Monday, June 19, 2017

Legal eagle sees way forward -- and I agree

Jack Balkin, a distinguished professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School, gave a talk at an alumni luncheon last week. He has written for years about what he calls "constitutional rot," the gradual failure of the U.S. system to preserve its democratic essence against oligarchic trends that crush popular participation and corrupt political actors.

For all his dire, and convincing, vision of regime decay, he's a hopeful guy. Here's his conclusion:

... The regime is crumbling; Trump is the last Reaganite. In the next few election cycles, a new regime will begin, offering the possibility of a new beginning in American politics.

Second, despite the influx of propaganda and the decline of separation of powers in restraining the President, many features of the constitutional system remain robust.  We still have an independent judiciary, a free press, and regular elections.

Third, we should not confuse what's been happening in the past several months with constitutional crisis. Constitutional crisis means that the Constitution is no longer able to keep disagreement within politics; as a result people go outside the law and/or turn to violence or insurrection. However unpleasant our politics may be, all of our current struggles are still within politics.

Fourth, we are headed for a big showdown in electoral politics over the next several election cycles.  One of the two parties will have to find a way to restore trust in government and renounce oligarchical politics.  The next decade will tell the tale. I remain hopeful.

Even if Trump left office tomorrow, and were replaced with Mike Pence, there would still have to be a reckoning over these issues. Indeed, even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would still have to be a reckoning ... The United States has failed to reconcile globalization with democracy.  It has not accommodated the demands of republican government to global economic change. This is a serious policy failure, and it has contributed to constitutional rot. The bill for this neglect is coming due. We will have to pay it.

The central question is how to preserve republican government in the face of a changing global  economy.  Trump is a merely symptom of the larger problem. So my advice to you is: keep your eye on the larger issue, and not on the President’s latest tweets.

I believe we will get through this, together. But we have to pay attention to the real sources of constitutional dysfunction, and preserve our republic. ...

Balkin's talk is not technical; I highly recommend reading it all.

Like Balkin, I remain hopeful, though wary and determined after five awful months of the Trump fiasco. (I worry particularly about his third point.) After all, I'm a Californian. People mostly forget these days that, throughout the 1990s, California responded to the terror the majority white electorate felt about demographic change with measure after measure to abuse and keep down immigrants, people of color, and even young people of whatever color with different attitudes. And yet, today, California leads a revolt against national Republican policies that seek to restore outright white supremacy while coddling fossil fuel barons to the detriment of our communities and the climate.

What changed in California? Demographic reality proceeded and people organized for justice and a better government. None of this was easy, nor is any of it complete. But right wing Republicans can't win a toehold in most of this state, the economy is strong if not always equitable, and communities continue to agitate for further reforms.

There is a way forward. Californians have lived a version of it. The republic can yet become what we make it.

Resist and protect much.

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