Great Idea But It’ll Never Happen

Fellow Medium author Andrew Tanner wrote a thought-provoking article on breaking the US up into what would essentially be 8 different countries.

If what Andrew proposes and only what he proposes is what would come of a constitutional convention, I’d be all for it. I do think, though, several of the proposed nations (those Andrew names Plains, Southeast and Ohio River) would soon have residents crying out desperately for reunification. The thing about right wing policy positions is that they aren’t popular even among Republicans. So, without culture war nonsense providing as much of a cover (in what would be much more homogeneous countries), people would begin to recognize that Republican rule is problematic, to put it mildly. I’m sure there’d be an effort to find new ways of dividing and conquering, but they couldn’t possibly match those that are already so ingrained. It would become much more plain to see that Republican rule amounts to making the wealthy wealthier, eliminating all labor and civil rights protections, privatizing every public service and entitlement, destroying the natural environment upon which we all depend, denying access to affordable health care, and little else. There’s a reason why the GOP doesn’t actually tout right wing policy. It won’t sell. Instead, it’s all culture war all the time, while suppressing the vote and taking full advantage of an anti-democratic political system. Really, what else is the GOP to do? But I digress…

A constitutional convention would likely be a complete disaster. And that’s because our political system gives much greater power to states than to individuals. Given how many red states there are, I could see us coming out of a convention with no more child labor laws, no minimum wage, a ban on all regulations (with regards to water quality, air quality, food and drugs, etc.), legalized slavery and who the hell knows what else.

Much has been written lately about how our democracy is under threat, but I must dispute the false premise that we have a democracy to be threatened. We don’t and never have. And I don’t mean that in the snarky “we’re not a democracy, we’re a democratic republic” sense. I mean to say the US is actually an anti-democracy with an increasingly anti-majoritarian political system, as I wrote about here. It takes more than having elections and so-called representatives to constitute a democracy. We have a plutocracy — by design. While it’s true the so-called founders could not have imagined just how different (and more populous) the US of the 21st century is (and they might be shocked to know the constitution has not been rewritten), they most certainly did intend for the few (wealthy, white men) to rule over the many.

Andrew wrote, “Democrats have their Progressive, Liberal, and Moderate factions, Republicans are split into Conservatives, Evangelicals, and Trumpists.”

I think this may be a case of splitting hairs. The divide within the GOP is primarily about style and not substance. It’s not as though Liz Cheney or evangelicals really have any issue with Trumpist policy. The difference more or less boils down to wanting to use a dog whistle instead of a bullhorn, while shying away from crazy conspiracy theories. As I’ve written, the anti-Trump Republicans are in denial about how complicit they were in the rise of Trump and the creation of today’s GOP base. And they’re in denial about how necessary the bullhorn and outlandish conspiracy nonsense is if the GOP is to survive. Trump is the inevitable result of 50+ years of increasingly cruel, unhinged rhetoric and policy. The late ’60s featured Nixon’s Southern Strategy, capitalizing on a white backlash to the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century. The ’70s featured the Powell Memo (a blueprint for the plutocratic revolt against the New Deal and its impact) and Moral Majority (wedge issues on steroids). And then there was Reagan with his dog whistling, voodoo economics, anti-government vitriol and repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. This all paved the way for the anti-intellectual Dubya and the walking, talking caricature that is Trump.

As for the Democratic Party, there’s certainly a divide, primarily between neoliberals and leftists. The neoliberals are still beholden to Big Banks, Big Pharma, Big Oil and so on. They’ll give a nod to social justice but aren’t too interested in rocking the economic boat. The “radical” leftists, meanwhile, insist on things like everyone having access to affordable and quality health care and affordable and quality higher education, the idea that an existential threat should probably be taken very seriously, the idea that prisons and wars shouldn’t be for profit, the idea that there shouldn’t be a massive wealth gap, and so on. You know, really wild and crazy stuff.

Andrew went on to write, “1/3 of Americans don’t vote, because to vote in the present context means to join a side — and when that only exposes you to attacks from the partisans you upset, why bother?”

I don’t think that’s why so many don’t vote. For one thing, it’d be easy enough to simply lie about how one voted. I think there are a variety of reasons why people don’t vote, but I think the main one is that people simply don’t think it matters. Even if they aren’t educated about the particulars, they get that there’s a massive amount of corruption. And they aren’t wrong, even if I disagree about the choice to not vote. Money (dark money at that) being considered speech, the revolving door between lobbying firms and the halls of power and the gridlock Andrew highlights in his piece (Mitch McConnell’s desk is where bills go to die) are among the reasons why people are understandably cynical.

In closing, Andrew rightly points out that things like public financing of elections and a parliamentary-style of government (other proposed solutions to our present mess) pose too great a threat to the status quo to become reality. Alas, I’m afraid Andrew’s proposal does, as well. Sadly, I think we’re pretty much screwed at this point. I don’t know for sure what the future holds but it’ll get even uglier before it gets better, if it ever does.

Leftist poet and sometimes essayist living on the left coast of a nation in decline.