Our Decrepit Constitution: Fighting the Corporations
Recent incidents of gun violence are still fresh is the minds of residents of the states of Colorado and Connecticut. Those states have passed strict gun control regulations. Ninety per cent of the population agree that more gun control regulations are necessary, yet the congress is incapable of action. It seems incredible, but it happens because our laws are not democratic.
Senators and Representatives are elected by constituents. Their constituents exercise only indirect influence over their elected representatives. Constituents only vote every 2 years for Congressmen, or 6 years for Senators. The Constitution permits lobbyists to give money to our lawmakers every day. These sums of money are sometimes very large, but politicians need large sums of money to run for office. Just as important, they must avoid ever offending those groups who might give them large sums of money. If politicians offend those groups, their opponents in the next election may receive support from those same groups.
The only politician directly elected by the people (discounting for a moment the anachronous electoral college) is the President. The Constitution surrounds the president with restraints, however. He cannot make laws. He cannot raise taxes. He cannot dissolve Congress and rule by himself, as monarchs used to do. He cannot schedule new elections when Congress refuses to pass his proposals.
All the president can do is talk, and try to persuade the congress to support his proposals. Since political decisions are influenced by money, not ethics, he cannot exercise moral suasion. The presidency, in some respects, is the worst job in the world. Although the president has very little power to influence anything, he is blamed for everything that goes wrong. The president typically begins his term as a popular advocate for change, and ends it as a despised failure. The fault is not his. The fault is inherent in the Constitutional system.
The Framers created a federal system out of necessity. They did not trust a strong government that could become a tyranny, so they created a system that had three checks on the federal government: the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Courts. This system worked so long as there were no entities strong enough to defy the president.
Stronger entities soon emerged. The first was the faction of slave-holding states. These states eventually attacked the United States directly by forming the Confederacy. The Civil War nearly destroyed the Union and made it impossible for successive entities seeking power to use violence to succeed. The costs of civil war were recognized as unsupportable.
Other entities seeking power did evolve. These entities used money to buy influence in the Congress and the Courts. Giant corporations formed whose influence dwarfed the influence of the president. The government struck back, first by passing anti-trust laws to keep the corporations small enough to control.
Progressives at the state level passed laws to control corporate power within their borders. Progressives passed initiative and referendum laws because the only power strong enough to combat the corporations resides in the people themselves. These new laws controlled the corporations to some degree. California was able to control the Southern Pacific Corporation (SP), which had flourished through government subsidies. SP was a local entity that could be controlled through local (state) laws. Other states set up Utility Commissions under various names to control corporations and protect the people from monopolistic utitlity rates.
These efforts proved successful for awhile. Corporations continued to grow larger, however. The common people were severely weakened by the Great Depression, while the corporations and the people who ran them prospered. World War II brought the beginnings of great prosperity to the corporate elite. The Korean War ushered in an era of massive spending on military weapons. The development of atomic weapons caused unprecedented amounts of money to be spent on technology. This level of spending continued until the end of the Cold War, in 1989. Corporations receiving government subsidies for research and contracts for technology could not ship jobs oversease because weapons series were considered too dangerous to trust to foreigners.
This situation changed abruptly with the advent of consumer electronics products like radios, televisions, and audio equipment. These products used the same technological advances that were funded by the U.S. Government for rockets, guidance systems, and the space program. Corporations began saving money by shipping jobs overseas. Silicon chip manufacturing, a thriving business in Silicon Valley in 1969, was moved to Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and eventually China. Instead of creating employment opportunities in the U.S., corporations fed money into the economies of other countries.
President Reagan led the assault on American unions when he fired striking air traffic control workers. Workers at Atari in San Jose threatened to unionize. In response, the corporate management closed down the San Jose plant and moved their jobs overseas.
Gradually, job opportunities for U.S. workers dwindled. The gap between the common people and the well-off widened. The Supreme Court thwarted attempts to damp the influence of money in electoral politics. The Republicans began suppressing the votes of African-Americans, Latinos, students, and the elderly. Republican governors rolled back hard-won abortion rights.
The U.S. looks more like a third-world country all the time. In those countries, the wealthy few rule the numerous poor. The common people have no chance to redress grievances because they have no power. In other words, there is no democracy.
The U.S. Constitution is badly in need of repair. It needs amendments to establish a right of privacy between a woman and her doctor; to curb the ability of wealthy corporations to buy elections; to prevent politicians from cashing in with legal bribery, otherwise called campaign contributions; to stop publishers from exploiting the work of authors and musicians; to stop corporations from buying up disused patents and using them to blackmail legitimate innovators; to stop gun dealers from supplying criminals with death-dealing weapons; to stop energy companies from destroying the environment.
The list goes on and on. There are far too many potential amendments ever to reach the end, especially when every one of them will be fought with skill backed by money. There is only one solution to this problem. The people must adopt a national initiative which would give them what they never had, a true democracy.
The National Initiative amendment would do just that. All groups advocating a constitutional amendment should join together and support this one. Once this amendment passes, all further amendments will have a much lower bar to pass: They will be passed by a majority of the American people.