June 18, 2024

New Year new look at the Constitution

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
A New Year new look at the Constitution
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – It is a new year, and, thanks to the outgoing president, it is time to take a new look at our 233-year-old Constitution.
          Over the weeks since Election Day, President Trump has put a spotlight on flaws in our democratic system, which over the last four years he has unintentionally – and thankfully – exposed.
         First, America needs a quicker transition. The inauguration used to be March 4. It was shortened in 1933, and President Eisenhower was the first president sworn in on the 20th of January. But time in the 21st century moves faster, and the lame-duck gap between the election and inauguration of a new president is dangerously long.
         Trump has used the time to stew over his loss and to erect barriers to the incoming Biden administration. We don’t need from early November until mid-January to transition to a new government. Other western democracies are able to do it swiftly. Of course, it’s easier with a parliamentary system where all it takes to change leaders is a failed vote of confidence. An obvious compromise would be a start date for a new U.S. administration of December 5 – a month after the election.
        The president has a point on the next issue. In his last weeks in office, Trump has confronted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, asking the same question as a lot of Americans: How can one person have so much power that he can refuse to bring to a vote a bill that would grant every eligible citizen a $2,000 check to assist them through the pandemic?
         All the Democrats would support this, and a growing number of Republicans would put the vote over the top in a strongly bipartisan way. Yet, it won’t happen. The only basis in the Constitution that gives the Senate leader this kind of power is that says the Senate and House make their own rules.
         No leader in either house should have such unbridled power to decide the success or failure of an administration, which is what McConnell attempted to do when he did everything possible to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Some states have solved this by requiring all bills to be voted up or down if they have at least minimal support.
         McConnell’s power also derives from an imbalance in representation. The best way to illustrate this is through the Electoral College which allocates votes based upon a state’s number of representatives and senators. After it was developed by the Founding Fathers in 1787, elections in 1788 and 1790 granted Rhode Island and Delaware, the smallest states, with one representative each, while Virginia, the largest state, was allotted 10 representatives. Yet all states were each given two Senate seats.
         Today, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each have one representative and two senators, while California has 53 representatives and two senators. That is a 53 to 1 disparity in the House versus the 10 to 1 disparity when the Constitution was ratified.
         The Founding Fathers wanted to create a structure that would give small states a voice and not let the larger states overrun them. Thwarting the tyranny of the majority remains a worthy objective even today. We wouldn’t want California, New York, Texas, and Florida to run rampant over 46 other states.
         Instead, the opposite is happening. The smaller states are running rampant over big population centers, and the problem is expected to get worse following the 2020 census, resulting in the opposite phenomenon: a tyranny of the minority.
        An easy fix would be to limit states with one House member to one senator. Another remedy would require states with less than 1 percent of the population to merge with an adjacent state, like North and South Dakota. States with more than 10 percent of the population would be split in two, like Northern and Southern California.
         Fixing the Electoral College will happen but not anytime soon. What should happen immediately is a reform of the president’s power of the pardon. No presidential pardons should be allowed after October 31 during a presidential election year. And no president should be allowed to self-pardon – ever.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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