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Jedediah Purdy @JedediahSPurdy
, 14 tweets, 2 min read Read on Twitter
1/ It's Constitution Day. The day, & the Constitution, embody some very American confusions.
2/ The document contains both fundamental liberties, such as equality, due process, speech & other freedoms, some version of which need to be moral commitments/aspirations for any decent society.
3/ It also contains the ground rules of political decision-making, such as instructions for elections, judicial nominations, & impeachments. W/o these, politics is impossible. But these rules have no other special moral status.
4/ Loyalty to the ideal of equality is a way of naming a moral orientation in modern life. Loyalty to bicameralism confuses the practical weight of having a rulebook with the moral weight of a good rule.
5/ It is common to confuse these willfully, or at least sloppily, assigning unearned moral charisma to political decision procedures. This can spill over even to sub-constitutional norms, as when the high-minded mourned the filibuster as if it were a point of political morality.
6/ The Constitution also stands for both democracy and anti-democracy. Its creation was a real but imperfect act of self-rule--it was ratified by a special act that arguably created a sovereign polity & was more democratic than other elections at the time.
7/ And its political procedures are broadly those of self-rule, improved by equality principles that have somewhat extended the democratic character of elections.
8/ But its political rules lock in anti-democratic principles that have no plausible justification today and turn out to be reactionary in practice: the Electoral College, which has thrown two of the last five elections to the right, & the Senate, which favors small, rural...
9/ ... conservative & white populations disproportionately. It is absurd to praise the wisdom of constitutional arrangements that, in practice today, constantly undermine the legitimacy of the institutions they constitute, by assigning control of them anti-democratically.
10/ AND the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court gives nine elite judges with life tenure a fairly free-ranging power to review political decisions.
11/ The Constitution, bc very hard to amend, locks in the decisions of long-ago and much more openly hierarchical political communities, as interpreted by a current professional elite, over & above actually existing 21C democracy.
12/ Invoking the Constitution, in consequence, tends to end up meaning praising the wisdom of these old, unrepresentative, often pretty morally repugnant generations. That piety is understandably & appropriately alienating to many people today.
13/ Yet the Constitution remains, in practice, a major site & source for arguing about basic political principles & the direction & meaning of the country. You can step outside it, but at the cost of giving up a major shared vocabulary.
14/ It's a moment of supreme depression about everything from the Senate & the Supreme Court to the Presidency. It's a bleak Constitution Day. And the Constitution won't "save us" from any of it. It's source and part of the dilemmas.
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