Politics & Policy

The ‘Burn It Down!’ Democrats

Sen. Kamala Harris launches her campaign for president in Oakland, Calif., January 27, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)
Unmediated mass democracy would lead to the serfdom of minority groups and the smallest, poorest states.

The Senate. The Electoral College. The First Amendment. The Second Amendment. The Supreme Court. Is there a part of our constitutional order that the Democrats have not pledged to destroy?

There are some Democrats out there in the sticks — a lot of them, in fact — who simply don’t understand the constitutional order. They believe that the United States is a democracy, John Adams et al. be damned, and, in fact, they often are confused by the frankly anti-democratic features of the American order, because they have been taught (theirs is a pseudo-education consisting of buzzwords rather than an actual education) that “democratic” means “good” and “undemocratic” means “bad.”

But the Democrats in Washington are a different story. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris went to law school. They understand the American constitutional order just fine.

And they hate it.

The American order is complex — it is much more sophisticated than “democracy,” which assumes that nothing stands between the individual and the national state except aggregation, that might (defined as 50 percent + 1) makes right. The American order is based on the idea that the United States consists of many different kinds of people in many different kinds of communities, and that each of these has interests that are legitimate even when they conflict with the equally legitimate interests of other communities. The densely populous urban mode of life is not the only mode of life, and the people of the urban areas are not entitled by their greater numbers to dominate their fellow citizens in the less populous rural areas.

The basic units of the United States are, as the name suggests, the several states. The states created the federal government, not the other way around. The states are not administrative subdivisions of the federal government, which is their instrument, not their master. In this, the United States is fundamentally different from countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan, which have unitary national governments under which provincial distinctions are largely irrelevant.

In our system, the states matter. Under the Democrats’ vision, some states matter: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio, which, without the institutions of federalism, have among them the numbers and the power to effectively dominate the rest of the country.

At the time of the Founding, the people of the smaller states did not desire to enter into a union in which they and their interests would be dominated by the larger ones. The people of the smaller states still do not wish to be politically dominated by the larger ones. For that reason, the interests of the states as such — not mere aggregates of voters — are taken into consideration. The Senate, as originally organized, existed to preserve the interests of the states as such against the opportunism and predation of the more populous House of Representatives — and against the ambitions of the executive, too. Turning the Senate into an inflated version of the House was one of the progressives’ first great victories against the Constitution of the United States and an important step toward the sort of mass democracy that our constitutional order is explicitly designed to prevent.

But the states have other protections as well, one of which is the Electoral College, which helps to ensure that the president — the Founders were right to fear presidential ambition — is not a mere tribune of the plebs, a rider upon “the beast with many heads” empowered by the mob at his back to abuse and dominate members of minority groups — smaller states, religious minorities, political minorities, etc.

The rights of minorities are further protected — from democracy — by the Constitution’s limitations on the power of the federal government and specifically by the Bill of Rights, which places some considerations above democracy: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to security in one’s home and papers, etc. One of the main constitutional functions of the Supreme Court is to see to it that the federal government does not violate the Bill of Rights, even when We the People demand that it does — especially then, actually: Rights that enjoy wide popular support require very little constitutional protection. It is the unpopular rights that require protection.

Of course there were blemishes and oversights. Even the enlightened minds of the 18th century were hostages of their time, and the interests of African Americans and women were not taken into consideration. Those defects were corrected, partly by the shedding of blood but to a great extent by constitutional amendments that abolished slavery, enfranchised women, and brought the American people at large more fully into the constitutional system. The preamble to the Constitution describes a “more perfect union,” which is not the same thing as a perfect union. The genius of leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was that their calls to radical change ran against the grain of American society at their time but were perfectly in tune with the American idea and the principles of the American order.

The Democrats’ calls to radical change in 2019 are precisely the opposite: They are very much in keeping with the transient passions of the time but fundamentally opposed to the American constitutional order.

The Electoral College ensures that the citizens in the less popular states are not reduced to serfdom by the greater numbers (and greater wealth) of the people in the more populous states. This balancing of minority rights with democratic processes is a fundamental part of the American order (properly understood, the value of plebiscitary democracy is not substantive — majorities are at least as likely to be wicked and oppressive as virtuous and just — but purely procedural), and the Electoral College is the instrument by which that principle is applied to the election of presidents. The Democrats desire to abolish the Electoral College for purely self-interested reasons of partisanship: They think that there would be more Democratic presidents under unmediated mass democracy.

The First Amendment ensures that all Americans have the right to engage in political speech. Democrats wish to put political speech under heavy regulation, so that the people holding political power set the rules under which they may be criticized and debated. The Democrats have attempted to gut the First Amendment under the guise of “campaign finance” regulation, as though the right of free speech could be separated from the means of speech. It is worth bearing in mind that the Democrats’ latest attack on the First Amendment was occasioned by the desire of a political activist group to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the run-up to a presidential election — a film whose circulation the Democrats sought to prohibit as a “campaign finance” matter.

The Supreme Court stepped in to stop that, finding that the First Amendment means what it says. And now the Democrats propose to corrupt the Supreme Court, expanding the number of justices from nine to whatever number it takes for a future Democratic president to create a majority of Democratic partisans on the Court. They are counting on the same court-packing scheme to give them the power to effectively repeal the Second Amendment without having to bother to propose and ratify a constitutional amendment — a political fight that the Democrats would surely lose.

What the Democrats are proposing — abolishing the constitutional protections afforded to smaller states and political minorities, perverting the Supreme Court, gutting the Bill of Rights — amounts in sum to a revolution, replacing our government with a government of a very different character and structure.

They are doing this mainly because the Constitution prevents them from achieving their immediate short-term political goals. And we should be clear about what those immediate political goals actually are: muzzling their political opponents and those with unpopular political views, disarming the citizenry, stripping minority groups of political power, and rigging the political system in favor of their own constituents. They would, if given the power, burn down the American constitutional order and replace it with something closer to ordinary mob rule, plain and unapologetic ochlocracy. The United States is not drifting into fascism or socialism — it is drifting into anarchy.

That’s quite a fit to throw over Mrs. Clinton being denied her tiara.

The Republican party likes to position itself as the defender of the Constitution. But with a few exceptions (Senator Ben Sasse prominent among them), Republicans in elected office demonstrate very little appreciation for the actual stakes on the political table. For the moment, they are more concerned with defending the Trump administration — which, whatever you think of it, is a short-term concern — than with defending something that is far more important, far more precious, and, in all likelihood, impossible to replace. If 2016 taught us anything, it is that the Jeffersons and Madisons of this generation apparently are otherwise occupied, that our political leadership is for the time diminished, and that the institutions the Democrats propose to incinerate could not be rebuilt by contemporary Americans any more than modern Iraqis could successfully revive the Code of Hammurabi.

 

 

 

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