Friday, January 1, 2021

How Slavery Polluted the Political System and Corrupted the Rule of Law

Before the ink was dry on the Constitution, the election of 2020 was a foregone conclusion. The political process was corrupted by concessions to slaveholding states by way of the three-fifths compromise of 1787. At that moment, representation was skewed: those who had no voice were represented by those who were committed to keeping them voiceless, the very thing the American Revolution railed against and against which the American democratic system was contrived to remedy. Please remember that this was not a Southern thing; Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York in 1797. Slavery was the practice in all thirteen colonies, and Pennsylvania was the first to begin the path to abolition in 1780, with Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont following suit between 1788 and 1791. New York remained a slaveholding state until 1799.

The three-fifths compromise wasn’t problematic only because it leveraged White slaveholders’ votes as representation for those who had no enfranchisement: men were voting on behalf of adult women all across the country. The real problem buried in the deal is that the rule of law was corrupted in order to make the three-fifths compromise. Slaves were held as property, and representation in the slaveholding states was weighted accordingly. This would be similar to giving a greater number of seats in Congress based on the number of television sets a state claimed. The foundation of the rule of law is that you can’t have it both ways; counting slaves as property sometimes and as people, however fractional, at other times is a corruption of the foundation of law.

This contradiction became problematic beyond the scope of population and quickly spread to infect the presidential election process: slaveholding states were (rightly) concerned that a popular vote of the executive office would leave slaveholders outnumbered. They feared that the executive office would soon be swayed to growing cries of abolition, and the use of electors was based on the Delegates (determined by the three-fifths accommodation for slavery), seemed an “obvious” solution.
“There was one difficulty, however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.

---James Madison, Records of the Federal Convention, p. 57 Farrand's Records, Volume 2, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875, Library of Congress 
Thus was born the winner-take-all election process that created the two-party, us-versus-them system that has held for nearly two hundred and fifty years. While the problem of disenfranchisement of women and blacks has been addressed in legislation, the systemic inequality in the underlying political process has not. 

Setting up the electoral college to elect the president makes an obvious polarization. Only one camp can win everything, and smaller groups are steamrolled out of existence. The problem is not that there are fascists in the United States; the problem is that fascists -- just like any other small passionate group -- are voiceless. I’m not in favor of electing a cabal of neo-nazis, here. But it’s important that we reconsider the ramification of muzzling words we don’t like to hear. Let fascists be fascist. Let the greens be green. Let labor be labor. Let communists be communist. The notion of black-and-white choices is polarizing and rigid and, as we have seen, all too susceptible to manipulation. 

The problem the republic faces now is one of governance, not one of censorship. We must choose if we are going to find a way to truly be a democracy of all the people by all the people for all the people. In such contentious and fractured times, discounting and silencing the opposition is courting disaster, engraving an invitation to domestic terrorism. Dissent is not the enemy; a binary political system is. Bicameral does not need to be bipolar. One need only look to the British model to see how government can be forged that forces all parties to be heard and to work together, creating a representation that is as patchwork as the passions of a diverse and robust citizenry. Representatives in government must learn to work together, or there cannot be any real sense of representation.

The United States has to make a choice, much like the United Kingdom did in facing its association with the European Union. Either we are a nation of representation of all interests, or we are a federation of nation-states. In either case, it seems that the presidency has outworn its purpose, at least as written.

The executive office is predominantly concerned with martial matters; the President is described as Commander in Chief and has governance over the military. Likewise, the governors of the states have command over the armed reserves within their borders. Perhaps it’s time to take a page from the Revolution and lop off the head of the executive branch, leaving an association of governors in charge. Only Congress can declare war, and to have fifty governors need to have consensus to enact it would go a long way to stopping current action and preventing further military campaigns. 

The adults of the United States are overwhelmingly against the current size and scope of military operations; 52 percent of the public wants the United States to be less military engaged in conflicts around the world. Even more strongly, 60 percent of the American public oppose the United States going to war with Iran. If this is the case, then why are military budgets passed by Congress nearly unanimously, with little debate or dissent? The United States is less welcome as a military presence than ever; the landscape of world politics and military involvement has changed dramatically since the end of the cold war, but the United States hasn’t changed its stance on making the world safe for democracy. Perhaps it’s time to get with the times.

No representation without taxation.
Abolish the presidency. We don't need to be led by a general; the executive branch shouldn't be at the command of a single person; the standing military of the last hundred years is old news. A coalition of governors is the representation the swelling rosters of American voters needs. Governors are accountable to mayors in the executive line, and this brings the power more directly back to the people.

Foreign bases are outdated and unwanted; the White House and its occupant are legacies of an era of limited enfranchisement and para-aristocratic protocols. The time has come to join the world as an equal player instead of an apex predator and to let the American people have a say. All of them.