Gaius Publius: SF Chronicle OpEd – The Next U.S. Constitution Is Forming now

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Yves here. Congratulate Gaius on his oped!

By , a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Cfdtrade. Follow him on Twitter , and . GP article archive . Originally published at the

Each year on this day, Americans celebrate our founding principles and the birth of our nation, but in these chaotic and polarized days, it is also important to remember that the United States was born from a crisis of unity and has experienced two more at roughly 70-year intervals — the Civil War and the Great Depression.

Both nearly tore us apart, yet each sparked a civic rebirth. After each great rupture, the government was restructured; each took the nation closer to its founding ideals; each brought greater liberty, justice and opportunity to expanding groups of Americans; each changed forever and for the better the relationship between government and the people.

We’re now in the midst of a fourth crisis, from which will emerge the next agreement about how and for whom our government operates. Will it produce a constitution that once again advances our founding principles and expands opportunities, or will this be the first American crisis that institutionalizes a stripping of rights, freedom and wealth?

In past crises, the nation found the will and leadership to correct its course. Will we be so blessed again?

More fundamentally, will the structure of our present political process allow us to select the right leader, should she or he emerge? Or will the power brokers of our parties work to eliminate the candidacy of a potential Washington, Lincoln or Roosevelt?

A nation’s constitution is not just contained in a document but includes as well the practices and agreements that determine how government operates and what it’s permitted to do. In that sense we’ve been governed not by one constitution but by three.

The first grew out of armed revolt against the British Crown, but it also sprang from revolt by the emerging manufacturing and merchant classes against colonial status. Americans wanted to compete alongside the British economy and not be forced into the role of mere consumers.

From that revolution came the original U.S. Constitution — slave-enabling and voter-restricting, yes, but largely democratic — and from its government came the policies of Alexander Hamilton, which gave American manufacturing its first strong boost.

The second constitutional agreement grew from a mainly nonviolent revolt in the North against slavery, an institution that sustained the Southern economy. This threat to slavery produced a bloody Southern revolt against the national government. The social aspects of that conflict still rip our society, but the constitution that emerged — that of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments — was radically different: It abolished slavery, established equal protection as a fundamental right and greatly expanded the vote.

Each of the first two crises broke into violence — the Revolutionary War, the Civil War — before producing constitutional change. The third, the Great Depression, also produced a revolution of our politics and governance, but one in which violence was averted by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election and bow to the need for a restructured government. This led to vast reforms, citizen-protecting regulation and the economic-opportunity programs known as the New Deal.

Each crisis resulted in a constitution that brought us closer to our principles: the original Constitution bound the separate states into one country; through amendment an anti-slavery document replaced the pro-slavery original; and through reinterpretation of the Commerce Clause and other changes, the New Deal constitution overturned the laissez-faire government from which it evolved.

Through each, the nation righted itself. Crucially, success also depended on the emergence of the right political leader — and by the people’s ability to elect him.

Our nation is once more in the grip of division and change. When we emerge, the United States will be different. Our government and society will once more be restructured and new rules will be decided.

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87 comments

  1. emorej a hong kong

    Hoo-boy: I was already nervous about Bernie being irreplaceable for at least another three years.

  2. emorej a hong kong

    Who could fill Bernie’s shoes quickly after 2020?

    1. Ben Jealous could move to head of the line if he wins MD governorship election this November.

    2. Bernie-endorsing Senator Jeff Merkley has the office-holding record that is traditionally seen as key experience.

    3. Nina Turner has no such office-holding in her past or her near future.

    4. Elizabeth Warren seems to me to lack a base. Although Wall Street hates her, Bernie-lovers don’t trust her.

    5. Tulsi Gabbard’s pre-Bernie history seems vulnerable to the depth of scrutiny that comes with Presidential candidacies.

    6. Kevin de Leon would become a huge national figure if he manages to beat DiFi for U.S. Senate this November, and perhaps even if DiFi needs Republican votes to manage a narrow win.

    1. Jeff

      DeLeon is what happens when the left goes crazy, the same way Trump represents the crazy right.

        1. Jean

          This guy has huevos:

          “Many of my family members are undocumented and have used false social security numbers.”

          1. Anon

            So what.

            California couldn’t send you all the fruits, vegetables, and almonds that it does without the undocumented. And if you eat out, they’re maintaining the restaurant. If you build a home, they’re the cheap labor that saves your bank account $$$.

            Kevin DeLeon has been the leader of the California Senate. He’s not stupid. And at times has useful things to say. I’ve had direct discussions withe DiFi; it’s time for her to say “Good Night”.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              The US had a program, the bracero program, which provide for visas for migrant farm workers from Mexico. It set a lower minimum wage for the and required that the farms employing provide “adequate shelter, food and sanitation, as well as a minimum wage pay of 30 cents an hour. The agreement also stated that braceros would not be subject to discrimination such as exclusion from “white” areas.”

              In other words, there is no reason for migrant farm workers to come to the US on an illegal basis. But separately, as readers have argued, there are types of seasonal farm work, like picking berries, that in fact American teenagers would do (they certainly did when I was a kid).

              1. Wukchumni

                The initial arrivals of Mexican farm labor was on account of necessity, as we needed our workforce for the war effort.

                Previous to them, it would have been the Arkies, Okies, et al that were field workers, and probably not too happy with proposition, as i’ve never seen anybody other than a Hispanic working the food forests here.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  True, but if you read Wikipedia, the program was discontinued at Mexico’s instigation because the US was not cracking down on illegal immigrants, which I assume was abuses under the bracero program.

                  1. Wukchumni

                    We were on total war footing and needed every last bit of labor potential i’d guess, and looked the other way, not dissimilar to the situation now.

                2. Jean

                  Wakchumni, You are forgetting the Filipinos and the Japanese, who ran some of the best nurseries and truck farms. One reason we had to import Mexicans was that the government seized farms and property belonging to the Japanese who were interned in concentration camps and could no longer provide crops.

                  Anon, I would rather pay 20 cents more for a head of lettuce and have quality homes built around me than pay the social costs for the illegals and their families in higher taxes, more crowded schools, fewer job opportunities at lower pay and higher rents.

                  Approximately half of Hispanics working in agriculture are legal per Cornell. Six percent of illegals work in agriculture. The rest are competing with your grandchildren and perhaps you for the other 94% of the jobs. Cesar Chavez said that illegals were the thing that prevented him from unionizing most farmworkers.

                  1. perpetualWAR

                    “Illegal” is not a noun.

                    We need to use this term with Wall Street and stop using it for brown people.

              2. jrs

                should teenagers do it is another matter, it’s the kind of thing that if money is needed to their parents and them maybe, but otherwise no. Conventional strawberries for instance are one of the most toxic crops out there. I doubt we know what the cancer rates even are among the illegals picking crops, and why would we keep track of that. But there are certainly areas that are cancer clusters although the CA central valley.

              3. Wyoming

                I have to disagree with a lot of your post. As I have said here before I owned and operated an organic vegetable farm following my retirement. I have direct experience with hiring workers and knowledge of the work visa program for farm workers through conversations with farmers I knew who were trying to use it.

                US farmers try and hire Americans all the time to do the field work. It just does not work. No farmer I know has ever obtained useful American field hands at any wage which a farm can afford to pay. They just will not work hard and are not dependable by any definition. You simply lose money when they show up. People have tried to tell me that they would do the work if it payed well enough, but I don’t believe that for a second as there are almost zero young Americans who have ever actually worked hard physically – they are talking from a position of ignorance. I never had even 1 American worker who was worth what I was paying him (meaning that his productivity actually was sufficient for me to make money from his level of effort – thus one of the reasons I had to work so many hours to make up the slack). Probably in excess of 80% of them never make it through the first week before they stop showing up for work on top of that.

                The work visa programs are very complicated and expensive to try and run/maintain. The housing costs are a huge factor and the wages are around $10/hr (this info from 2012). The farmer has to supply housing for the workers in many cases and the legal requirements for that housing well exceed regular low end rental housing in the local area much of the time.
                The farmer also has to furnish full cooking facilities for the workers or he has to them 3 meals a day. In addition there are requirements for each farmer in this program to prove he tried to hire Americans to do the work and could not succeed in that effort. Outside of all the above dollar costs this program takes up a lot of hours of effort – and I want to point out that most of these farmers are working weekly hours far in excess of that ever experienced by almost 100% of the regular population (I myself worked 12-14 hours a day from Valentines Day to Thanksgiving with zero days off in that span).

                The farmer worker visa program is so onerous that it is just not possible for a significant percentage of the farmers to be able to execute it (not to mention that the USG would be incapable of administering it if they actually all tried to use it). The farms desperately need workers and the workers need jobs. They are going to come if they can get across the borders and the farmers are going to use them if they get to the farms.

                This ‘problem’ is going to be solved via automation as the farm implement industry is making rapid progress along those lines. But the downsides of that are another big conversation….

              4. rd

                There are currently similar programs. Trump has applied to bring in 61 foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago, presumably because there aren’t Americans who can do the work at his resort.

                I am sure there are laid off coal miners who would be willing to work at his club.

              5. Anon

                I watched the Bracero program in action as a young boy. Yes, they were invited in by treaty, but they were mistreated by most American businesses who employed them. The mistreatment was bad enough that there were labor riots by some.

                I never saw an American teenager in the fields of the Coachella and Imperial Valley’s. (A high school friends father was an agricultural employer; most valley farms are now corporate owned.)

                Let me be clear: current US immigration policy is a disaster. The way to reduce Latino immigration is make Mexico and Latin America livable for that population. Stop interfering with a population that wants “socialism” in their government! Stop killing people to install US favored dictators (see: Chile in the 70’s). Stop encouraging the lawlessness that creates the conditions for these people to flee!

                I now live in a wealthy tourist enclave that couldn’t survive without the hardworking, family-oriented, cheap labor from Mexico. Documented or not, businesses employ them because they are cheap, hard-working, law-abiding persons. The local American teenagers or too busy “tagging” and carousing in the family provided car to do that sort of work.

            2. JBird

              If I could, I would get you to talk to my California family that did work in farm labor, the trades, the canneries, warehouses, and even yard work (wasn’t that fun for me) It is really annoying to have people complain about Americans not wanting to do the work that they used to while undercutting the unions, wages, employment opportunities; have all this and then have those living comfortable lives condescendingly use facile explainations about how worthless Americans are, all the while using the ever cheaper, more impoverished, increasingly desperate, and therefore exploitable, Americans, and yes, immigrants who are effectively war refugees, is sadistic, insulting, and contemptible.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Recommended links on Ben Jealous’s positions? I haven’t been paying much attention, being at the other end of the country.

    3. ChiGal in Carolina

      Merkley is now pushing a Medicare for Some proposal. Strike him from the list. And I thought Nina Turner was an office holder, just at the state level

      1. Oregoncharles

        Merkley isn’t bad, but ultimately he’s just a Democrat. The same goes for DeFazio.

        Don’t underestimate Merkley as a campaigner; I’ve gone to a couple of his town halls, and his aw-shucks persona is second to none. He’s even better at it than DeFazio, who’s been phoning it in for a while.

    4. perpetualWAR

      As a staunch Bernie-supporter, I would NEVER vote for Ben Jealous or anyone involved in corrupt NAACP.

  3. H. Alexander Ivey

    Congrats to Gaius for being published, well deserved.

    While I don’t think his take on the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution would fit William Hogeland’s more nuanced view, my quibble is with Gaius’s abstracting away the very real, very bloody, fighting between the rulers and the Hoi Polloi of the day.
    What the focus should be on is who of the elites is fighting whom over what and how we, the HP, can influence the outcome. (h/t to Matt Stoller for that thought).

      1. RWood

        Thank you for the link,
        cf Gore Vidal.

        Repair-ation:
        (That ‘respectable’ and ‘Nixon’ can be included in the same sentence illustrates how far our political standards have ^ devolved ^ since the 1970s.)

        How cum? (Missing a punctuation. Loss of precious bodily fluids?)

        And
        maybe more than confrontation

        It was clear to me that the real laboratory of democracy is America. It’s America where the races are really confronting each other, where the classes are confronting one another, where even people of a different sexual orientation are confronting one another. That’s where democracy started, and that’s where it’s really unfolding.

        Leonard Cohen
        Cohencentric.com

  4. Stelios Theoharidis

    1) Largely democratic when suppressing a majority of the adult population from voting is not largely democratic. It seems that I have a different definition.

    2) Democracy is still being beaten down by the electoral college set up as part of the 3/5ths compromise, not much resolved there.

    3) The greatest benefactor of the 14th Amendment was corporations which utilized it in the courts to obtain corporate personhood. Black folks had their votes suppressed for another 100 years the current state of vote suppression via the penal system / drug war.

    Lets be serious here.

    1. redleg

      1. In the context of the 1780s?
      2. Its a republic.
      3. In the context of the 1870s?

      1. Fiery Hunt

        Thanks, redleg!
        #2 is really, really important.
        I live in the SF Bay Area (think Bluest of the Blue!) and trust me, we don’t want these yahoos dictating to the rest of this very large nation…they’ll turn us all into Uber drivers!

    2. Oregoncharles

      POTENTIALLY democratic might be a better term – our governance isn’t truly democratic to this day; voting has very little to do with policy.

    3. Swamp Yankee

      Re: 2 — I think you’re thinking of the Connecticut Compromise, which set up a population based lower House and a state-based Senate, and consequently, the electoral college as well.

      And while the line among the liberal Democrat goodthinkers has been, since 2016 (I guess they couldn’t be bothered to learn about the electoral college prior to the election….), that the Electoral College is a product of slavery, this is simply not correct.

      But that’s really not quite right. And yes, I teach American history for a living. The 3/5 compromise undoubtedly was based around slavery, but the Connecticut Compromise was based around the fact that small states, both slave and free, with widely diverse economies and societies, did not exactly look forward to total domination by Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. No Senate and electoral college means no New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, etc., in the new union. As it was, Rhode Island essentially had to have an embargo put on it by the other states before it would ratify the document at all.

      Does the 3/5 compromise advantage the slave states? It certainly does. But that was the price of a federal union; otherwise, we’re talking two or three or more countries.

      Which we may end up with in the end, anyway.

  5. Tomonthebeach

    I respectfully disagree with Gaius.

    History often does inform our todays. However, so far as I can see, massive civic rebirth – political renaissances, if you will – since 1776 have all been triggered by adversity delivered by the Four Horsemen. Gaius assumes we will survive either global depression or WW III or both. I do not discount the effect of global warming heated up by thermonuclear detonation, and that is the adversity we face today with a loose cannon government. We might survive another depression, but the resulting dystopia will make 1929 look tame. It will not be psychological losses but the result of an over-leveraged global economy triggered by trade wars.

  6. The Rev Kev

    I am going with the idea that this will be a two stage change. In the first stage, an ascendant conservative movement will use the tool of a Constitutional Convention to bring in changes that are near and dear to their heart and will seek to embed in the Constitution changes that are anathema to the bulk of the population. Once a Convention is called, the delegates can change the agenda to whatever they want and they will – balanced federal budgets, limits to the size of the government, make it friendlier to business, to inject religious and ideological elements into the law and maybe have States have the ability to override Supreme Court opinions. You get the idea. When someone like Mark Rubio thinks that a Constitutional Convention is a good idea, then you know that it is a bad idea.
    The second stage is when because of these changes that people will finally be pushed to challenge conservatives. If the people are deterred from having the ability to enact change at the ballot box, then there will be other “consequences”. I would guess that America may become far more unmanageable as, after all, there are a third of a billion Americans. It won’t matter that the government/regime has the security services on their side as they will still be numerically inferior and not all the tech in Silicon Valley will change this in the long run. I do not know if the result will be an actual civil war but there will be a regression to regional identities in my humble opinion. It just may be that the long term effect would be to turn a Federal government to one of a Confederacy like the Swiss model and yeah, cue the Confederacy 2.0 jokes.

    1. Moreland

      > It won’t matter that the government/regime has the security services on their side …

      This raises once again the question I’ve been asking for a good many years now: who make up those ‘security services’? I mean, what is wrong with these people? How can they in good conscience do that kind of work?

      You can blame the ‘ruling class’ all you want for social inequality, injustice and whatever else — but that doesn’t explain why there are hundreds of thousands of working-class people serving the interests of the 9.9% by wielding truncheons and spraying pepper gas in order to keep the rest of us down.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        I think it says something that cops and guards seem to have still functioning unions, at least last i looked.
        I lost with the few prion guards I knew, so i can’t speak to that for the last 7-8 years. But cops I know talk about job security, “there’s always a need for this”, etc.
        out here in the back country, sherriff’s deputy is a decent paying gig, compared to a convenience store, etc.

      2. MichaelSF

        I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.

        attributed to Jay Gould, robber baron

      3. perpetualWAR

        I have a cop friend who said if revolution ever broke out, he would throw away his badge and join the fight. So, there are some good cops.

    2. marym

      A constitutional convention has been a right-wing project for years, with objectives such as those described in the first part of your comment. In addition, there aren’t federal or state laws regarding how delegates would be apportioned and chosen.

      Considering pervasive corporate capture and corruption in our governing bodies, the bipartisan privatization of government functions, the bipartisan security state, and now the rapidity of the Trump administration’s deregulation, undermining and/or neglect of whatever was left, it’s not clear the elites have much practical need for a convention anymore.

      If there was one, the process to get there would at best be theater to rile up the “bases.” The outcome disastrous for the 99%.

      Whether, after a time of turmoil, there’s the possibility of an alternate or second convention as suggested in the post is beyond my ability to imagine. The prerequisites to making it not a disaster for the 99% would be, at the least, a coherent vision, practical policy alternatives, a re-enfranchised electorate, free and robust capabilities to inform and be informed.

  7. Disturbed Voter

    The original Constitutional Convention was a coup, pulled by Washington and Franklin. The Public had nothing to do with it. Patrick Henry and Jefferson were against it.

    So y’all proposing a coup?

    Making amendments is viable, if you have the votes.

    1. Swamp Yankee

      Jefferson hemmed and hawed but came down on the side of the constitution for reasons of foreign trade and policy (he was in France at the time).

      But I think your larger point is well-taken: the federal constitution was widely opposed, particularly in backcountry districts. If you take a map of Massachusetts towns and the vote for or against ratification, it maps very well onto the map of the heartland of Shays’ Rebellion, which vote no (areas that never rebelled, or that were being rebelled against, vote to ratify).

      Saul Cornell’s book Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828 (Williamsburg, Va.: Omohundro Institute, 1999) is good on this.

  8. Eduardo

    We’re now in the midst of a fourth crisis, from which will emerge the next agreement about how and for whom our government operates. Will it produce a constitution that once again advances our founding principles and expands opportunities, or will this be the first American crisis that institutionalizes a stripping of rights, freedom and wealth?

    Unlimited Digital Access for 99¢
    Read more articles like this by subscribing to the San Francisco Chronicle

    In past crises, the nation found the will and leadership to correct its course. Will we be so blessed again?

    Paid digitial access to rights, freedom and wealth? What a well placed ad.

    1. Travis Bickle

      I think those two errant lines were part of a cut ‘n paste from the original SFC article.

  9. RJ McElroy

    The Rev Kev response reflects my concern about a Constitutional Convention particularly after reading Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains. The Koch and now GOP goal is a redo of the Chilean Pinochet constitution. The Commerce Clause is being given a new understanding by the Chief Justice. What I personally see already are the limitations put on citizens right to sue by corporate mediation requirements. “Standing” is now required to bring suit under the Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. The first 35 years of the law “Any person” meant any person without qualification. Yves or a visitor from Germany could go to my county courthouse and bring suit for the DEQ’s or DNR’s failure to follow the law, not investigate pollution of a stream, etc. That is no longer the case courtesy of a very conservative Michigan Supreme Court. Under present circumstances a Constitutional Convention would be frightening.

    1. blennylips

      Oh I agree: “They” would love a rerun of the de l’affaire Pinochet.

      Remember, they had ready to go, but I’ll bet they will not use deserts the same way again (or hide better):

      On the high wastes of the Atacama, General Pinochet built his death star

      Chilean documentary Nostalgia for the Light is a film of heart-stopping beauty and devastating horror. You wouldn’t imagine the two could co-exist, but Patricio Guzman’s film shows us a place where they do – in Chile’s Atacama Desert. This is apparently the driest place on earth, the only expanse that, seen from space, registers as a patch of brown. Clear skies make it an ideal spot from which to observe the universe; it is also, however, where the Pinochet regime installed a vast concentration camp, and where thousands of its victims’ bodies are buried to this day.

      Full movie (1:10):

    2. flora

      I agree. The corporate ALEC crowd is pushing for a constitutional convention. They have “model” legislation tee’d up in all the states. Afraid GP in this post is carrying water for them without knowing it.

  10. Louis Fyne

    Sorry to be a dissenter—how is today’s situation a *constitutional* crisis?

    Don’t like that “corporations are people” or ? There’s a constitutional solution to that.

    Today’s situation is more of an apathy/nihilism crisis. 45% (or whatever the turnout/eligible voters in 2016) of the citizenry are politically active with near polar opposite positions. The rest are on the sidelines and either too busy making ends meet to care or just turned their back on political engagement for whatever reason.

    1. Carolinian

      Thank you. There was justifiable excitement about Ocasio but turnout in that primary was only 15 percent. Unfortunately much of the left considers political engagement to be watching Maddow and fist pumping when she denounces Trump. The notion that our side could work up the political momentum to take control of a Constitutional convention seems rather dubious. We really don’t want to go there.

      John-Michael Greer had an excellent piece linked here the other day that said the balkanization of identity politics is the real obstacle to change and that we are all going to have to once again start thinking of ourselves as fellow citizens and trying to persuade, not force, those we oppose to change their ways. And let’s not kid ourselves that those in power will oppose this with everything they’ve got. The key is probably populism, that thing that the powerful really do fear.

      1. flora

        Considering the GOP has 33 of the 50 state governorships, and GOP controls both chambers in 32 state legislatures, the idea of a constitutional convention now being anything other than a boon to the GOP and its ALEC money is crazy talk.

        1. flora

          adding: the crisis is in the Dem party, which for the past 30 years has sold out every traditional Dem New Deal principle in the name of courting wads of corporate money. The Dem consultants and top insiders are doing very, very well. The regular people, not so much. The results are obvious. This isn’t a constitutional crisis; it’s an out-of-touch Dem party elite dragging-down-the-party crisis.

  11. Bernard

    I’ve seen too many people killed, on purpose, to believe the country is or could go the right direction. Silence of the people is the desired result. the Right learned from the 60’s how to control the narrative. and we are seeing the results of 40 years of methodical capture of the American Society. We didn’t get here by accident.

    the Right is never silent nor wrong nor content to not get what it wants, by any means necessary. Conservatism can never be wrong according to the Right. Conservatism can only be failed, is the mantra I always hear.

    Danger, Danger Will Robinson.

    1. Wukchumni

      We’re inching ever closer to a theocracy, in which the adherents hope to be spirited away to their just reward, and until Hiroshima, we never had the means to destroy ourselves, but now it looms larger than the threat during the Cold War.

      This is wholly unprecedented, a deistocracy in our midst, who are all history majors in a very narrow time frame, from a couple thousand years ago.

      The idea that I just read Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization, by Arthur Demarest, only accentuated my collapse spidey sense, which was on high alert as it was.

      1. saylor

        I can’t help but relate ‘A handmaid’s tale’ and the country of ‘Gilead’ (which was formerly a large part of the United States). Gilead is a theocratic/fascist state. If you haven’t read the book. Watch the Netflix series. If you haven’t done either, you really really should.

        1. Wukchumni

          It’s in my 2 foot high pile of summer reads, and seeing as we have no electricity at the cabin, it makes it easy to not be distracted. I can race through them, bleeding em’ out for content on the quick.

        2. Elizabeth Burton

          Read the book, then watch the series. The series has all but eliminated the richness of Atwood’s world to turn it into a feminist screed. To see it first without knowing the background will never arouse the terror of the original.

          1. ChiGal in Carolina

            And Lord, to have read it back in the 80s or whenever and see the pieces gradually, insidiously being put in place! Back then, we used checks or cash. Now all we carry is credit/debit cards.

            That’s how it started in the book: first, they froze everybody’s bank accounts…

            1. saylor

              Tangential – Imagine that even now, in the event of a large regional emergency that the population could be contained within or driven to another specific region simply by turning ATM machines on and off per the desired outcome.

                1. saylor

                  If I am to understand your question/statement, the ‘who’ could be ethnic, racial, political or even religious. The ’emergency’ could be pandemic, geological or environmental. The very fact that such a capability exists only means [it] is waiting to be picked up. That whole ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ meme.

      2. Amfortas the Hippie

        I don’t know about a theocracy, without some gigantic disaster to open the way for it. the dominionists, et alia, are still a shrinking minority, as near as i can tell.
        I reserve the right to be wrong, however, which is why I advocate against impeaching trump.
        the more likely source of tyranny, I think will be want/penury…along with ineffectual government response(or lack thereof).
        I just finished Polanyi, so the rise of fascism is on my mind…and how FDR avoided it here by putting some reins on the capitalist beast. in the rest of the world, the ruling elite supported fascism as a tool against socialism, to their ultimate peril.
        On the other hand, I’ve got Democrats yelling at me elsewhere that we must support the WTO from trumps idiocy, as well as Nato, Nafta and the CIA,lol. So I don’t know where the Bernie New New Deal is supposed to come from this time around….leaving the field wide open for a trump, a pence, or some worse creature to emerge into that vacuum.

        Also, regarding Polanyi…I would love to see a treatment of him by Lambert, in the manner he did Crane Brinton, etc in the past.
        Having finished “the Great Transformation”, I suspise that it’s one of the more important books I’ve ever read, and that it’s timely as all getout.

        1. Wukchumni

          I just finished Polanyi, so the rise of fascism is on my mind…and how FDR avoided it here by putting some reins on the capitalist beast. in the rest of the world, the ruling elite supported fascism as a tool against socialism, to their ultimate peril.

          One aspect that’s seldom talked about is the vast difference in how Canada went about things during the Great Depression, compared to here.

          Their Prime Minister was a loathed creature named R.B. Bennett:

          How hated was he by the populace?

          If you couldn’t afford the money for gas for your jalopy, why you’d hook up a horse or 2 and presto!, you had yourself a ‘Bennett Buggy’.

          A Bennett buggy was a term used in Canada during the Great Depression to describe a car which had its engine and windows taken out and was pulled by a horse. In the United States, such vehicles were known as Hoover carts, named after then-President Herbert Hoover.

          The Canadian term was named after Richard Bennett, the Prime Minister of Canada from 1930 to 1935, who was blamed for the nation’s poverty.

          How do I know all this arcane knowledge on the subject matter?

          I highly recommend Barry Broadfoot’s “Ten Lost Years” oral history of Canadians that endured the dirty thirties. He crossed the country interviewing people of the right age in the early 70’s, and came up with amazing tales to tell.

          We were blessed to have FDR, in comparison…

        2. Wukchumni

          p.,s.

          I along with a good many was hoping that the Great Spelunker was going to be FDR revisited a decade ago, but one thing to consider about now and then:

          Then:

          We were the largest producer of oil by far, the largest manufacturing producer by far, the richest creditor nation by far, and the largest repository of gold by far.

          Now:

          Not so much.

        3. Hepativore

          This is a topic that requires an entire blog post on its own, but in the meantime:

          To your point, how would you reign in the power of multinational corporations in terms of tax, labor, and finance laws? I do not see how you would be able to do this without some sort of international body to make and enforce such laws, and that leads us straight to the problem of bad actors within such an international body either being corrupted by the corporations they are supposed to be overseeing. There is also the problem of handing the various squabbles that would probably arise between nations that make up the governing body itself, making it completely ineffectual after awhile.

          Has anybody come across an idea or the best way of making sure that multinational corporations do not continue the pattern of simply moving their operations to whatever country allows them to treat their labor like dirt whenever their original host country tries to impose any sort of regulations on them?

          1. Oregoncharles

            Well, tariffs are a start, if intelligently applied. So are capital controls.

            Countries can also require that businesses operating in them be controlled by their own residents; I believe China did, at least until very recently.

            Personally, I would like to see sharply graduated corporate income taxes that effectively keep companies under a certain size. Foreign holdings would be counted in setting the rate. But more generally, anti-trust provisions could be used that way.

            But first, we have to get rid of the globalization agreements. Trump might have his uses.

            1. Amfortas the Hippie

              “…if intelligently applied…”
              lol.
              like that was ever gonna happen.
              Interestingly, I learned about Capital Controls from the wet-ink newsletters the LaRouche people would always hand out on street corners in the Montrose in Houston, circa late 1980’s.
              in spite of his weirdness and crazy-talk, LaRouche had that part right.That was my first introduction to economics, and prepared me at least enough to be horrified by Nafta.
              and all the remedies you mention are on my list as well.

  12. Michael C.

    I might remind commentators that there are tight restrictions on the length of op-ed in any newspaper. For that reason, one cannot expect a pamphlet length, footnoted article to fill in the blanks. Kudos, Gaius. It gets your main point across clearly in a short space. Well-done.

  13. 4paul

    Congratulations Gaius!
    It seems you and I are on the same wavelength.
    For whatever reason, we in the US seem to be arguing about every detail, and not deconstructing a theoretical underpinning. The example I use is the (dead, white, rich, slave-owning, male) Founding Fathers (mostly Ben Franklin apparently) cribbed an idea from the Enlightenment via the French Revolution “It is better to let ten guilty men free than to imprison even one innocent man.”. Given that as an underpinning, laws are easy to craft, and judicial decisions are easy to render.
    But back in the year 2002 we let Vice President Richard B Cheney say “If there is even a one percent chance that someone is a terrorist we have to do something” which of course became targeting killings and waterboarding – but it represented a latent idea of what “our country” looks like; a black man might not “belong” so lock them all up for smoking weed, a corporation needs cheap labor so immigration chaos prevents undocumenteds from participating in society for fear of deportation … like using the Ten Commandments to craft laws a single philosophical idea can underpin an entire society.
    So we “Americans” (I’m not sure I call the contemporary US American) need to decide what kind of society we are. A Constitutional Convention is a good way to do that. A racist/corporatist Constitution would be the likely outcome of a rewrite, and would be a disaster, but might show us what is truly important, and we could get it right the second time. Remember the Articles of Confederation lasted less than a decade!
    As far as a fundamental change in governmental function, we let that happen after 9/11. We let Cheney/Yoo/Armitage get away with redefining torture and murder and terrorism (and dissent – remember “free speech zones” when protesting Bush??) so that’s a done deal. Okay, I just talked myself into agreeing with Gaius, except I think it already happened. We are PAST the crisis phase; I don’t want to be pessimistic, but think about Trump and Supreme Court appointments and read this line now:

    “emergence of the right political leader — and by the people’s ability to elect him”

    1. saylor

      I’m afraid that if ‘we’ are not able to “…see what is truly important…” with the antics of the current administration, a Constitutional Convention would be more than just a disaster. It would plunge us into a neo feudal dark age that could last more than a century. It may even be necessary to copy Isaac Asimov’s :Foundation” concept.

  14. Pete Mardoc

    Our founding fathers divided political power between three independent institutions, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The founders also enshrined watchdog power to the press so the people could be independently informed about what was happening in government. These devices successfully diluted the absolute power of monarchs, which was the goal of our founding fathers. However, the design of our constitution did not anticipate the political power of corporations.
    Corporations have gradually increased their political power since the Civil War. As noted above corporations used the 14th amendment, which was meant to secure rights of individuals, to secure rights not really intended for corporations.
    Citizens have the right to free speech in relation to our government, but not in relation to our employers.
    Citizens have the right to collectively bargain (vote) in relation to our government, but not employers.
    Citizens have the right to due process in relation to our government, but not employers.
    Some corporations have eclipsed nation sovereignty by establishing ISDS courts in trade agreements.
    The US Constitution which dismantled the power of the monarchy has been almost totally subverted to transfer political power to corporations. In addition the economic power of corporations is being reduced by the growing effects of climate change and resource depletion. To make up for this lost revenue, corporations are accelerating their growth of political power in order to cannibalize any value stored in the commons.
    Any changes to the US Constitution need to reserve rights to individuals and make the needs corporations and other organizations subservient to the express rights of individuals.
    In addition, the rights of individuals need to be subservient to the needs of a healthy environment.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      Pete, while i agree with everything you said, I think that one of the biggest and wholly overlooked changes in the world of the last 40-100 years, has been the corporation becoming cosmopolitan…supranational…citizens of the world.
      if we, the people, somehow manage to push through an Amendment reversing Citizens United and taking away Corporate Personhood, said fictional entities will just shift their domocile to Liberia or somewhere…that will leave us with autarchy, likely badly done, or a total capitulation to the corporate earth, in order for them to come back.
      Is there a mechanism for “the People” to take over the WTO?
      That, the World Bank, BIIS, and IMF are like the Corporate Version of Global Governance.
      It ain’t enough to “take back the people’s house” any more.

    2. Hepativore

      One thing that I also think needs to be redone is a definition of what the Executive branch can and cannot do, EXPLICITLY. Over the years, various presidents and leaders seem to have given themselves a lot of leeway in terms of what privileges that the presidential office grants them, such as bombing countries without a formal declaration of war, extrajudicial killings of American citizens, detaining American citizens without trial for an indefinite period of time, creating new governmental organizations, etc. We need to have what our leaders can and cannot do in writing, as this is what leads to the potential for such abuses in the first place.

      The Nixonian idea of the presidency i.e. “If the president does it, then it’s not illegal.” seems to be the de-facto idea of our various presidents over the years, arguably since the Spanish-American war, and it has just gotten worse since then. All Nixon did was articulate this attitude officially.

      There are other things that might need to be looked at as well, such as redoing how our Supreme Court justices are selected, which was touched upon in an earlier post this week.

      Finally, this would be quite an overhaul, but does anybody think that the US would be better served by a parliamentary system of government compared to the structure of our current one? There would be nothing stopping the next Trump and his cabinet from trampling all over things, but when one party controls all three branches of government, this is what happens anyway.

      1. Amfortas the Hippie

        I’d like it, I think. 2 parties ain’t enough…big tents lead to dogmatic pablum, offending no one, and getting nowhere.until they offend everyone, and fall apart.i sure don’t feel represented by either party.
        do congressional aportioning at the same time(Article the First), making a whole lot more congressional districts so representatives can maybe actually represent(currently a us congresscritter “represents” about 700,000 people)
        To paraphrase Habermas, we need more democracy.

  15. Off The Street

    Constitutions are only as good as the laws made after them. Witness the growth of the Federal Register and the swarms of lobbyists paying for their client demands to become enacted. In 1776 there was some sense of commonality of purpose and nationhood. By 1976, some fraying of that commonality had accelerated, as even the feeling of banding together during the Depression and the war started to fade.

    Fast forward to today with those lobbyists working with their, not our, Congress, and it is hard to feel that the nation honors let alone understands what made it a nation in the first place. Don’t look to your current schools or universities to educate about that, as you will need to pursue such interests independently. At least some type of democracy of ideas is manifest in the internet. Information is harder to hide now even if the effort to separate the wheat from the chaff requires more effort.

  16. Ur-Blintz

    Alexander Hamilton? Really?

    The linked essay is about the agitprop in the popular musical that carries his name, but Stoller does a great job at eviscerating, with actual history, our most authoritarian and undemocratic founding father.

  17. Unna

    Can’t quite see the USA morphing into a happy Swiss Confederacy. The Swiss are neutral and generally mind their own business. No global force projection, maybe except for banks but that’s a different issue. An easy confederacy would be fine enough to manage internal matters allowing different regions to stay out of each other’s way on touchy issues. But that’s not a constitutional model suited to running a global empire bound and determined to exercise Full Spectrum Dominance over the entire world, forever, et in saecula saeculorum with the most immediate objective of preventing the rise of any power or combination of powers from acquiring the military, economic, or political might to challenge the presumed hegemony of the United States. I think that’s the correct formula and it’s complete madness. But I think the American centred Western elites will hold onto it, the dream, with all those military, political, and economic benefits flowing to them, like mad starving dogs holding onto a bone. Empire requires domestic economic repression, obedience, social and religious regimentation. Especially when imperial power starts slipping away.

    1. Disturbed Voter

      This was 4 and 20 black birds baked into the English Manifest Destiny pie … the New Atlantis of Francis Bacon, vs the City On A Hill of the Winthrops. We are all Anglo-American Israelites (Mormonism being a wild hair). Materially the Anglo-American Empire … aka the Roman Empire with English instead of Latin.

      1. Wukchumni

        When the great unraveling happens, if i’m still alive to tell the tale, people of 2057 might scoff that I watched the moon landing from afar in person, claiming it’s just a myth.

  18. Min

    Was there a constitutional crisis during the Great Depression? Yes, but it was addressed, not by amendment — women had already won the right to vote –, but by reinterpretation. Workers, at least White workers, gained new rights. FDR articulated the Four Freedoms: Freedom of speech; Freedom of worship; Freedom from want; Freedom from fear. The first two are enshrined in the First Amendment, but no constitutional amendment addresses the last two.

    There was a backlash against providing equal rights to Black Americans, which resulted in Jim Crow laws, and a society of lynching in the South. American became, and remains, a racially segregated society, although no longer is segregation mandated by law. Blacks have not yet gained equality, even after a century and a half. (Not to ignore other minorities, but their history is not the same.)

    There is a continuing backlash against the New Deal and its constitutional interpretation. If there is a constitutional crisis in that backlash, it is a slow moving one of slow erosion. For some time the U.S. has been effectively a plutocracy, as policies which enjoy the overwhelming support of “we, the people” are not enacted into law, while policies which favor the rich are enacted. Ten years ago a second great depression was averted by bailing out, not the middle class or working class, but “malefactors of great wealth.” The Tea Party actually arose in resistance against bailing out the middle class (!).

    But things are coming to a head. We have elected a wannabe dictator who spouts racist and sexist rhetoric. The Supreme Court has rolled back the voting rights of African Americans. Freedom of speech has been reinterpreted to mean Freedom to spend and corrupt the political process. Freedom of worship has been reinterpreted to mean the ability to impose one’s own religious beliefs upon others. Freedom of contract has largely reverted to its 19th century anti-labor interpretation to allow employers to force workers to become wage slaves. (The backlash against Freedom from want has largely succeeded.)

    The racist, religious, economic, and political backlashes are rolled into one, so that people may vote against their economic and political interests in favor of their racist and religious interests. Many people are willing to make sacrifices in order to impose hardships upon others. Turning the tide will not be easy. It will take decades, if not generations. But it is not impossible. It took the anti-New Dealers decades to get where we are today. They were steadfast and resolute. We can expect no less from ourselves.

  19. Scott1

    In North Carolina where public school education is right deficient & gerrymandering has reached great perfections in cracking and packing the Gopsay have as their goal creation of a classical fascist corporation and pseudo aristocratic government as they turn the Governor into a ceremonial figurehead.
    6 new state amendments are being pushed through.
    I just got the news letter from my local legislator Verla Insko. All of them along with prior legislation intended to allow for conservative bench packing, put working people at greater disadvantages.
    Taxation is aimed to put fees and fines into a package making the least able to pay pay the most.
    No above the Mason Dixon progressive polices, such as legal pot, a higher minimum wage, are never to be even discussed. Anything to keep independents and Democrats from the polls is to be done.
    The University System was leading the State forward, but boy oh boy the proof of what one man’s failures can mean are illustrated in the backlash against those policies intended to advance opportunity and strength overall mouthed by Senator John Edwards brought every rich right wing functionary into the board rooms of the University system pumping up tuitions and ending legal aid to the poor from their schools of Law or Social policy.
    Pigs and their waste lagoons torture the air of many counties but even a win against those corporations responsible is whittled from 50 million to 3 by the states’s caps on damage awards.
    Attorney’s in general avoid any medical malpractice claims because of these sorts of caps since they can spend the time in other states and capture more money.
    All of it is designed to enable more lifestyle policing and keep more people ignorant and desperate.
    I’d say that far as the trends are in the country for the federalized NC is one to see as a touchstone.
    Editor Thomas Mills of NC Politics could write you a greater & more cogent piece than I.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      As a newcomer to the state, I can second that I have never seen such GOP overreach. Removing the power to make judicial appointments from the executive to the legislature is astounding. And the gerrymandering was struck down once by the courts yet lives on???

  20. Norb

    The economic benefits of slavery are undeniable. The same is true with unthinking exploitation of the natural world. The ideology that the world exists for humans to exploit reigns supreme. That is the Western conception of human purpose- To realize our Destiny as Gods chosen people, to have dominion over this world, and have free reign in exploiting its bounty for our own interests. That is the Anglo-Saxon legacy. Christianity has morphed from a radical movement concerned with improving the lives of the impoverished masses to a justification for elite exploitation and rule. Those interests are for a small elite to rule over the bulk of humanity while the rest grind out a meager existence as best they can. Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion of the Eastern Empire for good reason- keep control over its message and power.

    The adherents of chattel slavery looked for justifications for their worldview and simultaneously feared a general slave revolt. To minimize the personal risks of slave insurrection, wage slavery was developed throughout the centuries and leads us to the current moment in history. Keeping this Ruler/Slave relationship going underpins all Western life. The desire and illusion of freedom suppling the fuel.

    This moment will be a crisis if only the domestication of the laboring masses is put on hold by some new enlightenment movement, or there is a general environmental breakdown which is growing more likely in the not to distant future.

    In both cases, a new worldview must take hold. In the first case by choice, the second by force. The real crisis is that a Corporate dystopia is a real possibility considering how far along this path humanity has already traveled. Propaganda and electronic endured illusions will reign supreme in such a world. As long as the energy to maintain the devices is available.

    Corporations will be forced to develop new opiates for the masses, in order to retain power. With marketing and violence they will be able to integrate whatever is needed and an unsuspecting population will accept the offerings.

    However, this is not a strong or resilient form of government let alone the basis for a society. Technological advancement by itself means very little when parity is reached, and actually begins to be counterproductive after a point. America is in this state now and the next great shock for the American people will be when their illusions of invincibility finally become evident.

    Outside forces will offer too much resistance- as is becoming plainly evident- and American Empire will falter, and internal forces will split along economic lines- the have and the have nots. A sense of National betrayal will be the driving force and regional power centers will fill the void.

    Corporations have risen to power using the rhetoric of Freedom and Democracy but now can deliver or secure neither. The rise of corporate power has been a stealth operation from the beginning. Now, it is not so stealthy.

    An ugly, destructive Nationalism based on conquest and warfare is not the answer. If those abundant guns and ammo can be used to secure a sustainable regional peace, all the better. Corporate controlled media prevents the views of an enlightened elite from gaining sway. Finding the proper balance between individual freedom and group cohesion and benefit is what is working itself out. How else to explain the distain of North Korea, China, and Russia. They have successfully resisted western encroachment.

    In an age of technological parity, only peaceful coexistence makes any sense. War and confrontation is the American way and in an age of nuclear weapons, a loosing proposition to pursue. The more the US pushes in this direction, the more it looses in International respect and influence.

    Maybe the best outcome would be for the US to become the last Empire by choice. Now that would be influential and positive. Declare victory, and return home to begin building a sustainable future for all humanity.

    A naive utopian view- maybe not. It is a choice.

  21. blennylips

    What was the flaw Kurt Gödel discovered in the US constitution?

    Remember the time Einstein talked Kurt Gödel into keeping his mouth shut during his citizenship interview? Kurt thought he’d be doing US a favor as “The Mathematician Who Showed How the US Could Be Made A Dictatorship“.

    Nobody’s really sure what flaw he found, though most agree it as to do with Article V (amendments).

    Academics have weighed in:

    Capital University Law Review, vol. 41 (2013), pp. 637-673

    37 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2012 Last revised: 18 Dec 2013
    F. E. Guerra-Pujol

    University of Central Florida; Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico

    Lots of Convention strategizing pontification has already been done due to interest in figuring out what flaw Kurt thought he’d found.

  22. Min

    The economic benefits of slavery are dubious. What the master/slave relationship embodies is relative. What has almost ended slavery was not a moral awakening after millennia of civilizations built upon slavery, or not that alone, it was the realization that general social and economic well being was good for the people at the top of society. Not that the impulse to oppress has ceased, to get ahead by pushing others back or down, but it has been moderated.

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