My family has a 2001 Ford F-150 with over 160,000 miles on the odometer. It runs like a champ once you get it started and the old, low-revving V8 even has plenty of power to get up and go, but you can tell it’s gone the circumference of the earth almost 7 times. The fuel pump is notorious for going bad on our particular model and, even now that it’s been replaced, it doesn’t work quite as it should. Sometimes it is hard to start, prompting us to turn off the air conditioning (reducing load on the engine slightly) and tap the accelerator. The whole thing could probably use a tune up, but where’s the fun in that?
The condition of the United States’ democratic system is very analogous to that of our old truck, as a recent article by The Washington Post exemplifies (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/04/12/anti-abortion-heartbeat-bills-are-illegal-why-do-republicans-keep-passing-them/?utm_term=.51e1143ada9b). The article addresses the less-than-ideal way in which Republicans have chosen to challenge the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade. Namely, numerous state legislatures have passed anti-abortion bills which prohibit the killing of a fetus after a heartbeat has been detected – a shining example of democracy in action, except that the laws are currently considered unconstitutional. The Republicans passing the bills know full-well that they are defying precedent and anticipate that organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will sue them for violating the 1973 ruling. Their hope is that one of the lawsuits will make it to the Supreme Court and prompt a reversal of the previous decision.
This is not how our political system was ever intended to work, and it is neither an efficient nor reliable way to enact change. That said, the Republicans don’t really have much of a choice. The United States is getting relatively old for such a liberal democracy and it is beginning to show. Some things have degraded (one may say eroded) and are not working as intended; they are not as efficient as they once were or had design flaws to begin with that are now manifesting themselves. When our truck was new, a turn of the key would cause it to start right up, but things have now degraded to the point where it requires more finesse and some rather unusual techniques. Similarly, the political system of the US has degraded to the point where the best way to get a Supreme Court decision re-examined is to violate it and wait for the lawsuits to come rolling in. Deliberately breaking the law has become a legitimate way to encourage political change, which clearly indicates that something has gone awry.
When the US was brand new, there was a straightforward way for the people to enact a policy that had been ruled unconstitutional. The founders made sure of that, since the whole point of democracy is to get the people what they want in the most peaceful and efficient way possible (recall Robert Dahl’s dimensions of inclusivity and public contestation). When the Supreme Court decides that the Constitution does not say what We the Peoplewant it to say, we can simply amend the Constitution so that it does. Unfortunately, the US political system has degraded to the point where doing so is an extremely difficult task, and that is exactly why the Republicans have chosen to enact their abortion policies in such an unconventional and indirect manner.
The United States Constitution has always been a hassle to amend, requiring massive congressional action or an entire convention to even get the process started. The advantage to this is increased political stability, but its steadfastness forces democratic erosion to flow into other political institutions. The passing of numerous abortion laws which are currently considered unconstitutional is an act of defiance which exemplifies and perpetuates democratic erosion because it displays a disregard for the rule of law and degrades the current political norms. (This is not to say that passing the laws is wrong in this case, especially since the immediate threat to innocent lives far outweighs the threat to democracy if the Republicans are correct.) It is no longer the norm to enact change through legal processes, but rather it has become acceptable to just take action and let people sort things out later instead of asking permission before hand. This defiant manner of political operation is becoming very common, and our two most recent presidents have been criticized heavily for it (https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/dont-like-trumps-executive-orders-blame-obamas-pen-and-phone/).
For years now, people have been calling for the US to make its Constitution easier to amend, but I do not believe that this is the best solution to the democratic erosion exemplified in the Washington Post article. While it can be a hassle, the Constitution isn’t really all that difficult to amend for a healthy legislature and a united electorate. The problem is that other forms of democratic erosion have put sand in the gears of Congress (and the rest of the government) and made it difficult to even pass a simple budget. Until the stagnation of the government can be addressed, it is probably for the better that the Constitution remain steadfast, and it would be very dangerous to soften it at a time when the nation is so volatile. The solution to the Roe v. Wadefiasco is extremely simple: The Constitution should be amended so that the states have the right to pass their own abortion laws. The only difficult part is doing what this entire website is devoted to – fixing the democratic erosion that has caused our constitutional republic to stop working as it should. The United States is a relatively young democracy, but it has seen some hard miles. The apparently unconstitutional heartbeat bills and the lawsuits that come with them can be seen as another code from the check engine light, notifying us that our government is in need of a serious tune up.
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