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follow a winner-take-all model that utilizes votes allocated from the Electoral College to determine the winner, an outdated arrangement that un-democratizes the U.S. voting process.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 increased, congressional 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.