While our immediate world seems to have been turned upside down in the space of a couple of nauseating weeks, I am reading a book about the Constitution.
Yes, this is one of those “I’m reading a book” posts. Can’t help myself. I search all over the place for knowledge and comprehension, and I’m getting a heap of it from The People’s Constitution: 200 Years, 27 Amendments, And the Promise of a More Perfect Union, by John F. Kowal and Wilfred U. Codrington III.
Yeah, yeah, you may be saying. Another book about the Constitution.
But this is not “another book.” For one thing, it’s so well written, I don’t have to slow down in order to understand what they’re telling me. More than just informative, it’s compelling storytelling.
The story it tells is how our government works. Which it does. Major changes are effected, but they take a lot of time, as well as congresspeople who are persistent, patient and canny.
Right now, I’m reading about how the Twenty-Sixth Amendment — “suffrage for eighteen-year-olds” — came to be.
It isn’t one of the amendments constantly in public discussion, although in a way it is because of the great hope we have today for the newly registered 18-year-olds who’ll vote in the upcoming elections.
The 26th was both adopted and ratified in 1971; that final two-step process was really fast for a constitutional amendment. But the amendment itself began with a proposal by a New Deal congressman in 1942. It “sank without a ripple.” Yet Congressman Jennings Randolph (West Virginia, make of that what you will — and I know you will) “had found a cause. Over the next three decades, he promoted his pet amendment at every opportunity.”
He worked at it for thirty years.
Every amendment story carries a similar history, packed with heroes and villains, shifts in attitude and shifts in congressional members, and crafted compromises. I wonder which of the current legislative drives and Court agitations will emerge as a major addition to our living Constitution. Some of them will, I’m sure of it.
Another big impact The People’s Constitution has had on me involves déja vu all over again. With one exception, much of what we’re going through now has occurred before.
Throughout American history there have been rotten Supreme Courts which have handed down immoral, illogical judgments — and legislation that has overturned those judgments. There have been presidents whose status as savior was questioned, attacked and moped over, and Congressional leaders whose cynicism, power moves and/or “weakness” have been applauded and condemned.
It’s fucking complicated. It always has been.
Right now, I’m listening to the original cast recording of South Pacific. When Mary Martin was singing “Cockeyed Optimist,” I had a moment of thinking maybe I should call myself that. I rejected it. There’s nothing cockeyed about my optimism.
Because, although as a country we’ve been through a lot of this before, what we’re going through now is not the same. It is crazier and dumber and more massively criminal. It plays itself out right in front of us, and it goes at higher speed than anything that’s gone before.
The Court, in its flagrant white patriarchy, misogyny, fundamentalist religious fervor, bizarre regression, and twisted anti-democratic notions barreled into the mess they created.
And we, the majority, all know it — partly because our communications have leaped into the age of Big Tech and cyber. We’ve had it happen before, when most of us had no power, and we know what to do about it. We’ve had practice and we have power.
It took ten years to repeal the 18th Amendment, prohibition. It’s not going to take ten years to repeal the dark age of this Supreme Court.