The Constitution of the United States of America is the world’s oldest codified Constitution, despite the fact that one of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, believed that written constitutions should be amended or rewritten every nineteen years. Even so, the United States Constitution hasn’t been amended for thirty years.
The Constitution also made a morally repulsive deal with slavery when it was written, and it required war and 750,000 lives to rewrite it.
While the Constitution’s basic framework functioned for a while in the twentieth century, it is now succumbing to the same flaws that have brought down every other similar governance document around the world. Ultimately, America has to revamp its basic government structure, or it will crumble.
We see the signs everywhere. Only 38 percent of Americans, down from 48 percent in 2001, trust the presidency, according to a Gallup survey. The public’s approval of Congress has dropped from 26 percent to 12 percent. The Supreme Court has also suffered a setback, falling from 50% to 36% in the same time span.
Often, those who inhabit the carefully crafted institutions of the Constitution are blamed for its failure. Congress has few serious legislators, as many members strive for viral fame on social media.
US Constitution Failure: Failing to Deliver Justice to Americans
Understanding a problem is the first step to dealing with it. Today, the United States seems to have a number of major problems:
- Trump’s departure fueled false charges of election fraud that sparked the January 6 insurgency.
- A pandemic that has caused widespread economic distress and more than 350,000 deaths in the year 2020 alone, followed by the same scale of devastation in 2021.
- American government and private entities were subjected to massive cyberattacks.
- Racial injustice causes mass protests but persists unabated.
- A climatic crisis that will only worsen in the future.
In spite of these crises, the United States is unable to address national difficulties, as well as defend itself against existential threats by a broken constitutional system. We have been unable to mitigate the causes of these crises due to the failure of its constitutional system.
Faith in National Institutions is Eroding
Many people today regard the courts as inhabited spaces rather than as arbiters of justice. Almost 61% of American citizens polled by Quinnipiac feel the Supreme Court’s rulings are now influenced by politics, while only 32 percent believe its decisions are based on objective interpretations of the law.
There are, however, far deeper problems with the Constitution. Originally, the purpose of the presidency envisioned by the framers was to execute laws rather than make them.
However, due to the inconsistencies of congressional legislation, the president now uses executive power unchecked.
As a result, it’s a roller coaster ride from one president to the next. Donald Trump was a big fan of signing executive orders, and he signed 220 of them. Joe Biden has signed 76 orders so far, with progressive Democrats asking him to sign many more.
Congress Surrendering its Powers: Disrespect to the Constitution
Congress, on the other hand, is failing to safeguard its constitutional prerogatives. A cornerstone of the framers’ intent was to prevent anyone but Congress from declaring war, but Congress has surrendered the power to do so to the president.
When Donald Trump broke his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution on January 6, the constitutional remedy of impeachment and conviction failed. Congress has surrendered its constitutional rights to extreme partisanship instead of asserting them.
Republicans in Congress are happily relinquishing their subpoena powers in the January 6 inquiry, but they want to reclaim them if they win legislative control in 2023.
A filibuster is no longer an uncommon tool in the Senate for delaying legislation and promoting debate. Rather, the 60-vote barrier has become the default mechanism for halting all legislation without saying anything.
Controversial Role of the Supreme Court
There is a growing partisan divide in the nation, and more people are turning to the Supreme Court to reverse actions that offend either party. Supreme Court justices have been involved in a number of political controversies over the past 20 years.
A conservative majority ruled in Bush v. Gore in 2000 that George W. Bush’s right to equal protection under the law overturned Florida’s ruling that hand-counting all ballots were constitutional.
The Supreme Court, on the other hand, declared that their ruling only pertained to George W. Bush and that regular residents in poorer places, whose voting machines incorrectly register their ballots, would be out of luck.
Since then, judicial partisanship has risen, with the conservative Supreme Court upholding Texas’ abortion law passed in 2021.
The dissent note of Justice Sotomayor says the court not just betrays Texas citizens but also a constitutional system of government.
Recognizing the Problem is the First Step in Solving it
Changing presidents, adding more Supreme Court justices, or relinquishing presidential power will not suffice to address the issues.
Documents written in 1787 are not suitable for the 21st century. As it has twice before this century, the Electoral College is ready to deliver more disappointments, with popular vote winners failing to become president. As a result of territorial expansion, 16% of the American population controls half of its Senate.
The most serious flaw in the Constitution is that there is no mechanism to break the deadlock created by by-elections, and there is no way to call snap elections as a solution to the problem. A majority of the time, the presidency, the Senate, and control of the House are split between two parties.
Bipartisan concessions to keep the government running used to be normal, but due to extreme party polarization, they are incredibly hard to achieve now.
It is becoming increasingly problematic. The reconciliation process only allows a party to pass one big law per year with unified control of the government.
The United States has only managed to get past a filibuster by a supermajority of 60 votes three times since the Second World War.
A New Constitutional Draft: Some Recommendations
Perhaps it is time to rewrite the Constitution.
Senate Filibusters Should be Abolished
At the very least, this would allow a party to govern if it won both houses of Congress and the presidency, and it could be passed in the Senate with a simple majority vote.
Transform the Election Process for House Members
There are two major parties in the United States, mainly due to first past the post votes, and partly due to the parties’ decision to lock themselves behind extensive legal barricades to outsiders.
This problem could be solved by changing the way House members are elected. Put three seats in each district, distributed by a ranked-voting system, rather than drawing one district per representative. Geographically contiguous districts would still exist, but they would be considerably larger and more proportionally represented.
Two-party systems have been proven highly susceptible to gerrymandering and other forms of cheating by the extreme right-wing fringe. This would result in more than two parties being represented in Congress.
The third-place finish would be enough to win a seat without needing to win a majority in your congressional district.
Elections to the House should be held every four years, not every two. Legislators in the United States require time to rule and should not be running for re-election all of the time.
Neutralize the Senate
The Senate is a vile, often undemocratic body where senators representing lower percentages of the people can filibuster a bill blocking those representing the highest percentages of the people.
The Constitution sets severe hurdles for modifying the Senate, stating that no state’s representation can be taken away without its assent.
It might be possible, however, to amend the Senate so that it functions more like the House of Lords without having any real powers. It is still possible for Senators to be elected, but they will not have the power to vote on legislation.
Choose the President from the House
“Separation of powers” was supposed to curb tyranny, but it has actually increased it and undermined democracy. Lawless imperialism rose to power in the United States due to the separation of legislative and executive powers.
The executive is just a part of the legislative in most countries. A structure like this does not allow for a single powerful figure to lead the state while still claiming independent democratic legitimacy from the legislature.
If the president is elected from the House, the split government no longer creates dangerous standoffs. As in parliamentary systems, each party’s leader stands implicitly for the presidency during every election.
A major problem with the Constitution as it stands is that it makes any change nearly impossible. In other countries, constitutions are regularly discarded or rewritten to address new challenges, and even the US did so in the past.
When the first attempt at a US Constitution failed miserably, the people of the United States were unconcerned about clauses like the union should be permanent. Instead, they scrapped the whole work and started again. Maybe we should think about that again.
No doubt about it: A constitutional collapse would undoubtedly be a highly disruptive and fatal event, increasing the likelihood of rebellion, civil war, or dictatorship.
But, if and when that happens, it won’t be by choice; it’ll be because the American Constitution’s outdated, clunky machinery just failed. Moderating reforms must be implemented as soon as possible in order to prevent this breakdown.