In a web-only In These Times article published 11-27-19, Chris Edelson says that Republican intransigence against impeaching Donald Trump constitutes a “constitutional crisis,” one we can only resolve by reforming or replacing our current constitution. His evidence: even though recent House Intelligence Committee hearings clearly showed that Trump had tried to extort a foreign country into sabotaging the upcoming US presidential election to his benefit, few (if any) Republicans in Congress will vote to impeach or remove him – “a corrupt president who rejects the very idea of legal limits on his power from office.
Our constitutional democracy is based on free and fair elections, individual rights, independent courts, and the rule of law – the idea that no one is above the law. Trump rejects all of these bedrock principles. He’s tried to undermine free and fair elections (most recently demonstrated in the Ukraine scandal); he threatens his critics with prosecution and lawsuits, disdaining the notion of First Amendment speech and press protections; he seeks to delegitimize judges who rule against his policies; and he rejects the idea that ordinary rules and laws apply to him and his allies, declaring (erroneously) that under Article II of the Constitution, ‘I have the right to do whatever I want as president.’
Trump thus poses an existential threat to our system of government. In a functioning system, Republicans would have already joined Democrats in taking action to remove Trump from office, just as they stood against Nixon in 1974.” In our failed system, however, Trump is likely to be able to run for a second term in 2020, and, given how many Americans still believe in his unfulfilled promises and take his lies as “facts,” he may continue on his disruptive and dictatorial merry way for four more years.
“The system is failing,” Edelson believes, “because Republicans are placing partisan concerns – their loyalty to Trump or fear of the political costs of defying him – ahead of their constitutional responsibilities. We need a new constitution, designed to strengthen our democracy against this type of threat. (No system is guaranteed to succeed, but a failed one demands replacement.)
Today’s Republican Party is an anti-democratic, authoritarian party that seeks to gain – and has gained – power without winning a majority of votes. To this end, it pushes voter suppression measures and takes advantage of structural defects in our system. Gerrymandered districts can allow the GOP to win a minority of the votes and still control the House. The Electoral College gave Trump the presidency 2016, even though he lost the popular vote, a feat he stands a realistic chance of repeating in 2020. And he enjoys majority support in a Senate that doesn’t reflect the political preferences of the majority of Americans, but instead allows a minority in sparsely populated states to wield power.
Making the electoral system more majoritarian could force the Republican Party to abandon its anti-democratic approach if it wishes to win. There’s no guaranteed way to prevent would-be authoritarians from gaining power – a popular authoritarian, for example, could win the popular vote. But Trump’s authoritarianism isn’t popular with Americans: his approval ratings are consistently in the low 40s.
A new constitution could address some of the anti-democratic features of our current system, including:
- abolishing the Electoral College;
- reforming or replacing a Senate that gives the 435,000 voters in Wyoming as many votes as the 17,524,000 in Texas;
- eliminating partisan gerrymandering;
- protecting the right to vote against voter suppression efforts; and
- dealing with the corrupting influence of our current campaign finance system.
A new constitution could also be aimed at shoring up the rule of law, including protecting the independence of the Department of Justice and replacing the current impeachment process with something capable of holding a lawless president to account. One idea to explore would be expressly giving the DOJ independent prosecutorial authority over the president. Another would be providing a process for triggering new presidential elections – say, based on a three-fifths vote in the House and Senate.
These kinds of changes aren’t politically plausible at the moment, but they need to be on our agenda, unless we’re willing to risk another attack on the system from a future president, assuming we survive the one mounted by Trump.”
My “quibble” with these kinds of liberal, “progressive” articles is that they never present a clear, realistic solution to the problems they uncover. Our political system isn’t going to someday magically become one in which constitutional reform, which has to be approved state by state, is possible. For most Americans the Constitution is sacred writ, and the idea of changing or replacing it would be met with horror. The idea that the sainted 18th-century “founders” of our system were part of an elite just like the one that rules our country today, and that they designed our political system precisely to avoid the democratic safeguards suggested above is what first needs to be brought out. (The founders equated democracy with “mob rule,” like that soon to be seen in the French Revolution.)
Avoiding dictatorship is hard, because there are always people or groups of people who want to take on that role, as well as people anxious to avoid the adult responsibility of thinking and acting for themselves and their groups’ interests. But we need to start somewhere – or multiple somewheres. In the long run, I think we’re going to need a strong global people’s movement for real and complete economic, political, and social democracy, already started in various places, or recent and lying dormant, like the Occupy Movement. In the short run, we could work to elect Bernie Sanders, the only current candidate for president really challenging the current anti-democratic system. It isn’t going to happen by magical, wishful thinking, like the weak conclusions of articles like the one quoted above, much as I appreciate its bringing the problem into such clear focus.