A different view of the pandemic: A new beginning for America

Nick Douglas Feb 20, 2021 at 03:00pm

February 20, 2021 at 03:00 pm | Opinions & Features

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Nick Douglas

February 20, 2021 at 03:00 pm | Opinions & Features

The first Black members of the U.S. Congress

This pandemic has been a time to reflect on the current situation in the U.S. But more than that, it has revealed with striking clarity where the current Constitution has left the majority of the American people. Two-hundred and thirty years ago the Constitution was created to assure the American people that the government was to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” 

The pandemic and continued racial and economic inequalities, including recent murders of unarmed men of color have shown that the government and Constitution have failed the people miserably. 

While small businesses and citizens have struggled to survive and to receive government funds, large corporations and rich individuals have taken advantage of the pandemic to further enrich themselves. Legislators bought and paid for by the rich have enabled the rich to pillage the country’s wealth and resources during a national emergency.

Of the 2.2 trillion dollars given in the coronavirus stimulus bill, 500 billion dollars went to large corporations, while 290 billion dollars went to direct payments to citizens. At last count, more than 450,000 have lost their lives to the pandemic. Many of those lives could have been saved by a competent government response, by an administration that reacted quickly. Instead, the government response was worse than the response of a third-world country. Inaction, lies and chaos replaced competence, scientific information and organization.   

After 230 years, this is where our beloved Constitution and the men and women who have sworn to uphold it have left the majority of the American people.

  • Federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009.
  • Six out of ten Americans cannot cover their expenses for three months without a job. 
  • Forty-three million Americans live below the poverty line. Fourteen million of those are children. 
  • Hate groups and racially motivated attacks have both increased by 30% over the last four years. 
  • Recurrent mass shootings and police killings of unarmed citizens show that legislators and the current constitution are no longer capable of protecting average citizens.

In 2014, 1% of the richest 1%, 31,000 people, spent $1.1 billion in political contributions to influence legislators to legislate in their favor. How can the majority of Americans expect legislators to represent their interests when legislators have been bought and paid for with this much cash? The 2014 number is more than two million dollars for every congressman and senator in the U.S. For example, in 2019 The NRA gave 700 thousand dollars in contributions to legislators. Ninety-seven percent went to Republicans. Little or no legislation has been passed on gun control during an era where mass shootings are the norm.  

Contrast the situation faced by the majority of Americans with where the top 1% find themselves after 230 years of the present Constitution. 

  • The top 1% holds $25 Trillion in wealth: more than the bottom 80%.
  • The richest 15 people in the U.S. hold $1 Trillion in wealth. 
  • The combined net worth of the 400 richest Americans is $3 Trillion. As of 2019 there were 621 billionaires in the U.S. About 60% of these richest Americans inherited their money. So, many of these billionaires have been rich for a very long time. 

The legacy of inequality, slavery and low wages began with the writing and the signers of the Constitution. The Constitution was written by white males and 40% of its signers were slaveholders. The Constitution was designed to benefit and protect white males and slaveholders because that was the group that wrote the document. 

The legacy of slavery is one of the reasons that the U.S. has been so slow to adopt a living minimum wage and worker’s rights. For 250 years before the Civil War, American slaveholders and slavery sympathizers were accustomed to getting labor for free. 

No one can talk about the government and police violence perpetrated against people of color without also considering the legacy of slavery as a cause for this continued violence.  

Slavery and cotton were the engines that created the entire Industrial Revolution and the entire modern world we know today. During the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, industrialists turned their attention to forcing new immigrants to the U.S. and children to work 12-hour days, seven days a week just to earn barely enough to survive. Working conditions were often extremely unsafe and unsanitary. Full slavery was replaced by wage slavery that continues today. Minimum wage in the U.S., the most affluent country in the world, has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Luxembourg, by contrast, has the highest minimum wage at $13.78. Ten countries have minimum wages over $9.50 an hour, including our neighbor Canada.  

Beginning in the 1880s laborers banded together to fight for better pay and working conditions. All the gains they made were hard-won, as the government and rich industrialists did everything in their power including murdering workers and strikers to prevent unionization. People of color know all too well how hard-won labor unionization was. 

After years of risking his life demonstrating for civil rights and equality, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered while helping striking sanitation workers in Memphis. During the Reagan Administration, labor unions were decimated by hostile government actions. In 1983, union membership was 20% of the labor force; today union membership sits at about 10%. Union membership in the private sector is below 7%.

There is no constitutional amendment that guarantees a minimum wage or workers’ rights. 

Many people bristle at the idea of changing the Constitution. These people view the Constitution as some kind of sacred document. Their misplaced love and admiration of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution are not merited. We have to ask ourselves: Does a great document, written by great people worthy of admiration, include counting Blacks as three-fifths of a person, propping up slavery and denying women equal rights? Those (mostly white Americans) who express patriotism by venerating the Founding Fathers and the Constitution also seek to continue historic inequality and the status quo. 

This Constitution has led to unprecedented inequities between the haves and have-nots. It is time for a change to correct 230 years of inequality, inequality that was intentionally and painstakingly built into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers and the legislators who followed.

The Constitution was written out of necessity, not heavenly inspiration. The Constitution was only written because the Articles of Confederation, a document written after the U.S. declared its independence from Britain, was not working. The U.S. colonies were at war with Britain when the Articles of Confederation were written in 1777. The Articles of Confederation established a weak central government to stop individual states from conducting their own foreign policy. After the war, the need to pay off the debt precipitated the writing of a new set of laws to govern the United States and centralize the government. The U.S. Constitution was the result in 1788.

For 80 years after the signing of the Constitution, the slave population was counted towards the Electoral College vote. Slavery was actually a contentious part of the drafting of the Constitution. Southerners wanted slaves counted as a whole person in the census even though they had no right to vote. Northerners did not want slaves counted in the census because they had no recognized right to vote. The three-fifths rule was a compromise added to the Constitution to satisfy the conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery signers of the document. Slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for census and tax purposes and in the count for Electoral College representation, effectively giving slaveholding states inordinate control over Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidency for nearly 80 years. One of the results of this compromise was that twelve of the first sixteen presidents were slaveholders.

Two recent elections have allowed Republicans to control the White House even though they lost the popular vote. The first was George Bush in 2000, the second was Trump in 2016. The Bush administration was a fiasco of undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial meltdown of 2008. The Trump administration will be forever remembered for the largest transfer of wealth in American history: the huge tax cut for corporations and rich Americans, and the complete failure of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

These two Republicans won because of the use of the Electoral College, an antiquated part of the Constitution, which was designed “to create a buffer between the population and the selection of the President.” It is not surprising that the second-most introduced amendment to the current Constitution is Reform of the Electoral College. The Electoral College was structured to give smaller states more representative power because the Founding Fathers were afraid of direct election of the President. “They feared a tyrant could manipulate public opinion and come to power.” They could not have been more prophetic.

Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers:

“It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief.”  

Hamilton wanted the selection of the President left in the hands of “men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station”—in other words: white males. During Hamilton’s time, these men were slaveholders and slavery sympathizers. 

For 100 years after the Civil War, Southern states and former confederate sympathizers victimized blacks and poor whites with a system of discrimination: Jim Crow, which had as its centerpieces, sharecropping and voter suppression. Sharecropping filled the need for stolen labor left by the end of slavery. One hundred years of systematic voter suppression cemented the legacy of stealing labor and political power from blacks and poor whites by denying them access to the legal system set-up by states and the federal government to protect them. The oppression of blacks and poor whites after the Civil War actually crippled the former rebel states. So much time, money, effort and blood were used to try to maintain white supremacy that today those same Southern states lag far behind non-southern states in nearly every category of measurable well-being.

Even today white votes count more in the Electoral College voting than minority votes. For example, Wyoming is a state with a 92% white population and California is a state with a 42% white population. An electoral vote in Wyoming is worth four times an electoral vote in California. So with today’s distribution of voters in the U.S. Electoral College voting, a black electoral vote is 95% of a white Electoral College vote, a Hispanic vote is 91% of a white vote and an Asian vote is 98% of a white Electoral College vote. 

This chart shows the number of eligible voters of each race and how the Electoral College changes their value.

Data from Pew Research voter in millions

It is time for a new Constitutional Convention. Having a new Constitutional Convention now makes as much sense as it did in 1788. The Constitution just like the Articles of Confederation in 1777 no longer works for the majority of the people and hasn’t for a very long time. The incoherent government response to the pandemic and the continued murders of unarmed people of color have made the majority of Americans realize the need for a systemic change as the only solution to the national malaise we have been experiencing for decades.  

A new and better Constitution can only come from a truly different and representative swath of the American public: we need Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, women and the LGBTQ community included in the framing of the new Constitution. Imagine having women, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and LGBTQ people included in writing the legislation to protect citizens from discrimination and exploitation. Imagine how legislation that protects the rights of citizens to work and receive a living wage or immigrant’s rights might be changed and enforcement strengthened by the inclusion of these groups in a constitutional convention. Imagine Native Americans having a voice in deciding how land is managed in the U.S. This inclusive group would be sure to include the ERA Amendment in its Constitutional Convention, an amendment which has been introduced more than seven hundred times and failed to be ratified under the current Constitution. 

There are two ways to add Amendments to the Constitution. One way is to have an amendment pass with a two-thirds vote in each House of Congress; then it is ratified by three-fourths of the states. This process has been used to add all the current amendments to the Constitution.

There is another, untested way, where two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a Constitutional Convention to add amendments to the Constitution once they are ratified by three-fourths of the states. This is called an “Article V Convention.”

A well-funded, dark money effort to have an Article V Convention, led by some of the most conservative groups and individuals in the U.S. is already underway. These sinister forces have been at work trying to get the jump on the majority of the American public. The Mercer family and the Koch Brothers-funded group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have targeted Republican-controlled legislatures. They have persuaded 28 states to pass Article V Convention calls since 2011. With their under-the-radar support and organization, these groups need only six more states to call an Article V Convention, which at this point would have no rules to guide it. These groups are basing their support on the Balanced Budget Amendment but there are no rules to say they cannot add more amendments once they start the convention. The details of their ultra-conservative agenda have been on sickening display since 2016.

This pandemic has brought the monumental mismanagement of the health, economic welfare and safety of American citizens to the forefront. Legislators in Washington who have sworn to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” have failed their constituents miserably. The current Constitution was designed to protect the rich elite. It has allowed legislators to go to any lengths to do so, even if it means endangering the lives of the majority of the American public. 

It is time for a new Constitution. The current document neither serves nor protects the majority of Americans. 

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