Civics: Dealing with what is

If there’s been one common feature between the left and the right over the past decade, it’s that they all have an idea for what they want to see changed about the government.   The specifics of those ideas depend on the particular ideological slant, but they all have a complaint with the way things are and “how it should be.”  I’ve seen calls to abolish or restructure the Senate, change to a parliamentary system, changing birthright citizenship, gun ownership, balancing the budget, along with calls for a third party.  Most of them come down to “we think we’re not getting our way,” and that a new form will get them that.  It’s nothing new.

All of the various concerns are literally as old as the country.   History is an interesting thing, in that it can tell you why things are the way they are.  Urban versus rural areas?  Big states versus small states?  Those have been bones of contention for centuries.  It’s why the Constitution is the way it is.  It’s not “perfect,” it was simply meant to be “more perfect” – read “better” – than what came before.  It’s a series of compromises to balance those competing interests.  The most notorious one, the “3/5’ths Compromise” came about because southern states would lose out in the House if slaves weren’t counted as population, while northern states didn’t want to give up their advantage in population.   The fact that we have a Senate with two senators for each state, and a House with the number of representatives determined by population, is a compromise.

What the calls for changes, particularly relating to the form of government ignore is that those competing interests are still there and are not going to go away.  The biggest reason all the various proposals are problematic is not just that there will be opposition, it’s that they all require changing the Constitution.  That is a difficult process, and rightly so.  There are two ways to do so:  Pass a constitutional amendment; or call a constitutional convention.  To pass a constitutional amendment, you need to pass it out of Congress with a 2/3’rds vote, and then 3/4’ths of the states (38) must ratify it.  It’s been done 27 times.  To call a constitutional convention, it must be called for by 2/3’rds of state legislatures.   That hasn’t been done, and it’s probably the most dangerous in that most experts think that it really can’t be limited.

Do you want to do away with the Senate or change the number of Senators from each state to reflect their population?  Smaller states, whether they are “solid Blue” or “solid Red” are going to fight that.  Want to switch to a parliamentary form of government?  Same problem.  Want to change citizenship definitions, or define gun rights?  Urbanized and diverse states will disagree.  Require a balanced budget?  It’s considered to be a bad thing by most economists.   Do away with the Electoral College?  That might stand a chance.  It made sense for a long time, considering the difficulties in counting the votes,  tabulating the results, and communicating them nationally,  but those difficulties have disappeared in modern times.  It doesn’t mean that there won’t be opposition to it, though.

Why I’m pointing out the difficulties in implementing any of the various ideas for changing the government is not because I’m for or against them.  It’s that far too often, those ideas are being used as an excuse for not working with “what is.”  It’s easier to complain than to make the existing structure work, and ignore the difficulties in changing the system.   If you can’t figure out how to deal with what is, none of the things you’re talking about will happen



Filed under Politics

13 responses to “Civics: Dealing with what is

  1. Mary Lynne

    This strikes me as relevant to the ‘big money in politics’ debate. People on the left are knee-capping themselves trying to meet a ‘no big donors’ purity standard on the left. Until changes are made, candidates will need more than just small donors.

    • I think it should (and will) be chucked out the window when it comes to the general election.

      • Mary Lynne

        I hope so. I remember that President Obama did something similar in the 2008 election; he started out refusing to take big money from somewhere and then saying that he would for the general election. There was a big kerfuffle for a while but it obviously didn’t hurt him in the long run.

  2. dbtheonly


    I think you may underestimate the “internet outrage” available to hammer those who accept “big money donation”. We’ll see.

    I again contend that Hillary’s problem was not the Electoral College but that she carried 2 States between the Appalachians and the Rockies. She carried only six “States” that don’t have an ocean shoreline. She carried only one Southern State.

    So yes, we have to insure that Trump doesn’t carry the Midwest as solidly as he did in 2016. We need to make inroads into the Plains States. We need to play in the ball park we’re given.

    • I think the internet outrage won’t matter. You have to remember the most vocal on the internet actually amount to a small percentage of the party, and most people understand costs. If you’re looking at spending (conservatively) a billion dollars, 10 million people giving you $50 each only gets you half-way there. That’s always assuming you can get to that number in the first place.
      I think that we will do better in those middle states than we did in 2016. For one thing, the media narrative on “crooked” is now on Trump, not to mention that his policies have hurt them, along with not delivering on his promised boom in manufacturing jobs. That’s not to say that bigotry is going away, it’s still there, along with a sizable percentage of them who are still crapping their pants over the non-existent threat of brown people from Central America.

    • Mary Lynne

      I get a little sick when I see those maps that show blue around the edges and red all over the middle, although I’ve seen other breakdowns (by county, I think). where it is far more purpley-bluey. It doesn’t seem possible to attract those reds without totally betraying our base and our values.

      • dbtheonly

        If you’re right and we can not find a middle ground without betraying our base and values; then what is the future of American participatory democracy? Trump’s approval rating seems anchored at about 41%. Are these 150 million Americans to be disenfranchised? Are they to be reduced to a permanent minority? Or, God help us, are they to find the additional 10% to condemn us to the minority?

        Lincoln said that a house divided against itself can’t stand. Is our house divided? Is Lincoln right? Can we fix it? Can we have a country separated as we are?

        • Exactly how are they disenfranchised? They still get to vote, they still get representatives and senators. Sorry, but I’m not buying that line. Yes, there are common interests, but at the same time, we need to point out that their current “suffering” is a direct result of the people they elected. Farmers aren’t going bankrupt or in dire financial straits because of Democrats. People aren’t at risk of losing their healthcare because of Democrats. Social Security isn’t in danger from Democrats. That they are, is because of the Republicans, and if they voted for Trump and Republicans, well those are the consequences of that choice.

          • dbtheonly

            Disenfranchised as in being reduced to an ineffective minority with little or no impact on government.

            If I understand your position you say Trump voters need to get over it. Not having such a magic wand, I’m reduced to asking how we get there from here.

            I do not contend that Republican policies are beneficial to any beyond a few. What I do contend is that Trump’s approval has been set in concrete arbabout 41%.

            We’re back to Lincoln’s house divided.

            • Realistically, they should be reduced to an “ineffective minority.” Republican policies continuously damage them, while Democratic policies help them, yet despite long-term objective evidence of that, they will still march into the voting booth and vote Republican. So whatever they’re “needs” are, they have shown is that they’re racist, homophobic, theocratic, as well as massive hypocrites.

              • Mary Lynne

                I think the issue is that their needs are being met. The prioritize other things over their physical well-being. I’ve heard it called a psychological wage (haven’t read too deeply into it but it seems like it may apply here.). They are having their deeply held beliefs affirmed, and those beliefs are as mentioned above.

              • dbtheonly

                “So whatever they’re “needs” are, they have shown is that they’re racist, homophobic, theocratic, as well as massive hypocrites.”

                Was this written by the same Norbrook who wrote that we have to deal with what is?

                Remember the Republicans view us as equally threatening. Equally, what goes around comes around and the procedures to disenfranchise them may well some day be used on us.

                We’re back at the main question: assuming you’re right, how can we have a country, with a participatory democracy, with 41% fitting your definition?

                Mary Lynne, regardless of cause, Republicans vote the way they do. I’d be happy to hear how their psychological needs can be met without wrecking the country. But I’m at a loss to suggest how.

  3. Great article as always, Norbrook; I wonder if anybody on the left will even read it, and take it into account. Looks like dbtheonly doesn’t seem to want to.