Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Constitutional Con

The video above is the latest from Robert Reich and talks about the biggest threat to American democracy. The threat could throw the entire US Constitution out the window, or just some of Americans’ most cherished rights. The most important point about this: Reich's absolutely right.

The USA has never had an Article V constitutional convention, but the clear consensus is that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to control or limit once it's called, not the least because it’s not even clear that limiting the call to only one topic can actually be made binding. Similarly, it’s not clear that states can rescind their request for a convention.

I first heard about this idea in the 1970s when conservatives wanted a "Balanced Budget Amendment" (and they still do). When Congress didn’t act, they called for a convention. During the debate and discussions, and especially by the mid-1980s, it became clear that a constitutional convention couldn't be limited to one topic, and interest in a convention waned. By then I’d begun warning about the dangers of a constitutional convention because it couldn’t be limited, and it posed a very real threat to LGBT+ Americans in what was a very hostile time. Little has changed since then.

Rightwingers, who know what they're really up to, often feign shock when faced with mainstream opposition to a constitutional convention, and ask with fake surprise, "What're you so afraid of?" The answer is obvious: Because delegates would probably be elected within the various states. The US election system is rigged to favour Republicans and the rightwing in general, so that, together with Russian hacking that we still have no defence against, means the convention elected would be skewed pretty dramatically to the Right. And THAT would mean the end of reproductive choice (not just abortion, but probably even most birth control), an end to marriage equality (and possibly reinstatement of laws criminalising gay people), repealing laws protecting racial and ethnic groups from discrimination (in other words, an end to equal justice under law), and establishing the USA as an officially "Christian" nation. The possibilities after that are even more dark, such as, no more freedom of speech or of the press unless licensed/permitted by the government.

The drive for a convention has little to do with the current regime in the White House, but everything to do with the dark forces backing it. Oligarchs like the Koch Brothers want all sorts of Far Rightwing measures enacted that could never happen through normal democratic means, so they know that a constitutional convention is their best shot. That's why the Rightwing wants it, too: Most of what they have on their agenda would never get through the normal democratic processes.

If it came down to a handful of states that rescinded their call for a convention preventing one from being called, it's certain that the Rightwing US Supreme Court would rule that states cannot rescind their call, something that would be an absolute certainty if the Koch’s property is confirmed to the Court as Republicans demand.

All of which is why this threat could result in the end of American democracy.

There is a chance—a very small and remote chance—that normal people might prevail in controlling the convention, and we could enact changes that would horrify the Right every bit as much: Overturning Citizens United, requiring non-partisan commissions to draw election boundaries, abolishing the Electoral College, outlawing "dark money" and all PACs, public financing of Congressional elections, ensuring a firm separation between church and state, common sense gun control, and so on. At the moment, that seems VERY unlikely to happen.

However, if the Right gets the needed number of states on board for a constitutional convention, and the Supreme Court does indeed rule that states cannot rescind their call for a convention, then the ONLY alternative will be to fight like hell to get control of the convention. Success or failure would determine whether the end result is the United States of America or the Republic of Gilead—or maybe many new countries popping up where the USA once was.

With a threat so dire, it’s something that people need to be warned about. We must all do our part to make sure that happens.


rogerogreen said...

There is on the ballot in New York State every 20 years a question about having a constitutional convention.The pro side is mighty tempting, to fix the broken govt in the capital, to create more equitable voting rules. It rightly went down in 2017 with 81% against because it's highly likely that the delegates would be current o former members of the state legislature, mayors and others, not "the people" with a high probability to do mischief, and at great expense to boot.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Illinois does the same thing. The last time was in 2008, and I blogged (briefly) against it: