SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Would the U.S. Look Like If We Built It From Scratch?

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Imagine that there was another revolution. And that nothing big had changed. Demographics, power dynamics, culture, our economic system and political values were pretty much the same as they are now. If we Americans rolled up our sleeves and reimagined our political system from scratch, if we wrote up a brand-new constitution for 2017, what would a brand-spanking-new United States Version 2.0 look like today?

A lot of stuff would be different. Like, there wouldn’t be an electoral college. (Only a handful of countries, mainly autocracies in the developing world, do.)

There probably wouldn’t be a Second Amendment; if there were, it would certainly be limited to the right to own pistols and hunting weapons. And the vast majority of gun owners believe in regulations like background checks.

Does anyone believe we would choose the two-party duopoly over the multiparty parliamentary model embraced by most of the world’s representative democracies?

Our leaders fail us in innumerable ways, but perhaps their worst sin is to accept things they way they are simply because that’s the way they have always been. Whether in government or business or a family, the best way to act is determined by careful consideration of every possibility, not by succumbing to inertia. Don’t just imagine — reimagine.

We live in the best country in the world. That’s what our teachers taught us, our politicians can’t stop saying (even the critical ones), and so most Americans believe it too.

But it isn’t true, not by most measures.

Americans suffer from drastic income inequality, massive adult and child poverty, an atrocious healthcare system, higher education affordable only to the rich, blah blah blah. Plus the candidate who gets the most votes doesn’t necessarily get to be president. It doesn’t have to be this way. We just need a little imagination.

Probably because I have a foreign-born parent and thus dual citizenship, and also because I have been fortunate enough to visit a lot of other countries, I bring an internationalist perspective to my political writing and cartoons. Like RFK I don’t accept things how they are. I imagine how things could be. Why shouldn’t we learn from China’s ability to build infrastructure? Why can’t we improve food quality standards like the EU? Aiming for the best possible result ought to be the standard for our politicians. For citizens too.

New New York Times columnist Bret Stephens called for repealing the Second Amendment following the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. His piece made a splash because he’s a conservative. Setting aside whether banning guns is a good idea, no one followed his suggestion to its logical conclusion: it won’t happen. Not just because guns are popular (which they are), or of the influence of the NRA’s congressional lobbyists (who are formidable), but because it’s impossible to amend the constitution over any matter of substance. In fact, the U.S. has the hardest-to-amend constitution in the world.

Girls can join the Boy Scouts and women can fight our wars, yet we live in a country that never passed the Equal Rights Amendment. We The People have moved past our ossified, stuck-in-1789 Constitution.

So has the rest of the world. In days of yore, when the U.S. was still that shining city on a hill, newly independent nations modeled their constitutions on ours. No more. Rejecting our antiquated constitution because it guarantees fewer rights than most people believe humans are entitled to, freshly-minted countries like South Sudan instead turn to documents like the European Union Convention on Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Other nations replace their constitutions completely an average of every 19 years. By global standards, our 228-year-old charter is ancient. More recent constitutions cover the right of every citizen to education, food and healthcare. Unlike ours, they guarantee the right of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

I’m not suggesting that we convene a second constitutional convention. Not now! Two hundred twenty-eight years ago they had Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; we have Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan. This political class isn’t fit to rubberstamp a routine raising of the debt limit, much less figure out how this More Perfect Union could become new and improved.

I’m saying: it’s time to shed the illusion of the U.S. as some cute wet-behind-the-ears nation-come-lately. The frontier has been conquered. Even though 97% of Puerto Ricans want in, there will be no new states. In spirit and by chronology we are old, old as the hills, old like Old Europe, and we’ve gotten stuck in our ways. If we don’t want to get even more fogeyish and dysfunctional and incapable of progress, we have got to consider things with fresh eyes.

Look at a map. Would anyone sane divide administrative districts into 50 states whose populations and sizes varied as much as inconsequential Delaware and ungovernable California?

Citizens of Washington D.C. can’t vote in presidential or gubernatorial elections. Why the hell not?

You can fight and kill in the military at age 18. But you can’t drown your PTSD in beer before age 21. And you can’t rent a car until you’re 25. WTF?

Oh, and we can probably do away with that part of the Bill of Rights about not having to billet troops in your home.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

9 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Would the U.S. Look Like If We Built It From Scratch?

  1. I’d keep the preamble to the US Constitution; the rest is – of course – dated. The underlying ideas are good but the assumptions based on the 18th century technology no longer hold true. The Electoral College is a prefect example – it made up for the fact that The Common Man didn’t know much about the world around him. Today we have instantaneous access to all the knowledge in the world. (not that we use it, but I digress)

    I’ve got three changes I’d like to see:

    1) Dump regionalism. There is no reason for everyone in Utah to band together for two Senators or three Representatives. They are more diverse than that. Instead, let’s make our elected representatives represent people *regardless* of where they live. Let people band together based on mutual interests. e.g. farmers in CA and UT have more in common with each other than they do with the city dwellers in either state. The city dwellers might band together also. Which leads us to …

    2) In our current system, we have to live with the majority’s pick even if we’re in the minority. So why does there have to be a winner and a loser? Why can’t everybody have a representative? Farmers get one, city dwellers get one as well. Nobody goes unrepresented. If the farmer rep has more votes on paper, then maybe he gets a bigger vote in congress – but the “other side” still gets a vote

    3) Rather than the current ERA, I’d prefer one that is universal. EVERYBODY gets equal rights – today people are seriously arguing that transgender people aren’t guaranteed the same rights as everyone else ‘cuz the Constitution doesn’t contain the word “transgender”. If we write in specific transgender rights today, then tomorrow people will be arguing that genetically modified individuals don’t have the same rights as others. Ahh, prairie shit – everybody!

  2. Bloody brilliant! If only politicians and policy-makers knew and understood as much about politics as Ted, or even a fraction as much. Ted Rall for King! 🙂

  3. Small factual correction: Washingtonians *can* vote in presidential elections, under the 23rd Amendment. What they can’t do is govern themselves (DC laws can be overruled by Congress, unlike state laws) and vote in (meaningful) congressional and senate races.

    • Small factual correction: The rest of us can’t vote in *meaningful* congressional and senate races either, let alone presidential ones.


  4. There is an old Soviet joke from about the time when the Kremlin began to develop an interest in popular attitudes, so they would send out pollsters who go door to door in Moscow. They knock and an old couple opens and they ask them: “How do you feel about the [nuclear] bomb?”. The husband goes white in the face, frantically confers with his wife, tries to summon his courage, and finally answers: “Just one. Two at most. Please understand – we really can’t take any more than that!”

    So perhaps leave the bit about not having to billet troops in your home in there, just to be sure 😉

  5. «What Would the U.S. Look Like If We Built It From Scratch?</B» To my mind, Ted, the real question is rather «Could we build the U.S.from scratch ?» I suspect not, which probably helps to explain why everyone appeals to that more than two-centuries old document, just as people who call themselves «Christians» refer to a documents of even elder provenance….