> Chris BrayNovember 5, 2013
In an essay so deep and worthy that it just showed up up in two helplessly respectable places in the space of a few days, Alex Seitz-Wald sighs a world-weary sigh and tosses the United States Constitution overboard.
“Our Constitution isn’t going to make it,” he writes. “It’s had 224 years of commendable, often glorious service, but there’s a time for everything, and the government shutdown and permanent-crisis governance signal that it’s time to think about moving on.”
It’s old, man. Lose that rag, and let’s make a new business model for this sucker.
The only problem: Constitution humbugs are Pollyannaish about a future without it, while also not seeming to know anything about American history, anywhere, ever, in any way.
“You can blame today’s actors all you want, but they’re just the product of the system, and honestly it’s a wonder we’ve survived this long,” Seitz-Wald writes. After all, the presidential election of 1800 was really ugly and resulted in an impasse. “It’s a near miracle we haven’t seen more partisan violence, but it seems like tempting fate to stick with the status quo for much longer.”
Yes, it’s weird that we haven’t seen more partisan violence. Since the ratification of the Constitution, we’ve only had Shays’ Rebellion, Fries’ Rebellion, the Dorr Rebellion, a pre-Civil War civil war in “Bleeding Kansas” (where John Brown made his first bloody appearance), a raid on a federal armory that was intended to produce a slave revolt, the actual Civil War, the rise of the first Ku Klux Klan and a few Reconstruction-era anti-black-enfranchisement massacres, Jim Crow-era race “riots” that sometimes wiped entire African-American neighborhoods off the face of the earth, four presidential assassinations, various attempted assassinations and attacks on Congress, range wars, a shitload of bombings, massacres of American Indians, the Clinton-era militia movement that prepared for war with the government and blew up one of its buildings, and a few dozen other massive outbreaks of spectacular brutality. Anyway, it’s a near miracle we haven’t seen more of this stuff.
The Constitution survived (for example) the long historical moment in which the Weather Underground was routinely bombing government buildings; three of the nation’s top leaders were assassinated; civil rights activists were clubbed and shot and attacked by police dogs and knocked over with firehoses; and churches were bombed, sometimes with children inside them, but it can’t survive any longer, because Ted Cruz.
Be grateful that Seitz-Wald isn’t a doctor, too, because you’d go in with a hangnail and come out on chemotherapy. The Senate doesn’t work anymore, he writes, because the Constitution is broken: “Today, the Senate is an undemocratic relic where 41 senators, representing just 11 percent of the nation’s population, can use the filibuster to block almost anything and bring government to its knees.”
But the filibuster isn’t a feature of the Constitution. It’s a product of Senate rules. We need to trash the Constitution because some stuff that isn’t it doesn’t work.
Finally—and I mean “finally, because I don’t want to go on about this forever” rather than “finally, because there’s nothing left to say about the awesome shittiness of Alex Seitz-Wald’s dismal proposal”—the case for an unstable America is placed against the case for a world where other constitutions are more modern, more up-to-date, more swankily accoutered in the latest style. Europe is way ahead of us, doncha know, ’cause they have parliamentary systems and none of this old-timey federalism bullshit where South Dakota matters.
So how is the superior model working? Here’s a sample story from Greece, where they have a superior parliamentary model of government. Spain has 56 percent youth unemployment, and the Atlantic is publishing bullshit about the superior systems of European governance. Hungary is so ultra-modern that its constitution dates to 2011, and it has a unicameral legislature that totally doesn’t get gridlocked like our shitty old Congress. It also has this. You choose.
In any case, no one complaining about American gridlock actually means that they hate gridlock. Here’s a deal for you, and it’ll solve the problem of gridlock right now: give the deep red states far more power in the national government. Gridlock will end right away, and government will get busy doing things: banning abortion, banning gay marriage, slashing federal welfare spending, purging the military of gay and lesbian service members, increasing the military budget, expanding American military power, locking Gitmo and the military tribunal into permanent, uncontested features of our national life. Congratulations—no gridlock at all! Government will for sure be busy taking action, and won’t get bogged down at all in partisan obstructionism. What an exciting advance in the science of modern governance.
Image: The Bill from Schoolhouse Rock, via Flickr user greyloch.
Chris Bray is a sometime history professor and is writing a book about the history of American military justice.