How I Would Fix America

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

Move Over Washington! It’s my turn!

You know, I talk a good game about how “the American experiment in federal democracy is collapsing under it’s own weight” and “we live in the beginning of the collapse of the American Empire”, but maybe it’s time for me to walk the walk. What do I know anyway? If I’m so smart, why don’t I fix it, huh? Well, I can’t Make America Even A Little Bit Functional Again, but I can talk about how I would do it. I’m going to run through what I see as the major flaws in the current American governmental structure and lay out two plans to correct them, one a minimalist reform and one a maximalist. Please note that I’ll be discussing only constitutional and governmental structures, not the policies I would wish the government to implement once established. Now, let’s begin.

America is a country screwed up in many, many ways, but I believe most of our current governmental dysfunction can be traced to Federalism Run Amuck. Everyone knows the story of our Glorious Founding Fathers and how they compromised between states rights and federal power to protect the sovereignty of the smaller states, yadda, yadda, yadda, etc, etc. All well and good. But what made sense once as the compact between a group of semi-independent states has become increasingly untenable as state population disparities grow larger and larger due to the growth of urbanization. For example: “By 2040, 70 percent of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states, which are also home to the overwhelming majority of the 30 largest cities in the country. By extension, 30 percent of Americans will live in the other 35 states. That means that the 70 percent of Americans get all of 30 Senators and 30 percent of Americans get 70 Senators.” (Source). Rural states are also especially privileged by the Electoral College and the artificially-restricted number of Representatives.

This dynamic of disenfranchised cities plays out internally as well, with states like North Carolina and Texas designing their legislative and congressional maps specifically the break the power of the urban majorities, rendering them impotent.

This divide is undemocratic, but it becomes intolerable when one realizes that these two Americas are becoming effectively incompatible. On one side you have the “Coastal Elites” (ironically including millions of working class people of color, but there you go), increasingly multiracial and globalist, the source of virtually all of the nation’s prosperity. On the other side you have “Real America”, left behind by the world but willing to use their stranglehold on the levers of power to try and preserve a bygone world. And all of this aided and abetted by a increasingly powerful plutocratic class that floods the political system with money and mobilizes the rural poor as its vanguard. This cannot last forever. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.

But how will we put it together again?

The Conservative Scenario 

This approach to fixing America assumes that we are trying to maintain as much institutional continuity as possible and to reach a compromise.

The House of Representatives: 

This needs to be doubled in size. At least. The United Kingdom, with a fraction of our population, has a House of Commons with 650 seats, so it’s certainly possible. And doubling the size of the House would go a long way towards readjusting the balance of power in Congress towards the more populous states. Arguments have also been made that smaller districts would be more democratic and harder to influence. I don’t know about that. But artificially capping the House at 435 seats is ridiculous, and creates huge disparities in electoral power for citizens in each state.

The Senate:

Under this approach, I would be willing to compromise and willing to leave the undemocratic Senate intact. RELUCTANTLY.

SCOTUS-SupremeCourt-share1200

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court’s powers can remain the same but I’m instituting terms: justices will now serve for decade-long terms, which will be staggered so that only one or two seats are ever up for grabs at once. They can be reappointed, but will require re-approval by the Senate. The SCOTUS under the current system is completely broken. It has become a partisan instrument of terrible power. This has been an ongoing issue for decades, but the final straw was broken by Mitch ‘I broke America’ McConnell, who single-handily destroyed the principle that the president gets to appoint judges. I very much doubt that any Senate will ever confirm the nominee of an opposing party president ever again in our lifetimes. I can’t turn back the clock, but I can lower the stakes. By mandating reconfirmations, it makes each appointment less of an issue of generational import.

The Presidency:

I don’t really have any changes I’d like to make here? I mean, I think the Presidency’s sorta usurped a lot of Congressional powers over the years but I don’t really think that can be fixed constitutionally. It’d require a Congress willing to fight for itself again.

Elections:

The Electoral College annoys me in three specific ways: (1) it assumes that we need to place a committee of party hacks between my vote and the candidate because I’m not trustworthy enough to cast it properly. (2) It means that Ohio and Florida get to dominate elections. (3) It appears to be breaking down at an accelerating pace, delivering the presidency to the loser more and more. Given the current political map, this will continue to be an issue. So! I decree it abolished. The presidency will be determined by direct popular vote.

In addition, gerrymandering needs to be addressed. And by addressed I mean crushed. State legislatures have shown themselves totally incapable of exercising this power at all justly, and so by the powers invested in me by myself I am stripping them of it. The drawing of congressional districts will be allocated to a nonpartisan board. This could be done several ways; first by setting up a totally civil service system, second by allowing each party in Congress or the individual state legislatures to appoint an equal number of representatives to it. I’m more partial to the second myself, as I think it would lend it an air of legitimacy.

Also, let’s make Election Day a federal holiday already, Jesus.

Miscellaneous Constitutional/Legal Issues:

I want a constitutional amendment specifically laying out that every American citizen has the right to vote and establishing that the principle of “one man, one vote” is bedrock American law. This is the current opinion of American jurisprudence, but it needs to be written into the basic law of this country in unmistakable terms. I would also link this to a new and expanded Voting Rights Act, giving the DoJ oversight of all elections.

We also need some kind of solution to campaign financing, which is out of control. A constitutional amendment is a possibility, but I’d be open to less formal solutions as well. For example: amending tax law to remove charity deductions on a lot so-called ‘educational’ or ‘nonprofit’ donations that go straight into PACs.

Finally, I want to institute an Eternity Clause. This is a form of constitutional clause that makes it impossible for the parliament or congress to later change certain essential characteristics of the government, most famously added to the German Constitution after World War II to prevent a repeat of the Enabling Act. In mine, I would define the ‘defining characteristics’ to be:

  • The United States to be a democratic government, power exercised through elected officials and organs.
  • The United States to be a secular republic, having no established Church.
  • The absolute equality before the Law of all people, irregardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Human Rights: Neither the United States government or the governments of its states may deny its people the rights enumerated in this document.
  • The independence of the judiciary must be respected.

The Radical Scenario

Under this program, I am freeing myself to make as wide-ranging and comprehensive changes as I see fit. Presumably, the Civil War is over and I am dictating the peace. Long Live the Revolution!

e8bb5521e1d8d7fde693809c0138c3c5.jpg

Yayyyy the Revolution

House of Representatives:

So, first of all, we’re moving from a full presidential system to a semi-presidential one. I think the U.S system concentrates far too much power in the executive for comfort, and I want to give the legislature more ability to oversee and influence policy. But I’m not comfortable with a full parliamentary system either. Some separation of power is necessary I think. In the semi-presidential system, the House won’t appoint the Prime Minister or Cabinet but both will remain fully accountable to the legislature, with power to dismiss and approve them limited to Votes of No Confidence. I’m basing this off the French system, by the by, in which the president has very broad latitude to select his Prime Minister. Whether my new American Republic would keep this or institute the practice of selecting the Head of Government solely from elected Representatives is something that can be worked out later.

In addition, I’m retaining the expansion of the House from the earlier scenario and also expanding their terms to four years. Hopefully this will cut down on the never-ending-election-cycle of Hell.

The Senate:

So, for all of my railing against the undemocratic ridiculousness of giving the rural states veto power over all legislation, I acknowledge that “Real America” shouldn’t be totally cut out from the process. So as a compromise, I’ll adapt a weird version of the German Bundesrat. States will no longer receive the same number of senators, because enough already Wyoming, but we’ll skew the formula so that still over-represents rural states to some extent. (For example, N.Y may receive four senators, Wyoming one, Alaska two, California five, or some similar system). However the Senate will lose oversight of most legislation. It will still be needed to confirm judges and some governmental officials, ratify treaties and constitutional amendments, override presidential vetoes, and pass bills that would either affect the “administrative jurisdiction of the States or impact their budgetary revenues”. (Source)

Bundesrat_Chamber

The German Bundesrat, meeting in the old Prussian House of Lords

 

The Supreme Court:

Same as above, basically.

The Executive Branch:

We’re making some big changes here, namely by splitting apart the Head of State and Head of Government positions. The Presidency will remain broadly similar to its current iteration, representing the nation abroad and setting the broad agenda of foreign and domestic policy. The presidential veto will remain untouched. However, instead of running the government directly, he will now nominate a Premier, who will in turn select the various Cabinet Ministries. All of these, including the P.M, must of course be approved by the House.

In cases when Congress is controlled by the presidency’s party, the President will retain his traditional control. In cases when Congress forces a Premier of the opposite party, a situation called ‘cohabitation‘ arises. The traditional response to this is an internal division of power wherein the Head of State retains control over Defense and Foreign policy and the Prime Minister runs the domestic side of things. In most countries with a semi-presidential system, this is merely a set of norms. I, however, will write it into the Constitution as Finland does because Americans can’t be trusted with norms anymore (THANKS MCCONNELL).

My hope, with all this complex meanderings, is to create a presidency powerful enough to stand up the legislature and counterbalance it’s interests, but less monarchically isolated than our current system. I want parliament to be able to hijack the president’s agenda if it so chooses, but I want the president to be able to block Congress if it goes crazy.

Elections: 

Everything from above will be kept. No more Electoral College, non-partisan district commissions, and federal election holidays. In addition, we’ll move to a multi-round presidential election. And most importantly, we’ll replace first-past-the-post voting with Single-Transferable-Votes, a system I’m stealing from Australia.

STV has all sorts of fancy algorithms and whatnot, but all you need to know is: each congressional district now selects a number of Representatives, and instead of voting for a single candidate, voters rank the choices by order of preference. As candidates win or are eliminated, the vote can transfer from first to second to third choice, etc, etc. This is important because it allows small parties to compete with spoiling other parties, gives voters more flexibility, and allows alliances between parties of similar ideology.

Miscellaneous Constitutional/Legal Issues:

The ‘universal right to vote’ amendment is being retained from the Conservative Scenario.

Instead of some mealy-mouthed discouragement of billionaire’s pouring their cash into elections, we’ll move to a more permanent solution. Either complete public financing or else a highly-regulated and transparent private system. Whichever one I go with, I’m putting it into the Constitution so those maniacs on the Supreme Court can’t screw with it.

As long as we’re here, I’m tossing out the Second Amendment. Completely. Plus, I plan of adding some provisos to the Bill of Rights clarifying that the Actual Malice Standard must be used in interpretations and that Justice Black’s famous statement that Freedom of Speech is “wholly ‘beyond the reach’ of federal power to abridge… I do not believe that any federal agencies, including Congress and the Court, have power or authority to subordinate speech and press to what they think are ‘more important interests'” is the desired intent of the First Amendment.

Back to the Eternity Clause! So, obviously, we’re keeping everything from last time. Namely:

  • The United States to be a democratic government, power exercised through elected officials and organs.
  • The United States to be a secular republic, having no established Church.
  • The absolute equality before the Law of all people, irregardless of race, religion, gender, or sex.
  • Human Rights: Neither the United States government or the governments of its states may deny its people the rights enumerated in this document.
  • The independence of the judiciary must be respected.

But we’re making some additions now I’ve assumed Supreme Secular Power. First, we’ll borrow another principle from the German Eternity Clause, namely Article 20, Paragraph One, referring to the Social State. It’s Welfare State O’Clock! Yeah, I’m writing in a basic right to health care, housing, and food into the Goddamn Constitution! Take THAT Libertarians! I’ll have to word it vague enough that governments still have a lot of discretionary power over policy, but I want this to be part of fundamental American law.

Secondly, I’m putting in a guaranteed right to abortion because Goddammit this is my constitution I can do whatever I want.

Finally, I’m going to be instituting a policy of Laïcité. In theory, I like the American system of the civil government taking no official recognizance of religion in any way to the French system of aggressive secularism. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing quest of the Religious Right to assume control over the American state and turn into the Republic of Gilaed, that has become untenable. My version of American laïcité would: (1) reaffirm the fundamental freedom of worship of all persons, (2) define the USA as a secular republic, and (3) make it impossible to enact any law specifically intended to enact religious objectives. I don’t think there’s any need to go as far as France does and ban personal expressions of religion by government employees, but I’m quite comfortable with rendering any policy passed explicitly because of religion principles unconstitutional.

Religious organizations would be granted wide-ranging religious freedom exceptions, but ‘religious organizations’ would be strictly defined as only churches, temples, etc. Companies with ‘religious principles’ can follow the damn law. Oh, and we’re adding the Johnson Amendment to this by the way.

 

That all sound good? Excellent. NOW MAKE ME KING OF AMERICA

Concorde_Assemblée_Nationale.jpg

The Palais Bourbon, home of the French National Assembly

Thanks to Cooper Doyle for his proofreading and editing help!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s