The threat to our democracy
At this point in time we are experiencing a serious quickening of the unraveling of democratic institutions in America. The issue at hand is how a minority of people can hamstring the desires and needs of the majority of the people.
No political parties existed when the Constitution was created, but powerful minority factions could form that might threaten and possibly destroy the delicate balance between the three branches of government and their relationship with the existing states and the country’s citizenry.
Knowing this, the Founders created a bi-cameral legislature assuring that those states with fewer representatives/ lawmakers in the House of Representatives would have equal power in the Senate. In addition, the Founders allowed the slave-holding states the constitutional right to count a slave as threefifths of a person in their population count for the House.
These compromises kept a lid on any major constitutional fights between the states that saw themselves as a minority and, potentially, dominated by the majority. This situation lasted for about 40 years. By 1830 the first serious minority threat to the Constitution and federalism occurred. It was a tariff passed by Congress on imported finished clothing and other goods supported by the North and its manufacturers.
The South saw the tariff as such a major threat to its economy and lifestyle that it called it the “Tariff of Abominations.” The solution to this threat, as seen by Vice President
John C. Calhoun from South Carolina, was to declare that federal tariff null and void (unconstitutional) as per the rights of states to do so if it or they found it detrimental to their best interests. In other words, states-rights could void the federal government’s congressionally created constitutional laws because the United States exists, according to Calhoun, only at the will of each state.
This concept is called nullification. In 1832
South Carolina’s legislature nullified the tariff which triggered President
Andrew Jackson to ask Congress for permission to send federal troops into South Carolina to make sure federal laws were enforced. South Carolina backed down.
That event was 190 years ago, but the concept of states’ rights and nullification are resurrected again and well on their way to creating a disunited states of America. The Texas abortion law is a definite states-rights nullification of Roe v. Wade, which has metastasized into 13 other states.
The violation of voters’ rights in many states, both North and South, nullifies dozens of federal laws, amendments to the Constitution and plenty of previous court decisions
protecting those rights. A number of states are scheming to game the Electoral College if their minority presidential favorite doesn’t win. Supreme Court Justice Alito’s leaked dissertation on why Roe v. Wade should be declared unconstitutional at the expense of so many women’s rights is the most recent minority attack on the majority. All of these blow off existing federal laws, empower states to do what they want without consequences, help to weaken and discredit the role and benefits of government and besmirch what kindness toward others and the common good that our culture imbues in us from childhood.
The incredible conclusion is that this nastiness is created and implemented by a minority, not the majority -- the antithesis of a democracy! This conflict between the will and demands of the minority versus the will and demands of the majority has been an awful part of American history. The issue of states’ rights over slavery led to secession and the Civil War. The resulting 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were, in effect, nullified in the form of Black Codes/jim Crow Laws by all Confederate states after Reconstruction. It wasn’t until 1964-65 under President Johnson when African-american civil rights were partially restored. Unfortunately, these rights are under attack again.
The Supreme Court in 2013 gutted out the
Civil Rights Voting Act of 1965 thereby inspiring many state legislatures to gerrymander voting districts to eliminate the threat of the majority to their control of state legislatures and governorships. Throughout America today there are rat nests of political deception, full-scale lying, hypocrisy, the peddling of mis and disinformation, scheming to steal and maintain political and economic power over the majority and draconian theories
(the Big Lie and Qanon), laws and maneuvers to lock in and solidify this power regardless of the outcomes to either the minority who foolishly support these efforts and the majority who distain them.
Sadly, all of us will pay a serious price for the multiple deceptions that are used to unravel our democracy. As Sir Walter Scott said, “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It’s a guarantee that if this situation isn’t remedied somehow, each of us will be entangled in multiple webs.
John Lewin is a Yuba
City resident and former longtime history teacher at Marysville High School. Lewin taught at the school from 1964-2003 and was the school’s social science department chairman for 25 years. In 2016, Lewin was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame with a lifetime recognition award.
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