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TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

    Change the US constitution

    Piero Scaruffi, October 2020

    Empires have risen and fallen depending on the "succession rule", the rule that determines how a new leader succeeds the old one. The Roman Republic, the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and so on employed different succession rules, but they had in common the seamless succession of the leader. When that succession rule breaks down (like in the late Roman Empire that followed the Roman Republic), the country begins to disintegrate. The USA enjoyed a reliable succession rule until the year 2000. Then it became clear that the succession rule didn't work too well: one party (the Republican Party) found out that it can win elections even when it loses them. That party lost almost all elections since then (both for president, House and Senate) if one counts the actual votes but at one point owned everything (president, House and Senate). The reason is simple: the USA is not a democracy, but something in between a federation like the European Union and a "republic" like China where votes don't count. Among the key institutions that are not elected democratically is also the Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed randomly by whoever is president when a judge retires or dies. The succession rule of the USA is now causing endless aberrations: a president who lost by three million votes, and never enjoyed an approval rating of even 50%, can enact policies that go against the will of the nation.

    The real threat to the USA is not an external threat but rather an internal threat: its own constitution. It happened before: a "constitution" that shapes a country into a cohesive society may after a few centuries become a weakness that shapes its descent into chaos and anarchy. The "succession rule" has become the USA's biggest disadvantage vis a vis with China.

    Read Should California Declare Independence? for details on how the constitution leads to the aberration that most votes don't count, in particular the votes of the very regions that make the US president the world's most powerful man.

    In fact, the current rules established in the US constitution have led to the closest thing to a dictatorship (to the opposite of a democracy) that the USA has ever experienced. Donald Trump is not just a crook: he also managed to create a "deep state" that intimidates and persecutes anyone daring to speak out about his crimes. The constitution itself has enabled Trump to exact vengeance on the patriots who tried to stop him. The Republican Party, in particular, has been reduced to total submission to Trump's demented, erratic and incompetent rule: the Republican Party has reneged on almost all of its principles (free trade, fiscal discipline, patriotism, honor and decency, and support for freedom movements worldwide). Lindsay Graham is the poster boy of that coward surrender. Four more years of Trump, and even the opposition party might fall in line, even Nancy Pelosi might be coerced to repent.

    I also noticed that the constitution has become an excuse not to have a conscience, nor dignity. When Bush was appointed president although he had lost the election and then when Trump was appointed president having lost the election by a huge margin, they both claimed to have a "mandate" from the people. They were elected on a technicality and did not represent the will of the people, but neither considered for a second to do the honorable thing: resign. Right now a judge is being considered for the Supreme Court and polls show that the majority of the US population would prefer to postpone the decision after the elections, but the judge is not considering for a second the option of voluntarily withdrawing her nomination: it's a one-in-a-lifetime chance of getting a highly-paid life-long job. In any case i don't think that dignity enters anybody's calculations these days. The constitution has become an excuse to focus stubbornly on your own selfish interests instead of focusing on the collective interests and will of the nation. The constitution has killed pride and dignity in the people who are tasked with serving it.

    The USA needs to abolish the electoral college (the silly way that a president is appointed), abolish the Senate (that gives excessive power to the small states and too little power to the big ones), and change the way the Supreme Court is filled or at least reduce the tenure of its judges. I would also suggest an age limit for presidents. It is something to be proud of, and certainly not inspiring for young people, that in 2020 the presidential candidates are two granpas in their 70s. People vote for the president, not for the vicepresident, so that's another undemocratic institution. The vicepresident should either be appointed by the House of Representatives or be voted by the people the same way that they vote for the president.

    The president should not be allowed to pardon anyone. Too many presidents have used that privilege to pardon really bad people.

    It is not clear to anyone why the District of Columbia is not a state, or at least part of neighboring Maryland (as it was at the beginning). Those 700 thousand people are not entitled to representation in the Congress: zero senators and only one delegate in the House who is not allowed to vote on laws. Taxation without representation.

    The USA also urgently needs to pass laws that will ban and punish any form of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is that way that democracy is routinely twisted in many states: a district is redrawn to make sure that the party in charge will remain in charge in future elections. The borders of a district should be decided by an independent commission of geographers, historians and anthropologists.

    Donald Trump attempted a coup in 2020 when he refused to recognized the results of the elections (just like many other dictators, big and small, had done before). It was the first time in its history that the USA had witnessed a president who refused to leave office like many dictators of banana republics. Some foreign observers praised the US system of "checks and balances" that still enforced the constitution, but the truth is that there was little in the constitution to prevent Trump from becoming the lifelong dictator of the USA: the president appoints the judges of the Supreme Court (and he was lucky that three died during his presidency so he appointed 3 out of 7) and the president's party has little interest (and in this case a lot of fear) in antagonizing the president, so that one cannot hope in Congress standing up to the president if Congress is dominated by the president's party (exactly the situation in Russia and China, as well in Venezuela, North Korea and Iran, where parliament simply obeys the president). Since the US senate is controlled by Trump's party, the system of "checks and balances" would not have prevented Trump from becoming a dictator. Foreign observers missed the real factors that truly stopped Trump from imitating his role model and master Putin: the armed forces stayed out of politics and state election officials did their job resisting the political pressures from the president, from some corrupt politicians and from the neofascist media. Neither of these is prescribed in the constitution. Therefore neither of these two factors are guaranteed to survive.
    The average US voter never paid attention to all the formalities that follow the vote: the gathering of the electoral college to count the votes, the session of Congress to certify the result of the electoral college, and so on. Each of these steps could be hijacked if the president decided to ignore the result and his party had the majority in both the House and the Senate. It is just a coincidence that Trump lost the election when his party does not have the majority in the House of Representatives. If it did, we are not sure what the outcome would be. It never happened before that a whining sore loser went to this extreme to overturn the democratic rule. There is no guarantee that next time a president is defeated at the polls and refuses to concede he won't muster the votes to hijack the formalities and declare himself the winner.
    There is nothing in the constitution that prevents the president from fudging the numbers delivered by the Census Bureau, the numbers that determine congressional seats. Trump was determined to change the numbers so that "blue" states would have fewer seats and "red" states would have more. The only reason that this will not happen is that the Census Bureau, intentionally or not, missed its year-end deadline for delivering the numbers to Trump.
    In theory, the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The day will come that a megalomaniac aspiring dictator like Trump (a Trump who is not a clown) will replace all the generals with loyalists, maybe not even remotely related to the armed forces (his children, his wife, his favorite neofascist TV and radio hosts), and then the armed forces will become a tool to enforce the lies of the president. In theory, the state election officials are salaried employees of the state governor: if the governor supports the president's coup, the governor could fire all the election officials who are unwilling to manipulate the results and replace them with loyal fascists. There is nothing in the constitution that would prevent the president from replacing all the generals with the thugs of his gang, and there is nothing in the constitution to prevent state governors from replacing election officials with thugs of the same gang.

    The constitution needs articles that will prevent the president and the party in power from tampering with the armed forces and the election officials.

    Another disturbing aspect of the Trump story needs to be addressed asap: for four years a criminal scumbag investigated for all sorts of crimes, from tax fraud to child rape, , was allowed to be inaugurated as president. The law should mandate that all pending FBI investigations should be completed before someone can be allowed to be on the presidential ballot, that all financial records must be disclosed, that all lawsuits settled out of court be discussed publicly and all settlement clauses that prohibit disclosure be rescinded in order to hear why the candidate was sued and what evidence there was. Too often a rich person gets away with a crime that would cost others a prison sentence. (The FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton's "scandals" was completed by election night, but FBI's many investigations of the Trump family were never completed and, in fact, are still underway today). Trump should have never been a candidate in the first place. As his former chief of staff Kelly wrote: "We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land. At the office seeker's character, at their morals, at their ethical record, their integrity, their honesty, their flaws, what they have said about women, and minorities, why they are seeking office in the first place, and only then consider the policies they espouse."

    It would be nice to see some accountability in the federal government. Sadly, we see more accountability in communist China than in this pseudo-democratic USA: when a Chinese official under-performs (e.g. a provincial governor who does not create enough jobs), he is demoted and sometimes disappears forever from the party's hierarchy. On the other hand, the USA has rarely demoted (let alone punished) the members of governments that failed badly. Think of the George W Bush government that didn't prevent the 2001 terrorist attacks, started two pointless wars (and lost both), failed to assist New Orleans during the Katrina hurricane and flood, and caused the Great Recession of 2007: was anyone ever punished for all those failures?

    If they were held accountable (rewarded for their accomplishments and punished for their underachievements) many mediocre people would not try to become politicians. There is nothing today that discourages an idiot from starting a political career. That does not benefit the country. We should be aiming for a process that guarantees that only smart people can become the rulers of the country. It wouldn't hurt to have some kind of examination. After all, we don't give a driver license to anyone who asks for it: we make them study and practice, and then we test them. Isn't running the country more important than driving? The right to be a politician should be given only to those who pass some basic test of competence: geography, history, economics, science, law, maybe even philosophy. First you prove that you can be a competent politician, then we let you run for office.

    Because they are not accountable, presidents like Trump have abused executive orders, behaving de facto like dictators. Executive orders are a legal way to bypass the will of Congress. If there were accountability for each executive order issued, a president would think twice about using that power.

    A simple way to make them accountable would be to make politicians swear under oath, under the penalty of perjury. I don't see why ordinary citizens have to constantly sign statements under the penalty of perjury (whether it's a loan application or a traffic violation) and politicians never have to: what politicians say has far more serious consequences for the nation. If they had to swear under oath every single time they tell us something, they would be more careful about that they say.

    It is hard to estimate how much money impacts elections. After all, Hillary Clinton spent more money than Trump in 2016 and still lost. And most of the money that matters doesn't go into campaigns but rather into setting up media and organizations that shape public opinion. Fox News was way more important in promoting a scumbag like Trump as a honest and competent politician than any advertising paid by the Trump campaign. Some regulation of campaign funding might be required to avoid that some day a multibillionaire carpets the USA with campaign advertising for a favorite politician, but a mechanism to control which lies the media spin is not simple without hurting free speech. The honest truth is that in a free capitalist system, money will always be a major factor in deciding elections. The way the constitution can protect people from money is by having a selection process that allows only smart and competent candidates to run for office. If money "bribes" a candidate, at least make sure that candidate is smart and competent.

    We have learned that biased media like Fox News exert a stronger influence than money does. A smearing campaign by Fox News is more likely to influence an election than all campaign contributions combined. Worse: the mere prospect of a smearing campaign is likely to keep smart and competent people from becoming politicians. Viciously partisan media like Fox News keep multiplying and their effect is to dampen the enthusiasm of the very people that we would like to have as politicians. We may end up with a class of politicians who are all scumbags like Donald Trump because that kind of scumbag has little to fear from a smearing campaign.

    And no, corporations are not "persons" (as a demented Supreme Court ruled in 2010).

    Trump and his neofascist comrades are often viewed as a symptom, not a cause, of the decay of democratic institutions, of the rise of illiberal, populist, nationalist and xenophobic sentiments in the democratic world. That is the wrong reading of what happened in 2016: Trump lost the election, not won it. Once elected, he became the cause (not the symptom) of an attack on the democratic institutions. If the US constitution were designed to appoint the candidate who wins the election, Hillary Clinton would have been president, and the same analysts would be talking about the triumph of liberalism: 4 years of a left-wing president after 8 years of a left-wing president, something that never happened before in US history. It was an accident, not a symptom. It is, however, a symptom of an increasingly toxic and easily hackable Internet culture. But democracy can protect itself (and can protect civil society in general) from toxic Internet culture (and digital terrorism in particular) like it protected itself from the monarchy: it just takes the right kind of constitution, not a constitution that lends itself to dysfunctional and, ultimately, rigged elections.

    If Biden wins, his supporters should not declare "mission accomplished" and go home. The mission should be to make sure that a Trump-like aberration never happens again. Otherwise history, which is implacable, will repeat itself.

    TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.