Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said, “Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally [should expire] at the end of nineteen years.” His reasoning is that the laws written by one generation don’t necessarily correspond to the next. Although it may have functioned effectively two hundred years ago, the United States Constitution is no longer fit to run this country. Many problems plague our government today, and in order to fix them, we need to identify their root causes.
One of the foremost problems with the Constitution is that it is outdated. The Constitution was originally written to limit and distribute power across a large number of people. This is because, back in the late 18th century, communication was slow, and the Founding Fathers didn’t want one person to be able to take over the country and make rapid changes before the rest of the states would find out.
This limitation of power manifests itself in the long process it takes for a bill to be enacted into law. A bill has to be proposed in one of the houses of Congress, passed through both in the same form (it can’t be modified or amended without being voted on again), and then signed by the President. The main problem is that the President generally does not share the same political ideologies as the majority of Congress. This is in contrast to parliamentary democracy, which exists in countries like England and Australia. In Parliament, the prime minister (executive officer of parliamentary democracy) is elected by the majority party or coalition. As a result, if the majority party wants to create and pass a bill, they can do so rather easily and effectively, because they control both houses in the legislature as well as the executive officer.
Another way the Constitution controls power is by limiting the actions the President can take. The President’s limited power and four-year term is on one side of the spectrum of how democracy can prevent autocracy. The solution on the other side of the spectrum is to give ultimate power, but to limit the amount of time that a person can serve in office. The Roman Republic is a prime example of this, where two consuls had ultimate power, but only served for one year. Although the United States has not had power struggles like Rome did, Rome was able to adjust and adapt to minor problems and crises much more quickly than the U.S. can now. For instance, given the multitude of legislative options to deal with global warming, wouldn’t the U.S. government already have dealt with the crisis if it were able to govern effectively and efficiently?
We live in the Information Age, with the greatest amount of communication and distribution of information ever. The Constitution’s intentional delays are simply no longer necessary. In fact, as shown with the lack of action on global warming, they damage the ability for the government to function in the modern world.
In the same vein as Thomas Jefferson’s warning, John Adams once wrote that he feared a two-party system under the Constitution. In a letter to Jonathan Jackson in 1780, he wrote, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” The most chilling part of what Adams wrote is how it resembles our modern political scene. The leaders of both the Democrats and Republicans spend all their time opposing each other and trying to prevent government action from taking place. With Obama as President, the agenda of the Republican leaders is not to push forward a specific political ideology, or to cooperate with the Democrats in an attempt to pass legislation. Instead, they function as obstructionists. Each day that Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, does not receive a nomination hearing in the Senate is a day that the Republicans consider a victory. And this is what Adams was warning about. These political grudges now matter more in Washington than passing legislation and effecting change for the better.
The reason this situation exists is not solely due to the political culture in Washington (although that certainly has a role). Instead, the first-past-the-post voting system (FPTP) shelters a large portion of the responsibility. FPTP is the voting system where voters select one candidate on their ballot, and the candidate with the most votes wins. This allows for pluralities, where one candidate may not have a majority of all votes, but does have more votes than any of his opponents. For instance, Donald Trump won a plurality, 44.95 percent of the popular vote, during the primaries en route to becoming the Republican nominee.
The problem with FPTP is that it often results in a winner that the majority did not vote for, as mentioned above, and it encourages voters to vote strategically. If they believe that their fringe candidate (e.g. Green Party candidate) is unlikely to win, then voters will vote for a mainstream candidate (Democrat or Republican candidate) instead, because although one of the mainstream candidates may be acceptable to them, they may be unable to stomach the thought of the other winning. With usually only a couple of mainstream candidates, FPTP inevitably results in a two-party system. However, there are alternatives to this system which fix these problems.
One of the best alternatives is called the Alternative Vote (AV). In AV, voters rank all the candidates preferentially. A voter’s favorite candidate is ranked first, their second favorite second, and so on. If a voter does not find any redeeming qualities in a certain candidate (who may be orange-haired and small-handed), the voter just does not assign that candidate a rank. When the votes are counted up, the votes for the candidate who was last in the initial counting are transferred to the voters’ second-favorite candidate. The numbers are tallied up again, the same process happens, where the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and the votes are transferred. The process continues until a candidate has a majority of votes (greater than 50 percent). AV is a great solution as it avoids a two-party system, since voters don’t have to vote strategically. And there is empirical proof that it works: The Australian House of Representatives, Ireland’s presidential election, and India’s presidential election all use AV effectively. All this is not to disavow AV of any faults, but what is clear is that AV is a superior system to FPVP.
The U.S. government is ultimately flawed in many ways through its outdatedness, inefficiency, and its voting system. I don’t pretend that I have all or even any of the solutions to the problems that plague the Constitution, but the political adherence to the Constitution is absurd. Politicians praise the document, acting as if it is the most perfect piece of writing they have ever encountered. They are not only deceiving themselves, but the entire country. Failing to recognize the significant problems that exist within the foundation of our current government will only inhibit change and progress. Unless we want sea levels to rise dramatically and humanity to go extinct, something has to change.