Thursday, April 18, 2013

Our Decrepit Constitution: The People Hardly Matter

On April 17, the U.S. Senate voted to block any vote on a gun control regulation supported by 90% of the people. The Senate would have passed the bill had a vote been taken, since they had 54 votes to allow debate to continue. Opponents of the bill included lobbyists for gun manufacturers and the radical fringe that opposes any attempt to limit the quantity or quality of armaments that any American can buy.

The Constitution is to blame for this. The Framers planned for the Senate to be the last bastion for minorities against the majority of public opinion. Once again, the Senate has fulfilled its role. The Senate also proved that this country is not democratic, since the vast majority of the people support gun control but can't even get the Congress to vote on a bill that grants their wishes.

Gun control is not the only issue that can't be discussed in the Senate. Global warming, affirmed by over 90% of the world's climate scientists, also fails to get a hearing due to spending by its wealthy opponents. Too many rich people depend on oil for the majority to have their way. Yet global warming threatens to destroy the wealth of the whole world. The slogan of the oil companies seems to be, “I'll Be Gone, You'll Be Gone.” By which they mean to say that when the economy collapses under the weight of natural disasters, they will have made their fortunes and gone away to a haven for the wealthy.

There are only two solutions to this problem. One relies on less democracy, the other on more.

The first option was chosen by the Romans in the First Century A.U.C. The Roman world was racked by revolutions. The ruling class, holders of political power, were unable to stem the violence. But the violence continued until finally a leader, Julius Caesar, emerged who destroyed the power of the elite and declared himself sole ruler of Rome. The people acquiesced to his rule because they were exhausted by warfare and uncertainty. Democracy came to an end and with it the possibility of long-term survival, since an absolute ruler is only concerned about his own power, not the welfare of the people.

There is a possibility that such a person may emerge in the United States. There is nothing in our Constitution to prevent such an action if the situation is desperate enough. In the past, American presidents have increased their power with the consent of the Congress. John Kennedy brought the nation to the brink of nuclear war because he believed missile sites in Cuba threatened the U.S. mainland, but never explained how the Cubans could be a threat when the Russian military possessed missiles that could reach the mainland from Russia. Lyndon Johnson persuaded the Senate that the navy of North Vietnam represented a danger to the United States that justified years of war and thousands of American deaths. Ronald Reagan convinced the Congress that Marines should invade the island of Grenada because a few American medical students might possibly be in danger. George Bush convinced the whole country that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the U.S. that justified 10 years of war and a trillion dollars of military spending. Americans have a history of letting presidents do anything they want.

There is another way, though, one that results in more democracy, not less. The country could pass the National Initiative Amendment, which would create a way for the majority to exert its will. The initiative process has already been tried in 28 states. Recently California has ended the deadlock in its legislature, very similar to the deadlock in the U.S. Congress, with an initiative.

A national initiative has the advantage over the current Congress that individual Representatives would not need to vote on an issue. They could pass an initiative and let the people decide. If such a process were available today, the gun manufacturers could not spend enough money on propaganda to sway 90 per cent of the electorate to their position. Reasonable gun laws could be passed nationally.

The deaths of thousands of innocent men, women, and children through gun violence is an important stimulus to legislative action. The wealth of our country's wealth and power by global warming is even more critical, since it affects every American, and every person in the world. A national initiative would permit the people to vote on whether to permit oil companies to pollute the world. A national initiative could overrule a Supreme Court stuffed with oil company backers, because the Court cannot rule that an amendment is unconstitutional. The amendment passed by the Constitution would become part of the constitution.

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