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It’s Time for America to Start Over

Trump’s Helsinki sellout should be the death of a political system created two centuries ago.

Crawford Kilian 18 Jul

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

After Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki on Monday — a day that will live in infamy — we can safely say the U.S. constitution had a good long run for its money. Amendments enabled it to adapt somewhat to two centuries of rapid change.

But Russian meddling and Trumpist treason have broken it beyond repair.

It wouldn’t be enough just to oust Trump, jail some of his enablers and then suppose all would be well. That would only teach the next Trump to steal the country more discreetly. The Americans need to found a Second Republic on terms that could help them last another century or two.

After all, most advanced countries have overhauled their political and economic systems repeatedly, right up to adopting a new constitution. The victorious West imposed such change on Japan, Germany and Italy; the Soviets did the same on Eastern Europe, with less success. But France’s Fifth Republic rose from the ashes of the Fourth as recently as 1958.

The classic way to overhaul a struggling democracy is a military coup. The results are rarely worthwhile, as many Latin American, African and Asian countries can attest. It’s unlikely that some American general could move the 101st Airborne into Washington to drain the swamp and cage the alligators. A coup against president Franklin Roosevelt was considered during the Depression, and failed miserably.

So a Second Republic would have to emerge legitimately from the dying First, and this might be achieved by a Final Amendment to the old constitution. The amendment, once passed by enough states, would require the federal government to call a constitutional convention of elected delegates. Each delegate might represent one million people, so about 350 delegates would be charged with designing a new constitution.

That constitution might bear a close resemblance to the present one, or it might not. For example, the present 50 states might be dissolved and replaced by 10 or 12 geographical regions with roughly equal populations. A single legislative body, with representation strictly by population, could take the place of Congress and Senate. The presidency could become a ceremonial office, or a much more powerful executive. The judicial system would certainly include a Supreme Court, but perhaps the justices would be chosen by the regional governments, not the current executive.

Rights and responsibilities

The Bill of Rights was an afterthought; the Second Republic’s constitution would incorporate and expand the equal rights of citizens and residents, as well as their responsibilities. Those responsibilities could include military or civilian service and mandatory voting in all local, regional and national elections. All regions would be required to recognize these rights and responsibilities, but would be free to add to them.

As I argued in an earlier article, politicians would be considered a professional group, required to move through a series of elective offices from local to regional to national levels. It would be impossible, for example, to be elected to a regional or national office without prior local elected experience.

Electoral commissions at all levels

The new constitution could create electoral commissions at every level, which would both run elections and fund candidates’ campaigns; private funding would be illegal. All candidates would have to pass physical and mental examinations and rigorous background checks by the local commission.

Furthermore, any candidates in the top 15 per cent of income earners would be required to put their wealth in a blind trust, to be administered by the appropriate electoral commission. Only on being defeated, or on leaving office, would their wealth be returned to them.

The constitution of the Second Republic, once voted on and approved, would be a contract open to renewal every 25 or 30 years. Constitutional conventions would be built into the contract. This would enable each new generation to ratify or modify the constitution in the light of social and technological change, and after a couple of decades of debate.

The Second Republic would be a lot of work for its citizens, but at least the work would be spread among everyone, not just a small group like free white property owners (including slaveowners). The over-venerated Founding Fathers won a very nasty revolution and then nearly lost it; the constitution they eventually agreed upon was a mass of compromises, and its framers would be astounded to see it still in force.

Part of the marketing of the original constitution has been the portrayal of the Founding Fathers as divinely inspired superhumans, rather than just another group of rich white guys protecting their privileges. Modifying their sacred text has been made a deliberately difficult task.

Americans as political rentiers

Modern American politicians certainly don’t look as bright as Hamilton or Jefferson — but Hamilton and Jefferson, in historical hindsight, don’t look all that bright anyway. Even if they were, 21st-century Americans have no right to be political rentiers, prospering on the wisdom of the 18th century. They should be able to think for themselves, decide for themselves and take the consequences.

I have no idea how long the Second American Republic would last, or how happily. But the First Republic has exhausted its possibilities: first in Barack Obama, who showed just how high it could rise, and second in Donald Trump, who is showing how far it can fall. If the Second Republic could permit the emergence of a Third, the Americans could at least get governments they deserve.

We Canadians might consider our own options for an uncertain century. Our Charter of Rights is far more recent, but we are changing just as fast as the Americans and Europeans are.

A new authoritarianism is going from strength to strength. In China, the bullet trains run on time, and Russia can run a hell of a good World Cup as well as buy a hell of a bad American president. We will have to decide for ourselves how to deal with this world — whether to sustain our personal freedom and privacy, or to follow some Trumpoid demagogue into the abyss.

If our children choose to go into that abyss, it should be their choice, not ours.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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