“We the people, in order to form a
more perfect union…”
These 11 words, written at the top of what is perhaps this country’s most important document, are taught in schools, plastered
on billboards and printed on postage stamps. In many ways,
they are the guiding principle for our entire nation.
So, how many of us have actually read the Constitution? How many of us know what Article III, Section 4 says? How many of us even know what Article III of the Constitution pertains to? Probably not that many. For far too many of us, the Constitution is a document meant to simply exist. We don’t read it, we don’t study it and we probably don’t spend too much time thinking about it. That’s a problem, you see, because it means that the Constitution is beginning to show signs of irrelevancy due to its age.
More than 225 years ago, before planes, trains, or automobiles, a group of people set out to establish the framework for a nation that would become one of the most powerful and influential in the world’s history. The people who wrote it did so from the perspective of the 18th century, with the reality of 18th century technology, the ideas of 18th century morality, and the mindset of 18th century culture. Maybe we should wonder if some elements written with that 18th century perspective have since become outdated for a nation in the 21st century.
Today, there are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in the United States Congress. The first Congress, by comparison, had fewer than 100 total members. The total could have been higher today too, if the number of Representatives hadn’t been capped at 435 over a hundred years ago. Simply from a logistical standpoint, that’s approaching impractical. If every member of Congress spoke for five minutes, it would take close to two days for all of them to have their say. More problematic by far, however, is getting a majority of those 535 individuals to agree on something.
In this day and age, a law not being passed by a thin margin at the last practical moment is considered unusual. The legislative arcana that goes into crafting and passing bills into law is such that there are legitimate questions about whether even the people who ostensibly write these bills know what they contain. Even if the bills make it past the drafting stage, partisan rivalry has reached the point that both major parties are reluctant to even come to the table, much less actually agree on something.
It recently reached the point where the Senate, under Democrat control, changed its own rules to allow nominations to be approved more smoothly by limiting the power of the minority to object. It’s hard to know what part of this is more frightening; that such a measure may actually be necessary or that the Senate can so easily change its own rules.
If only that was the scariest thought to recently come out of government. Shadowy government intelligence organizations operating without oversight, secret courts operating behind closed doors to make life and death decisions, and untold billions of dollars simply disappearing within the federal budget are among the newest realities we have to deal with. Yet most people seem to barely notice the most frightening thing of all: how egregiously the government is violating the spirit and letter of its own rules.
The Constitution, ostensibly the charter for our government, has become increasingly less relevant to current political reality. The law of the land is based on precedent rather than written law, and the government overreach is seemingly a fact of life people choose to accept rather than acknowledge the cause for genuine alarm.
Amendments may have been a solution to this problem, but many of those with the power to implement necessary changes have a vested interest in leaving them be. Even if the political willpower existed to make the proposal, the question becomes whether it could ever pass such a divided Congress.
In the end, is it worth the trouble to maintain a dysfunctional document? Like an older car, we may be able to repair it and keep it running for a time. But in time, the effort needed to keep it in working order would be much greater than to simply have it replaced.
That day may not have arrived just yet, but it’s coming. Soon, we will have a chance to form a more perfect union, based on a 21st century perspective, culture, morality, and technology.
Randall Hellmer is a senior in mass communications. Please send comments to email@example.com.