My intention in saying this is not to discourage supporters of and potential voters for Donald Trump. These people know from experience that it is best to dismiss or fight to prove wrong the self-interested doomsday predictions of the mainstream media. If anything, the possibility of a Clinton victory should concentrate the minds of our #nevertrump friends, providing them with the opportunity to rethink the practical consequences of their actions.
My reason for mentioning the possibility of a Clinton Presidency is to point out the problem it raises for Americans seeking to defend our constitutional order. Plans for constitutional resistance should in no way make conservatives less uncomfortable at the prospect of a loss on November 8. The kinds of pushback some conservatives are mentioning as possible responses to a Clinton victory will be made more dangerous and less likely to succeed by precisely that victory.
Of particular note, concern over a Clinton Presidency appears to have added further motivation to people who for some time have been calling for a Convention of the States (COS). COS supporters seek to go around the highly restrictive process of constitutional amendment that begins with congressional action by appealing directly to the states. The COS would aim to amend and reform the nation’s Constitution. It has gained momentum through a simple, logical conclusion: If as obviously corrupt a politician as Hillary Clinton can become President, then the system is indeed broken and in need of thorough reformation to re-establish a government in accordance with the vision of the Constitution’s Framers. There is much to this argument—to the drawing of implications from a Clinton victory and to the honorable desire to remove from our charter of government the cancerous growth of progressive politics masquerading as legal judgment our courts have used to undermine, not just the Constitution, but the very polity it was intended to govern.
And yet the idea of a COS scares me to death. Why? Not because I believe the alarmist canard that it would be “taken over” by right-wing radicals bent on establishing some sort of racist, sexist, homophobic theocracy. The number of Americans committed to racialist politics is, thank goodness, extremely small and highly unlikely ever to reach the point of presenting a real risk to American decency. My fears lie in quite the opposite direction. For, while the idea of a COS has its origins in a populist movement, the reality is that such movements too often end up being subverted by the very worst, least civilized forces among the elites. History shows that the left is quite good at hijacking reform, turning it away from its proper goal of ending abuses and toward revolution.
COS proponents have a reasonable-seeming answer to such concerns in the very fact that they are calling for state rather than federal action. After all, the progressive politics that have caused so much damage to our constitutional culture have been centralizing politics; they have aimed to eliminate the natural diversity of associations, communities, and approaches to public life deeply embedded in the American character. Unfortunately, our centralizing national politics already have corrupted local political cultures.
As our Constitution’s Framers recognized, our localities are both the locus of Americans’ attention and the source of their virtue. Unfortunately, it has been many decades since the federal government allowed the families, churches, and local associations that once made up the bulk of both our public and our private life, to maintain their traditional character and powers of self-government. Moreover, concentration of power in the hands of the federal government has been aided and abetted by increasingly corrupt and dependent state governments. Federal mandates concerning everything from traffic safety to racial quotas in hiring have drained the drive for self-government from state and local agencies. What is worse, the habit of handing over power to the federal government has become so ingrained that states and localities increasingly demand more guidance (and funding) from the center. In everything from healthcare to education we have seen rank overreaching from Washington greeted with enthusiasm in state capitals from Columbus, to Albany, to Sacramento. True, some states have been noble exceptions to this trend. Still, the trend is powerful, growing, and corrupting.
The same progressive assumptions and the same progressive drive to enforce uniformity on the people rule at both the national and the state levels. For decades, now, not just national but more local elites have been disrupting the people’s traditional institutions, beliefs, and practices in the name of an abstract fairness that has proven costly, intrusive, and deeply unfair. Corrupt one-party states such as New York and California have been the worst, but the same pattern of “bi-partisan” elitism has spread throughout much of the country.
There remain tools for recovery to hand—most especially the determination to deny power to Hillary Clinton. But we should not comfort ourselves as we face the Clinton juggernaut with thoughts of some ensuing pushback from America’s heartland. That heartland already is in a severely weakened condition, and a Clinton victory will not merely exacerbate the situation; it will produce new and greater dangers.
Among these dangers may be a drive for even more extensive constitutional “reform” than already has been foisted upon us. My worst-case scenario for a COS? A takeover of the process by state leaders and especially legal activists operating within the mainstream of radical politics that dominate law and politics throughout America, and indeed the world. For example, did you know that the constitutions of a variety of countries require representation by race, gender and ethnicity? You may be thinking that this kind of constitutional requirement must be a rare oddity of our big, diverse world, and has no meaning for the United States. But what is done today in Nepal and South Africa may well be done tomorrow in the United States. I do not say this because the Constitution would sanction, let alone require, such an overt attack on the democratic process and the deeply held American belief that merit should be the primary source of advancement. I say it because, unless we change course radically and soon, it could happen here. A Convention of the States would be one forum in which the idea could be raised. In any event, I would not be shocked to find soon that our own Supreme Court would have found some way to impose requirements for “representational due process” on our own legislatures.
Americans already have been inured to the use of racial and gender quotas in testing, in placement in schools, in hiring, and in promotion. Indeed, it has come to be seen as racist and sexist to argue against them—or even to acknowledge that “affirmative action” as currently practiced is a means by which the state uses its power over private entities to distribute positions and life chances according to race and sex. And the justification no longer is phrased primarily in terms of wrongs done in the past; rather, the argument is that various institutions and groups (e.g. elite university graduates, government agencies, and corporate boards) must “reflect America” to fulfill their public function.
The next logical step in this line of argument is to demand that representative bodies like Congress “represent” America, multiculturally defined. This kind of thinking, in a far more benign iteration, was expressly rejected by our Constitution’s framers. The Antifederalist opponents of the Constitution made many powerful arguments, but one of their more troubling assertions was that representative bodies should mirror the populace. Supporters of the Constitution quite rightly rejected the notion that legislatures should have x% of mechanics, y% of tradesmen, and so on, to reflect the people’s makeup. But we have fallen a long way from the wisdom of the generation that crafted our Constitution.
A new constitutional convention may be in our future. It may need to be in our future. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that this mechanism, or any other, can avoid the general rot that has set into our culture. It is easy to believe that the people, abstractly defined, retain a virtue untouched by the corruptions of our political elites. In a healthy nation, the virtue of the people would prevent the political class from becoming excessively corrupt. But our nation has been corrupted over the course of decades to the point where its culture needs time and space to recover from the constant ideological attack that reached the level of all-out assault under the Obama Administration—and that would continue under a new Clinton Presidency. This is a bad time to be looking for a cultural fallback position; it is time to defend that culture through the ballot box.
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