Weekend Open Thread: Passing the Constitutional Baton — or Dropping It

Carmelita Jeter takes the baton for the gold-medal winning U.S. 2012 Olympic relay team. ([Narrator Voice]: “The baton is supposed to represent our constitutional democracy!”)

“This is the most important election in history” is something that gets said every two years. The last time I personally remember thinking that it was not true was when then-hapless super-centrist Al Gore [*HEAVY SIGH*] went up against seemingly not all that harmful George W. Bush in 2000. That judgment quickly turned out to be incorrect.

Oddly enough, for the foreseeable future, they all will be. In the sense that every time you don’t literally bet the title of your house on your favorite sports team winning is the most important. Except that example trivializes what’s at stake this year — and every year until the Trump/Bannon fever recedes. Every competitive election could be our last.

People like to say that this is the most important election since the Civil War. That may understate things. The Civil War put the Union at stake, but even had slavery persisted in the South as the Union divided, it would not have persisted in the North, and perhaps eventually the North would have laid the South to waste. Meanwhile, the USA would still have had competitive elections where the winner was duly acknowledged and peacefully took power. (Yes, 1876 was an aberration, but even then, as in 2000, the person who officially won the most electoral votes — putting aside the horrible manipulations in both pre-election Florida and the post-election Supreme Court — peacefully took office.)

That is no longer a foreseen conclusion. The Supreme Court may take possibly its most activist and unjustified move in post-Civil War history by declaring that state legislatures alone — elected in districts that the Supreme Court has already determined can be gerrymandered, including on the basis of race, to boost the minority party — can decide who wins their state’s Election Votes.

I’m indenting this next portion because it really doesn’t follow from the above, but it keeps demanding to be included.

If Republicans take the House of Representatives — a result that may well be determined by two Congressional races in Orange County — then the political leaders people who, egged on by the defeated President to a literally unprecedented action, tried to take over both the Legislature and through it the Presidency by force may escape punishment altogether.

If Republicans take over the Senate as well, we’re not only looking at a nationwide (that includes California) ban on abortion, marriage equality, and interracial marriage — as the Supreme Court seems willing to put these precedents under Congressional control (so long as their side is in power) — but also the dismantling not only of what’s left of the Great Society, but the New Deal jewels of Social Security and Medicare, which would have to face Congressional re-approval every five years. (This is not fearmongering: the Senate Republican Campaign Committee Chair is campaigning on this!) “Oh, but the filibuster!”, I hear you say. That’s just darling! Look: they’ll get rid of the filibuster ad hoc, as often as they’d like, and then put it right back as soon as it’s convenient. Just win, baby!

Won’t this create chaos! They don’t care! What problems are created will be blames on the Democrats, if any are elected to national office again, who will have to clean things up and will be blamed for those same problems if they can’t do it instantly.

This may surprise some people, but my most heated debates on the internet are not with Republicans, nor even with Business Democrats, but with people who assert that they are well to my left. These are people who blame capitalism for everything, but don’t favor a Bernie-style democratic socialism they place AOC and the Squad among their biggest villains for failing to abandon the Democratic Party entirely but rather a Putin- or Mao Zedong-style communist dictatorship, to be run of course by their own enlightened vanguard party. Those of us on the not-fringe left like to pretend that these people don’t exist just as Republicans like to pretend that they speak for everyone to the left of Joe Manchin but they do exist and they are right about a lot of individual reformist policies (though they tend to see “going against the popular will” as a feature rather than a bug.)

They do blame the U.S. for all of the trouble in the world and educated people realize that there’s a lot more to that notion than we wish were true, given our use of corruption, coups, assassinations, and general support for the far right in foreign policy but it’s not all the trouble and, more importantly, it wouldn’t be much different without us. Any nation that had had the power that we have would have ended up corrupted by it; we’re nor special in that respect. Power corrupts. We just happened to have ascended at a time when technology made it much easier for a single world actor to engage in more subjugation of others to our own interests.

We’re somewhat special in that, as a democratic nation, we tolerate and even give some power to those who believe in universal civil liberties and civil rights: the “Eleanor Roosevelt” faction of the Democratic Party, also honored by many Republicans, especially before the Civil Rights Era exodus from Southern Democrats to become Southern Republicans. Our people are among the most powerful and influential critics of the evils that our own government has done. But having that power and freedom depends more than people might think upon the real source of whatever justice and righteousness we can achieve: we’re working from a blueprint.

That, despite what the Supreme Court says, is what the Constitution is: not a contract that nails down permissions and obligations for all time, but something softer: an agreed-upon and modifiable blueprint capable of adjusting to changes in our environment and one that recognized various civil rights and liberties from its inception. We have not done a great job of holding onto these moral guidelines (and the prognoses for the next few decades is not good), but we’ve often done a decent job, and sometimes a very good one.

And perhaps the fundamental key to the good that we’ve done is this: the peaceful transfer of power. That is: we do not allocate official power by mob rule.

(In theory, at least. The corpses of the Freedom Riders who tried to register Southern Blacks in the 1960s which is part of what right-wingers label as the “Critical Race Theory” that they don’t want children to learn, when it’s actually just a really important part of the history of our functioning democracy, critical to our understanding where the bugs in our system have been point out that mob rule has sometimes prevailed, and thanks to people like Katie Porter’s opponent Scott Baugh, has prevailed much more recently and in our own county.)

That belief in at least theoretical popular control of the government extended over time to bar official discrimination by wealth, race, and gender is the baton that is handed down across the generations. Without it, we’re as much at the power of our leaders as Russians are of Putin and his oligarchs. Without it, our leaders can never be replaced without their own consent by anything less than a coup — whether within the “palace,” by the military, or even by a popular uprising.

(On that last point: some claim the Second Amendment preserves the possibility of a popular uprising against corruption (or whatever), but it January 6 underlines that is actually could work only for the Right. Try to imagine a bunch of leftists and minorities storming the Capitol like we saw! The building would still smell today from the charred flesh from flamethrowers that would have been brought out quite quickly by the police, national guard, and military branches. Skulls would still be on pikes.)

I know too many Republicans who are too good to tar with a wide brush; I know too many Democrats who I would not entirely trust to stand against such an abuse of political power for our own party’s benefit. But right now, Democrats are not the big problem when it comes to refusal to protect democracy. Republicans — not all, but too many — are.

As our country is faltering, so is our whole world. The enemies of this enlightened portions of this country, those who believe in “human rights” as something other than simply the right to engage in commerce, are attacking us the better angels of our nature. A coalition of the dictatorial Putin, China, Saudi Arabia, and various others who don’t like our poking our noses into their repression and aggression are trying to tank our economy, largely using the Energy Bomb that they disproportionately control in hopes of bringing back Trump or someone who agrees with most of them, someone who wants more repression, more corruption, more unaccountability.

This starting with our very opposition to royalism is the baton that Trump and his worshipers would have us drop. The notion that a free and rights-holding people would decide those policies that do not impinge on the inalienable rights of others, and would be accountable to the people in doing so has often been served poorly, but it has never been permanently repudiated. We need to get the poison of January 6 out of our nation’s system, not luxuriate in it.

Americans pundits have often called ourselves “The Indispensable Country.” This has generally not been true but sometimes it has been. It was in World War II. It largely was with respect to Covid. It still is in Ukraine. But one reason to hold hope for our country is that when it comes to existential threats like combatting climate change, we despite having been among the principal villains in making the world the way it is now is also, lead by California probably the principal hope for protecting the world. We need to be strong, honest, smart, accountable.

If a candidate on your ballot is not a part of the solution, they are part of the problem. Take the baton that has been handed to you for almost a quarter of a millennium and run with it! Run like your life depends on it. It likely does.

(Oh yeah — this is your Weekend Open Thread. You know the rules.)

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)