Conservatives elect Republicans hoping they will peel back the omnipresent federal government and tilt the balance back toward individual liberties. This is naivety at its worst. It can’t be done. Only a collapse of the system will allow a restart; a reboot if you will. And here’s why, starting with an analogy and a little history.
In the software business, product versions are usually designated with three digits in the form X.Y.Z, where X, Y, and Z refer to major, secondary, and patch releases respectively. Thus, version 1.2.1 would mean, from right to left, this is the first patch to the second change to the first release.
If we were to apply the same semantic numbering to the development of America’s operating system—the Constitution—we would start with the first public release in 1789 of Constitution v1.0. It didn’t take long to see fixes were needed, and v1.10 quickly followed with the addition of the first ten amendments.
As the nation aged, wars were fought, new states and territories were acquired, and a glut of laws were passed, America found itself operating under v1.12 and thousands of patches, many over slavery. When a product reaches this point in development, the bugs make it nonfunctional, as was pre-civil war America. So from 1861 to 1865 the country fought over product features ending with the improved operating system v1.15 in 1869.
Version 1.15 with patches became 1.17 with patches in 1913. But here we need to pause, because versions 1.16 and 1.17, respectively the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, changed the nature of American government. Along with the patch to allow for a Federal Reserve, the federal government was now able to regulate and tax the most fundamental property right—your income. It also greatly weakened the concept of sovereign states and gave the government complete control over the money supply.
As they say, the rest is history. Enter the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, and countless other patches that have created the bloated mess we have today. Agency after agency and law after law, our government is now unwieldy and broken.
The sad thing is that this is irreversible under normal legislative processes. Government works like a ratchet that’s mostly stuck in one direction. Yes, we repealed the awful Eighteen Amendment with the Twenty First Amendment, but mostly to collect lost liquor taxes.
Conservatives keep voting for candidates thinking that they will fix the bugs, but let’s look at what this approach would take. In one form or another we will have to:
1) Elect at least a generation of conservative supermajorities in both chambers of congress. They have to be supermajorities because parliamentary rules allow for political minority actions to stop simple majority legislation.
2) We will have to elect a string of conservative presidents to work with the conservative congresses. We can’t have activist presidents who govern by executive actions in order to bypass congress.
3) True constitutionalists must be nominated and approved to the Supreme Court.
4) Conservatives will have to control at least 37 state legislatures, because sooner or later we will need to make constitutional amendments.
Although the above conditions don’t have to be all inclusive, they do have to predominately occupy the political landscape for quite a bit of time. So, let’s assume the above conditions are met to some acceptable level, then we will have to start eliminating bad laws and associated abusive and corrupt government agencies, followed by wringing out generations of cultural rot in those agencies we think we need to hold on to.
We’re talking getting rid of the IRS, EPA, Department of Education, and others, entirely or at least as we know them. Even the DoD, responsible for a legitimate function of the federal government, and the darling of the right, is just as broken as other federal agencies and will have to undergo massive realignment.
We’re talking tens of thousands of interconnected offices, departments, and agencies with millions of employees, and many more millions of support contractors… in… every… congressional… district. Finally, we have to wean a good number of the 50% of Americans who now receive government benefits. And as we are carrying out the plan mentioned above, we have to continue to defeat new unconstitutional initiatives.
We’re figuratively, if not literally, talking a civil war fought through long, drawn-out trench warfare. Each attempt will be highly emotional and possibly spill into the streets.
An example of what I outline above is Trump’s 100 Day Plan. Some of his ideas are already DOA, and others will not advance far, including the outright repeal of Obamacare. Since a number of Republicans are sympathetic to having some government program in place, watch the Republican leadership pull an Obamacare-like rabbit out of their hat as they reassure us they have nothing up their sleeves.
The bottom line is that only a collapse of the system is likely to bring about the reduction of government so many on the right want. But when you mention collapse, people get nervous to the point of taking a few steps away from you as they look for an exit.
However, collapses are quite common throughout history. Some come through civil unrest (the American Revolution), some through financial instabilities (the collapse of the USSR), and some by natural catastrophes (Europe and the Black Plaque). Regarding the USSR, did Mikhail Gorbachev really think that glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) were really going to work to reform 70 years of entrenched communism?
Yes, collapses are painful, but as Thomas Jefferson wrote regarding manmade causes, “…and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Many Americans just don’t share the same oppressive view of government as those on the right. Therefore, we will largely continue on our current course and the collapse will probably come from financial instability. The ratchet will turn until it shears off the screw.
All this doesn’t mean one shouldn’t care about who wins elections; someone has to be around to write the new rules, and it should be constitutionalists. We could just try to fix the current constitution with amendments and end up with something like v1.64, or some might push for Constitution v2.0. Either way, I would use the opportunity to clear up some prior wording and definitely make it harder to expand government.
We can’t forget the corrosive role political parties have had on our nation, including inciting tribalism and conflict. Our Founders warned us about political parties but failed to put stronger barriers against their influence. Here’s an amendment that should have been added a long time ago:
“Congreſs shall make no law prohibiting the free exerciſe of political parties, however, political parties being wretched inſtruments in the deſtruction of liberties, congreſs shall make no law respecting the establiſhment of political parties and political parties shall have no official duties, titles, or privileges in the operation of government.”
Adding equivalent text to the existing or a new constitution should be given some serious consideration. Like chicken soup for a cold, it may not help, but it wouldn’t hurt.