In These Precarious Times, The Constitution Itself is at the Root of Many U.S. Problems

We are not even half way through 2020, and for Americans the year is beginning to look like a nightmarish end-of-days movie.  COVID-19 has taken over 100,000 lives in our country alone as the world braces for a second wave.  The resulting economic crisis has caused 40 million U.S. workers to lose their jobs and, for Millennials, this is the second “worst economic crisis since the great depression” that they’ve experienced in their early years in the workforce.  Continued police brutality pervades many major law enforcement agencies as the nation still struggles with racial inequality and injustice after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.  All while Trump’s twitter feed has replaced Nero’s proverbial fiddle.

If you take just one of these problems away, the others will still remain national struggles. Everything is symbiotic of a larger American calamity: they are attributes of a Constitutional system that is broken and needs desperate repair. Why is the United States Constitution, an aged document that, in many ways, is not fit for 20th century American law, at the root of so many issues across this vast nation? It starts with elections and what is written and unwritten within the document.

Presidential elections in the United States follow a winner-take-all model that utilizes votes allocated from the Electoral College to determine the winner, an outdated arrangement that un-democratizes the U.S. voting process.  As the November election approaches, only a few states will actually determine the outcome, thus rendering meaningless tens of millions of votes.  The millions of Republicans of California and Democrats in Texas have no reason to vote, for no matter how many voters they get to the polls, the state will inevitably go to the other party.  And since those elected officials know what constituents elect them to office, they have no reason to adopt agendas of the minorities.  The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a possible solution to this cancerous issue, but it would be better and more secure to have the election method and determination written into the Constitution. 

Following federal norms, many localities, cities, and states across the country use the same form of winner-take-all or majority-rule process for their elections, systems that are known to alienate and detach minority voters from the elections in the form of “voter dilution.”  For a nation as diverse as the United States – and the country is moving toward a minority white population – a two-party system that reduces minority influence is not in anyone’s best interest.  More representative local governments will appoint officials that embody the interests of all their citizens and ensure police forces operate under laws that actually promote protection and service to the people.

It is no wonder that the nation has record levels of partisanship, a status that has accumulated over time.  It is so high that it can be anticipated that a new era is being ushered in where presidents and legislators will assume office and immediately attempt to overturn many of the legal victories of the previous party, as Trump has done with Obama.  All the while presidential powers have increasedcongressional power has receded, and the Supreme Court and national judicial posts have become more partisan.  The back-and-forth of American laws and positions is no way to provide stability for our citizens and for the world to trust.  A more proportionally-represented system would be a good fix.

There are other problems with the Constitution, as written.  The Second Amendment, as understood by gun-rights advocates today, does not represent anything close to what the founders meant by its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.  The ability to maintain a firearm was directly connected to one’s service in a militia, in a frontier context prior to the establishment of a standing military, modernization of the National Guard and the Reserves, and the development of deadlier weapons and technology that can kill at extreme rates.  This amendment has no place in a modern society. 

Districting, a term not used in the document but an authority mandated by Article 1, Section 2, is today subject to gerrymandering as political parties who happen to be in power every ten years get to remake voting districts in the manner which benefits those parties. Lest anyone forget that in the same Constitutional section, the framers also declared that districts would be determined by the number of “free Persons…excluding Indians…” and that blacks, slaves, and all others only counted for “three fifths” of a person. Certainly if those statements no longer apply in 2020, many other parts of the Constitution can so be inapplicable and ready for change.

Many protestors today on the streets are arguing that the racist system actually isn’t broken; rather it is working as it was intended, and that is the problem. Whether the system is broken or rigged, the system itself is the barrier to adequate change in America. Much of it comes from the U.S. Constitution at the very top.

Thank You Jim Mattis. You Were Three Years Too Late.

Former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General Jim Mattis didn’t get one of his many nom de guerres – the “warrior monk” – by accident.  Known as a deep thinker and voracious leader, the general is suggested to have a personal collection of thousands of books.  Mattis is also known for his decisiveness.  In his book Call Sign Chaos, then Major General Mattis wrote that after seeing poor operational tempo from one of his Regimental Combat Team (RCT) commanders during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the general relieved him “on the spot.”  Although this action was preceded by days of observation and recollection, Mattis wasted no time when pressed for a decision. 

Now, Jim Mattis has come out and not only offered support for the racial protest movement but directly attacked Donald Trump, saying that the president “tries to divide us.”  There is no more important time than now to stand against racial injustice and be concerned about the possible use of the active military in America’s cities.  My question to General Mattis, and other former officers and respected civil servants, is: did it really take this long to come to this conclusion? 

From the day Donald Trump took office, his policies and rhetoric have served to divide this nation. Remember the debate over the size of his inauguration crowd, where his administration swore that his crowd was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration”? How about the Women’s March that occurred the day after the inauguration, where the president quickly flipped the debate to attack the media, assuming they would not cover the forthcoming “Right to Life” march with the same diligence. Later in the summer, following the neo-Nazi chaos over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Trump, spoiling an opportunity to unify the nation and take a stand against racism, instead insisted that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest. This was all within the first year.

Then there was the “Muslim travel ban” and then the horrific “family separation policy” at the border, where the administration inhumanely separated children from parents in a policy that still has thousands of families awaiting reunification. Children in cages, fear mongering about migrant “caravans,” and the abandonment of critical global responsibilities to international well-being – all early Trump administration policies. Jim Mattis, former Marine John Kelly, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster were all key members of the administration during this time. Was it not apparent then that Trump was “dividing” America and destroying the country’s moral fabric?

More personally, the president has, since the beginning, voraciously and individually attacked any public official, current or former, who seems to have any disagreement with him. The media quickly became an “enemy of the people” as opposed to a worthy contender in the open sphere of democratic political debate. His attacks include civil servants of the federal government, members of the so-called “swamp.” He also is running one of the most corrupt White House’s in recent memory, is a chronic liar, and he openly sought foreign assistance for his personal political gain. Was Trump not then “dividing” America or worthy of a chastising response?

Today, as the United States is at a historical inflection point while confronting a triple crisis the likes of which have not been seen in decades (pandemic, economy, and racial), it is important for respected leaders such as General Mattis to call out the president’s failures and offer hope and words of guidance. And, there is merit to the argument that the United States was better served having the likes of Jim Mattis in the administration to help curb Trump’s worst inclinations.

Yet, the decision by Mattis, Kelly, and others to willingly and enthusiastically serve his administration also helped to reinforce the president’s worst instincts. The fact that immoral policies and Trump’s vile character code only now caused alarm brings to question the judgment of senior military leaders, like Mattis, who served at the pleasure of the president.