While eating lunch the other day, I was reading an article about the rolling back of EPA regulations, and it got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about how the current Republican administration has shown the danger of governing through regulation and executive order: it is far too easy for a subsequent administration to roll things back. The administration has also uncovered a number of other flaws in our systems — ways that the rules are being exploited in ways that do harm, or ways that allow manipulation of the system in ways that are… less than good. Here are some stream of consciousness thoughts on this:
- Governing by executive order or regulation is proving far too easy to undo, or too easy to institute. It is also particularly one sided. There should be a requirement (likely a constitutional amendment) that Congress needs to consent to the Executive Order — or reject it within a specified number of days — for it to take permanent effect. Regulations currently require publication and review before they go into effect; there should be similar requirements before they are removed or modified.
- Recent elections have highlighted flaws in the current Electoral College approach. Our current system has become a cascade of winner takes all — from districts to electors to the White House, and the voice of the people (i.e., the majority) gets lost through manipulation of the process. The system needs to move — at least at the Presidential level — to the winner of the popular vote. Smaller states can still make their voice heard through the Senate.
- Gerrymandering has gotten ridiculous, and has seen district boundaries drawn to benefit parties, not the people. The requirements for district determination should change to require them to be drawn by an independent, politically balanced board, with the goal of having compact districts. One would like to have commonality of interests, but that can be easily exploited to serve one group and disadvantage the other. However, diversity can and should be a goal within compactness — and that diversity includes political diversity to have competitive districts.
- The 14th Amendment promotes equality, but has been problematic with the categories of equality. It must be clear that equal protection under the law — equality — covers a broad swatch of protected categories: skin color, sex, gender, religion, orientation, size, and other characteristics out of control of the individual.
- The 1st Amendment has shown itself to be badly written in a number of ways. Looking at Freedom of Speech in particular, it has been used to achieve freedom of hate speech. There needs to be some specific categories of speech with limitations — specifically, speech advocating violence or hatred based on “protected categories” needs to be limited. The flip side of this, alas, is that haters will always find a way to exploit the rules. Hate, unfortunately, is like water — it always finds a path.
- The 1st Amendment expression of Freedom of Religion needs to be similarly clarified. It needs to be clear that the government must not establish a national system of beliefs, nor give preference to one form of belief expression (or lack thereof) over another. Citizens must explicitly be free to practice their belief system as individuals, but that freedom only extends to them, and cannot impinge on someone else’s practice of their belief system. In other words: I cannot impose my belief system upon you, even thought I believe I’m doing it for your own good. That also means we need to learn to not judge others based on our beliefs; reserve judgement for whatever higher power you believe in.
- The 2nd Amendment has proven equally ambiguous. It must be clear that gun ownership is allowed, but that gun ownership is subject to reasonable regulation to protect other citizens. In general, the type and quantity of guns permitted must be appropriate for their intended use, there should be requirements for training and securing of weapons, and the weapon owner must be responsible for any crimes committed by someone using their weapons. Only legal gun owners and registered gun ranges should be able to purchase ammunition. Yes, this won’t stop criminals, illegal weapons, or weapons already out there (although ammunition restrictions might), but risk reduction is better than doing nothing.
- The Supreme Court has become politicized. The intent of life-time terms was that justices might become independent of politics and judge based on the law alone (similar to academic tenure), but that hasn’t happened. To address that, justices should have term limits that don’t cleanly align with Presidential terms — I’d suggest 21 years.
- The Constitution has shown itself to be far too weak when faced with a deranged President. There are also Constitutional issues with respect to disputed elections, and elections that are subsequently determined to have been subject to tampering. The Electoral College was supposed to be able to address this, but the power of party politics have destroyed that. There needs to be a recall and reconsideration process instituted other than impeachment or the 25th Amendment. My thinking in this area has two prongs: First, the ability for a joint session of Congress to examine the past election, declare it void, and select new temporary executive officers from the remaining candidates of that election (who were running in the primaries) until a special election can be held within a specified time frame. Second, the ability for the people to initiate a recall through a cascade of recall requests from some greater-than-majority percentage of the states, using state procedures; again, this would invoke temporary leadership until a special election.
All of these would likely require constitutional amendments. I’d rather these changes go through the amendment process; opening up the entire document to revision would be disastrous. But this administration has highlighted some areas that truly need addressing in light of the changes in society.