bad!”.

      I say, no man, you don’t understand, this guy is on a WHOLE different plane of corruption, and arrogance and incompetence than any politician you’ve ever heard of, and he will reply with “I think you just believe that because the liberal media is finding more fault with him than they did with Obama”.

      Right, because Obama was telling 8 or 10 often outragous lies or distortions every day, and bashing all our allies while cozying up to Russia!

      He doesn’t get upset when I point out Trump’s flaws, he’s not one of his core diehard supporters at all, but he’s too apathetic to actually take the time to follow something other than Fox news, which he probably follows sporadically, to research to see for himself if maybe this guy really is at a whole different level of trouble for the country as I’ve futilely tried to tell him many times.

      He just doesn’t care, and most importantly I think – he doesn’t see any responsibility as a citizen to follow what’s going on or to try to not vote in 2020 for someone as off-the-rails as Trump.

      I love the guy, but he does sadly I’m afraid represent this apathetic ‘rot’ that we’re talking about.

      When you have a large percent of the entire electorate who doesn’t really care about anything beyond their own personal concerns, and has basically zero interest in the issues of our day, that creates the perfect environment for the degrading and destruction of our democratic system.

      And if and when that happens to an extent that even they can’t ignore what’s occurred and that it’s no longer ignorable, those same people will be OUTRAGED, and say “How could this have happened? This is supposed to be America!!”.

      I guess this is because we have gotten so used to all the good things the constitution and bill of rights have given us as Americans, that we tend to take it as a given that they will be there permanently for us and our children – and with NO effort on our part!

      Unfortunately, the idea that those gifts that those documents give us have to be safeguarded and defended just isn’t there in the minds of a large part of the population.

      And worse, as I think you’ve correctly observed, many probably actually take pride in not making any effort whatsoever to help defend those gifts, even to the extent of following what’s going on, so as to have a more informed vote in the next election!

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/20/2019 - 01:40 pm.

    I’m actually surprised that neither of these guys seems to comment on the political landscape itself. They are consumed by Trump, but fail to recognize the fact that there was no antidote to trump on the ballot, or anywhere on the American political landscape. The complete absence, and mutual hostility of the “bipartisan” system towards liberalism ensured that the nation could only move in one direction, it’s uni-polar system pretending to be a bi-polar system. You can’t actually analyze our political system without recognizing that basic reality.

  8. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/20/2019 - 02:15 pm.

    Fascinating, to see two scholars discuss how their deeply-loved U.S Constitution may, or may not, save our democracy in the face of Donald Trump, our first dictator-in-waiting.

    But, they wrote a long almost-two-to-four-years ago, and now, in late 2019, we Americans are looking at a president who has, indeed, determined that neither he nor anyone associated with his administration will obey the law (Trump has declared war on any Congressional oversight). We are now looking at a Constitutional system that is protected only by federal courts.

    We have law suits all over the place, where organizations and agencies are trying desperately to control Trump’s one-man-rule government.

    But, those federal courts are now increasingly full of right-wing judges, some of whom apparently have pledged allegiance to Trump. We have yet to see the effect of “Moscow Mitch” McConnell’s campaign to permit the Senate to do nothing but appoint Trump judges to the entire federal system. When those judges begin to implement the cynical Republican plan, our Constitutional will collapse and we will not have anything like the rule of law.

    We will have a dictatorship in full bloom.Look at what’s happened to other liberal democracies around the world; they have sham elections and effective dictatorships. It took less than a generation to do that, We’re next, maybe.

  9. Submitted by Judy LaBoda on 08/20/2019 - 02:26 pm.

    Interesting. The only thing they did not address was the stranglehold that Moscow Mitch has had and continues to have on our country and our government.

  10. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/20/2019 - 02:27 pm.

    The amusing irony here is that the “progressives,” who view the Constitution as insufficiently democratic, complain that it’s too hard to change the laws when the House and Senate are controlled by different parties who were elected by the people and lament that a duly elected president can’t simply be thrown out of office by the swells of a parliamentary system because we happen to have a Jacksonian president whose shirt isn’t sufficiently stuffed.

    And their reasoning for why he won is because the people had more sources of information to choose from, not fewer.

    To me, the irony has always been that the people who chose to name their political party after democracy seem to believe in the idea the least and that they who have denied the genius of the Constitution now turn to its inherent wisdom as relief that their worst fears won’t come to pass. Hilarious.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/21/2019 - 09:26 am.

      The Republican Party used to disavow someone as not being a conservative if they got out of line from the party dogma. You don’t hear that anymore because the Republican Party has turned into a “Junk Party” where anything goes. Blatant racism is okay, debt and deficits are okay, repeal and replace without an alternative is okay, polluted air and water are okay, only serving the top 1% is okay, Tax cuts sold to help the middle class, but didn’t, are okay, and the Senate has been turned into a one man vote. It all boils down to a party without any principles, compassion, ethics, morality, or commitment to the country.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/21/2019 - 10:12 am.

      “[W]e happen to have a Jacksonian president . . .”

      You say that like you think it’s a good thing. Remember that Andrew Jackson was more than your garden variety 19th century racist. He spearheaded attempts at Native American genocide (the Cherokee called him “Sharp Knife”). Conservatives may prefer to disapprove of his memory for his expansion of federal power.

      “. . . whose shirt isn’t sufficiently stuffed.”

      Call me old fashioned, but I believe the President of the United States should comport himself with some dignity, not like an overgrown frat brat. Throwing a temper tantrum because Denmark doesn’t want to sell Greenland is something even Andrew Jackson would consider beneath him.

    • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 08/26/2019 - 10:14 pm.

      Dennis,
      You ignore the fact that the Norms of Civility, Norms of Honesty, US Laws and the US Constitution were the basis of political stability and the continuation of the republic. Now you obviously, very obviously have a President who thinks he is a king, who has not even read much less studied the Constitution, and suddenly has advisors trying to find new and illogical meanings in laws that clearly are not there to give a fig leaf to his lack of self control and respect for the Constitution.

      Thinking that the concern is merely that a different group is in power ignores the tremendous, unprecedented outcry for principled conservatives. One only needs to use their words to make any point in this argument.

  11. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 08/20/2019 - 03:12 pm.

    Very erudite Mr. Black…..Thank you.

  12. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/20/2019 - 05:00 pm.

    Regarding a parliamentary system, be careful what you wish for. Israel’s parliamentary system gives outsized influence to small, essentially fringe parties that are needed to form a coalition.

    • Submitted by Dave Paulson on 08/26/2019 - 10:07 pm.

      Harris,
      Do you not think that the GOP is now giving outsized influence to a small number of fringe thinkers?!?

  13. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/20/2019 - 06:46 pm.

    It has been a long trend where a certain political party recognized that their side of the bread was not going to be buttered the longer a functioning democracy functioned.

    It is better to have power than democracy in that world. Haven’t you heard the shifting support for democracy in a certain party ad the admiration for autocrats??

    When the next election happens–do you have confidence in the peaceful transition? What about when one person says that they have the right to an extra couple of years, and that outfits like Google conspired against a fair vote by having too much reality based news on the President, as opposed to Breitbart and other such sources and their votes were stolen?

    What do you think will happens in a sputtering economy with a loss by the current President. He already made the half-threat of “it would be a shame if something happened to your 401K, so you have to vote for me–like me or not”.

    November 2020 to January 2021, what could be done to show the mistake made when he was voted out?

  14. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/20/2019 - 09:43 pm.

    You know , I hope this quote is correct: “But I believe that Trump’s greatest gift to the country is the gift of destruction – not of the country, but of the coalition he leads and the complacent oligarchy that strangles our democracy.””
    Because this is not the America that I think the forefathers/framers had intended!

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 08/21/2019 - 07:17 am.

    My own view is that the country has been in decline for some time. Constitution-wise I would characterize this as “rot”. But rot can lead to crisis, and I think we are not that far away.

    What I think will precipitate a crisis is the defiance of a lawful court order by the federal government. It’s quite possible that the defiance will come over a relatively trivial matter. Trump came close to it over the census question issue. I believe he was dissuaded when advisers reminded him that Republicans have finally achieved their decades long goal of controlling federal courts. Had Trump rejected the Supreme Court’s order on the census question, that would have meant the end of judicial authority over the executive branch, and a de facto abandonment of constitutional law as established by Marbury v. Madison. Trump pulled back from that brink but I have no confidence at all that he won’t revisit it. And the fact is, even if Trump doesn’t bring the system of judicial review down, I fully expect the next Democratic president to do it, probably over issues of much more importance than the census.

  16. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/21/2019 - 07:46 am.

    I will agree with the last sentence. All things being equal (and they are not) I believe the electorate picks the nice guy over the prick. Even I thought early in 2016 as Trump was turning Cruz and Rubio into stammering fools: “maybe big time change works, maybe it blows up the world”.

    We can’t afford to risk Trump term 2 with promises of open borders, the elimination of all current healthcare solutions, etc…

    And I support most of those things. Many voters don’t and we do not need to give them reasons to vote for Trump. Pick the D candidate who can win the most votes, build some coattails that can win back the Senate. Govern like adults for 4 years and then start the revolution.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/21/2019 - 09:38 am.

    I think we’re the frog in the slowly boiling water, but I’m not sure the Constitution is the pot.

    I’ve always rejected the “partisan” divide narrative, in fact twas bipartisanship that created this crises. At a time when (conservative) Chief Justice Warren Burger essentially labeled Scalia an intellectual fraud something like 99 or 98 Senators voted to put him on the bench. THAT was a sin of bipartisanship, and it was more or less the beginning of the rot that has lead to this crises.

    When the Democratic Leadership Council decided that liberalism was obsolete and refused to even recognize let alone oppose the threat of reactionary and dictatorial politics, they doomed us to a Trump presidency. The idea that Reagan and Pawlenty were “nice guys”, and Gingrich was just another politician was a catastrophic failure of recognition.

    I don’t think we can blame the Constitution for this because no Constitution can actually compel honesty and integrity. Democracy HAS to assume that participants will act with a certain degree of honesty, or at least demand a requisite level of integrity. Whether any democracy stands or falls will depend on that assumption, no matter what kind of constitution you have.

    The problem is we end up with a elitist two party system that is largely based on fraud. Both parties serve the elite, and bipartisanship is little more than a tacit agreement to trade places and share power on behalf of the elite.

    In point of fact this is actually what the framers had in mind over 200 years ago. They actually thought it made sense to let the elite run the country, this is why they restricted voting rights to the elite of the era. Fortunately they left us with a constitution that has been amended to correct the mistaken assumption that the elite always knows best.

    Republicans celebrate their elitism, but Democrats lie about it and try to deny it. No document can make Democrats be honest about who they represent. When Democrats abandoned liberalism and made Paul Wellstone a minority in his own party, they lied about it, and they’re still lying. Every election season elitists/”centrist” Democrats hit the campaign trail as staunch liberals and defenders of labor rights, women’s rights, civil rights, etc. etc. Then when they get elected they return to station on behalf of the elite. The very people who classify FDR liberalism as socialist leftism will tell you they’re proven “progressives”.

    Elitist political systems always collapse under the weight of inequity. The idea of liberal democracies like ours was to expand the political franchise beyond the elite, to the extent that this mission fails we find ourselves in crises. It’s not a matter of design, it’s a matter of participation and integrity. In the past, we survived crises by expanding the franchise and empowering more people. Elitism seeks to restrict these impulses in a variety of ways overtly and covertly. Note for instance the current universal “agreement” that the demand for inclusion and representation is a dangerous expression of “populism”. Who does the idea that politicians and governments should be actually be “popular” threaten if not the elite?

    One reason elitism always collapses societies is that elitists are exclusionary, they constantly seek to exclude others and concentrate their own wealth and power. That’s the illusion and the fatal flaw of neoliberalism and bipartisanship. Eventually the impulse for exclusion and acquisition overwhelms the utility of cooperation and the elite start fighting over increasingly shrinking pieces of the “pie”. This is Trumpism in a nutshell. That’s what trade wars, and buying Greenland, and yada yada are really all about. Elitist don’t share wealth and power, but they promise to if you’ll vote for them.

    This crises has emerged world wide, regardless of constitutions. In many this debate about the Constitution is transparently esoteric, and not necessarily relevant.

    The electoral college wasn’t the problem in 2016, the fact that both candidates on the ballot were historically unpopular candidates that millions of American’s didn’t want to vote for was the problem. That kind of ballot can only be produced by elite political systems for whom popularity is irrelevant. Elitist Democrats like Biden think all will be well if Democrats simply trade places with Republicans in the next election, but even if that happens, the rot will march on until some semblance of actual real democracy emerges. Elitism has NEVER resisted fascism, it simply seeks to profit from it.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/25/2019 - 03:29 pm.

      I’m afraid you’re right. I’ve watched in dismay since 1980, when first Jimmy Carter was disrespected and undermined by his own party because he didn’t kiss the right posteriors, followed by the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council, which declared that Carter lost because he was “too liberal,” whatever that means, and then went along with nearly everything Reagan proposed.

      In 1984 and 1988, terribly run campaigns by Mondale and Dukakis, already lackluster candidates, “proved” that the public would always reject liberals. (The defeat of McGovern in 1972 was older Americans rebelling against the social changes of the 1960s–I doubt that any of them could have told you what McGovern’s political positions were–and demonstrating their nostalgia for the 1950s by voting for Nixon.)

      I’ve been on political discussion boards since 2000, and “centrist” Democrats always natter on about “bipartisanship,” which in fact means letting the Republicans set the agenda and then maybe tweaking some of the harsher aspects.

      If I had one bit of advice for the Democrats in 2020, it’s “Don’t play it safe.”

      The Republican establishment fully expected that 2016 would be Jeb Bush or someone similar versus Hillary. But when Trump began drawing enthusiastic crowds during the primary season, they went with him instead of paying attention to “whose turn it was.”

      Mondale, Gore, Kerry, Hillary Clinton. The Democrats have a sorry record of nominating people “whose turn it is,” and I fear that they will try running with Joe Biden, another bland centrist with no strong personal following but lots of support from Big Money.

      I’ve heard that Big Money doesn’t want Sanders or Warren, but look at who is drawing the crowds, and for very good reasons. Both candidates talk in concrete terms about real issues facing Middle America, something Democratic Establishment types have forgotten how to do.

  18. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/21/2019 - 09:44 am.

    it’s not an ‘either/or’ question.
    The rot has been going on for a long time (since Nixon and the sixties); a crisis isa a momentary thing which Trump is working up to.

    • Submitted by Laura Summers on 08/22/2019 - 03:52 am.

      I agree with this historical conceptualization. More attention needs to be paid to where ‘the money’ surrounding our election cycles comes from, and where it is going. Nixon’s CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President) was probably the first campaign organization to operate wholly separately from the RNC. It came into existence partly to facilitate more aggressive, hidden and unlawful funding. These days we also have PACs of several kinds, funding election campaigns that are more costly than ever. National party organizations have struggled to fulfil their constitutional roles in setting policy agendas and promoting coherent legislation through Congress. If reforms are a solution, or at least a help in treating the dry rot, we need to award priority to overturning Citizens United and to restricting the length of election campaigns as is the norm in many European democracies. Of course, such reforms much be supported or reinforced by more adequate amounts of public funding for federal campaigns in particular.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/22/2019 - 08:36 am.

      Not to nitpick but “crises” are not momentary events, they can last for decades or longer. Climate change, homelessness, wealth disparity, pollution, sexism, racism, etc. All crises.

      There are always those who live in relative comfort and privilege who are insulated from crises, these are typically the ones who tell us we don’t need any big or dramatic change… we can live with mass shootings, economic refugee camps in LA, poverty, millions without health insurance, etc. etc. We need do no more than a bare minimum to address crises, because they’re not very uncomfortable with the status quo. Typically those that can live with crises are the one who don’t ACTUALLY live with the crises, this is why they don’t see any need for dramatic action of any kind. When these people control the political system, collapse is eminent.

      We have a Fascists POTUS in the White Houses. It’s not the first time we’ve had Fascist in the White House, Oliver North was an SS officer in a US Marine uniform, but Trump is the first honest to god Fascist POTUS. If you think all we have to do is win the next election and everything will go back to “normal” YOU are part of the problem.

      • Submitted by Laura Summers on 08/23/2019 - 01:47 pm.

        Paul U: it’s not clear if this is intended to be a direct response to what I wrote or to Paul Brandon’s initial remark or to both of us, but in any case, I was thinking of crises of a specifically political kind, those that erupt from time to time within the existing Constitutional and unwritten constitutional order. Eric and the two authors under review similarly refer to crises within our existing political “regime” or the established political procedures and norms surrounding our system of government. I’ve been uneasy about the declining role of parties and the rising role of (1) money, (2) individual candidate campaign organizations managed by consultants and pollsters and (3) the mass media for a long time. These decades long developments are associated with lower than desirable voter turnouts and increasing cynicism about civic or political activity. This decaying or rotting landscape provides a possible springboard to a second Trump election victory next year, as the article under discussion warns. But if, on the other hand, Trump loses the 2020 election and refuses to vacate the White House, that would be a real crisis, a possibly terminal jolt to our liberal democratic system of elections. As long as Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg can preserve the judicial independence and corporate professional solidarity of the Supreme Court, the most serious criminal threats to our federal system of check and balances will likely be moderated or averted. The paralyzing, polarizing rot infecting Congress, and the truly reckless impulses of the POTUS and his cabinet are more alarming. I agree that the US way of life and everyday well being is under threat and from other directions, as well, and that the least privileged or affluent among us will suffer disproportionately if political dysfunction worsens or if a crisis of succession should emerge in 2020. . .

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/24/2019 - 10:53 am.

          Ms. Summers, If Trump refuses to leave the White House that would be a new crises, but it would be no more of a crises than those that are inflicting death and suffering on millions of Americans for decades.

          I’m not sure the Trump scenario would actually be a serious crises, it may just a crises that the heretofore untouched feel touched by. If push came to shove trump could easily be physically removed, it’s not like he’d be a popular president that millions of Americans would rally behind. More than likely he’ll lose in a landslide. I don’t see Trumps Secret Service detail and the 82nd Airborne fighting a pitch battle on the White House lawn in any event. I suspect there would be members of the WH detail would happily follow the orders of their new commander and chief and march Trump out.

          Physically removing Trump would more of an embarrassing national spectacle than a serious crises. I just hope if it comes to that Trump will be arrested, marched out of the White House in Handcuffs, and put on trial for treason without possibility of pardon.

          To the extent that we have a Constitutional crises it’s not about Trump being president, one guy does not bring a Constitution down. We’ve been in crises since SCOTUS selected our president in 2001. From that point on “Newt-onian” dogma became official Republican policy. When one of two major political parties decides that no election they lose is legitimate, your Constitution is in jeopardy. Despite the crises, affluent, elite, privileged Americans have simply been living in denial pretending everything is fine until Trump became president.

          Listen: Bush-Cheney drove us into the biggest recession is 80 years, AND committed multiple war crimes while killing a million Iraqi’s and destabilizing the entire Middle East. Despite Trumps spectacular failings he has yet to match THAT performance. With any luck Trump is the beginning of the end of the crises, but he is no way the beginning of the crises.

  19. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 08/21/2019 - 03:30 pm.

    Not sure if it’s rot or crises, but for certain part of it is a very dark comedy. If only Madison and Hamilton could have foreseen that the guy in charge would want to buy Greenland and then act like a petulant child and cancel a meeting with a longtime ally because the Danes didn’t take him seriously. That would be one of the light scenes. You know, a respite from the scenes featuring cruelty, greed, deceit, racism, narcissism, etc.

  20. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 08/24/2019 - 10:50 am.

    Insofar as whether it’s a Constitutional crisis or rot, I’d have to say it’s rot. In a true “crisis,” the problem – and its correction – are almost immediately and clearly visible. In the case of rot, there are many possible problems, not all of which are clearly visible, and each problem may require a separate type or means of correction.

  21. Submitted by Phyllis Kahn on 08/25/2019 - 11:25 am.

    Great and thoughtful article but it leaves out a point I have been trying to make for years. We should lower the voting age to 16 and restore meaningful civics education in our schools. We have noticed the increased political discussion from students after school shootings. Lets give them more meaningful political input now. MN can do this for our state without federal approval.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/27/2019 - 11:56 am.

    Actually in many ways this entire conversation brings me back to my old Existentialist days. Some of the Existentialists who advocated living deliberately, and being inherently responsible citizens, religious people, and moral agents, pointed the paradox and fatal flaw of “systemic” thinking.

    For us, no system can be designed to compel or insure morality, civic responsibility. All systems inherently attempt to relieve those depending on them of their basic responsibilities, and the more people rely/depend on the system the less they focus on their own competence and responsibilities to live deliberate, authentic, and moral lives.

    Now I’m not talking about food stamps or safety nets, I’m talking about core realities. To some Existentialists this “debate” about the Constitution ends up being facile because it assumes the “system” creates society and shapes our humanity, when in fact at best it can never be more than a framework that we succeed or fail within.

    In this view the question cannot be about whether or not to tinker with rules governing impeachment or electoral colleges. The core question about democracy isn’t whether or not it’s been “designed” properly but whether or not those living with it are responsible human beings and voters. No matter what kind of constitution you have, if voters fail to vote intelligently, humanely, and even in their own best interests, society is in peril. You can’t “fix” that or determine it with a “better” constitution.

    So here we sit, on the edge of the Abyss, waiting to find out whether or not we can be responsible and moral enough to manifest a more perfect union or plunge ourselves into chaos.

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