The Constitution and its Relevance in Modern Society

What’s the purpose of the Constitution and who wrote it?

  The Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation. The motive behind it was to grant the central (better known as federal) government more powers while not giving it so much power that the states and the people had no rights. While the Articles of Confederation had the power to declare war and handle diplomatic affairs, only state governments had the power to handle currency. Thus, had every state refused to give any funds, the federal government would ultimately fail, and because passing legislation required every state to vote affirmatively, it was almost impossible to enact anything.

We The people text

  While the U.S. gained independence in 1776, the Constitution was not created until more than a decade later. In 1787, delegates from 12 states (excluding Rhode Island) met up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to draft the Constitution, consisting of additions such as the branches of government, checks and balances, and representation in the House of Representatives based on a state’s population. Although James Madison is credited for constructing most of the Constitution, each delegate contributed to its creation. Its official debut would not happen until at least nine states ratified (approved) the Constitution, which did not happen until the following year, when New Hampshire became the ninth state. At that point, the Articles of Confederation were officially ineffective, though the new government under the Constitution did not begin until 1789.

  Not everyone approved of the Constitution. Anti-Federalists believed that it wasn’t necessary, while the Federalists believed that it should be enforced. Despite the concerns of Anti-Federalists, the majority of delegates present at the Constitutional Convention (39 out of 55) signed the Constitution. As for why 16 delegates didn’t sign, at least one of them believed that the Constitution condoned the institution of slavery. This point is a great lead in to the next section.

The Constitution was written by White men, for White men

  Let’s be honest. The delegate who believed that was not wrong. In fact, one would be correct to say that “We The People” really means “We the White men.” The history books portray the Founding Fathers (not limited to George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry) as selfless patriots. However, the Founding Fathers were slave owners, and close to half of the Constitutional Convention delegates were slave owners as well. Abolition was a topic that resulted in deep divides, but slavery was legal by law and considered morally acceptable.

  Although the Founding Fathers supported (gradual) abolition, the fact that they were ever slave owners showed their loyalty to the institution; they were just as evil as slavery itself, even if they felt “powerless”. Thomas Jefferson said that he believed that slavery was morally and politically evil but never freed any of his slaves during his lifetime. Think about it. His line “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence was not truly about all men. 

  Stanford University historian Jack Rakove stated in an interview with Stanford News in 2020 that, “When Jefferson wrote ‘all men are created equal’ in the preamble to the Declaration, he was not talking about individual equality. What he really meant was that the American colonists, as a people, had the same rights of self-government as other peoples, and hence could declare independence, create new governments and assume their ‘separate and equal station’ among other nations.” When you think about it, his perspective makes a lot of sense. Jefferson wrote that line to voice the right for the U.S. to coexist as a nation, not to voice that all Americans are actually equal. Considering that the colonists stole land from Native Americans, exploited Black people for profit, and viewed women as inferior to men, the Constitution and the founding of the United States occurred in the name of White supremacy.

Modern-Day Government Is Undermining Democracy

  Over the past five years, the U.S. government has become increasingly more corrupt. Democracy is at risk as Republican politicians fight for and pass laws that restrict voting rights for Black folks and other POC. Republican governors are doing the same for LGBTQIA+ people, most notably passing laws that restrict trans people’s access to healthcare, among other things. In fact, 17 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills have passed so far this year, the most since 2015, with over 250 more bills introduced in state legislatures in 2021 alone.

  Going back to voting rights, restrictions and concerns of gerrymandering are more prominent than ever. While the passing of discriminatory bills is nothing new and happened before the 2016 election, one of the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence is that the government derives “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and that, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” It clarifies even further by stating, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” 

  Despite protests and pushes from Democrat politicians to stop the nonsense, this principle has not been fulfilled due to the GOP’s endorsement of discriminatory and out-right traitorous actions at the expense of the American people. Some of them, including Trump, called the 2020 election rigged while at the same ignoring the accusations of the 2016 election being rigged. They’ve made the Supreme Court two-thirds conservative, swiftly confirming Amy Coney Barrett on to the Supreme Court in late 2020, despite the Republicans having taken the stance that a Supreme Court Justice should not be chosen until the next president was sworn in after Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016. The Republicans are also making White supremacists (some of whom are on Capitol Hill as we speak) more and more comfortable with voicing their hateful viewpoints. Meanwhile, BLM protesters have been threatened with violence, as seen in June 2020. On top of that, allegations of Russian interference to skew the election in favor of Trump via disinformation campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 elections have led to people distrusting the electoral process. 

building during day

  How can anyone trust the government if the people in power are not only complicit in the push for strict voter ID requirements, limited voting hours, and ways to vote, but also complicit in foreign governments spreading disinformation in favor of a certain candidate? Even if they didn’t directly interfere with vote totals, the spread of false information and the possibility of your information being exposed without your knowledge are threats to society. 

  Iranian hackers also attempted to influence the 2020 election last minute through targeting registered Democrats using the name of the alt-right group Proud Boys via email. While the emails stated that the Democrat voters change their party affiliation to Republican and vote for Trump, the intention behind the action was to make voters distrustful of the Republicans and actually vote for Biden instead. Regardless, the Republicans are complicit in the interference of elections. Let’s not forget that districts for Congressional elections are recreated every decade, and with the party in power having that redrawing control, there is a big risk of gerrymandering. Republicans are notorious for doing this, especially out of fear that the people will vote them out. Therefore, they are trying to do all they can to restrict voting rights, especially since some of their biggest supporters would  cease their support if they were to support voting rights.

The Constitution As We Know It Is Highly Questionable

  At this time, the Constitution has 27 amendments, the most recent one being enacted in 1992. Although the Constitution was created exclusively with White men in mind, the ability to add rights not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution has granted African-Americans and women from all races the right to vote. That said, the U.S. and the Constitution has functioned off of the exploitation of BIPOC people, from the Indian Removal Act to the institution of slavery to Japanese internment camps. As of 2018, the U.S. has only ratified 5 of the 18 United Nations-approved treaties, having one of the worst track records of all countries. Isn’t it ironic that it was an integral force in creating the United Nations, yet is unable to take responsibility for its own human rights violations? First world country status does not and should not excuse a country from investigating and fighting domestic issues of its own. 

  American “patriots” are quick to bash other countries for their problems, but many of them refuse to discuss problems within the U.S. In the 1950s, the country withdrew its participation in the Human Rights System over fears of being criticized and held accountable for its discrimination laws and other problematic actions. It reentered the Human Rights System the following decade, and while the U.S. has signed or ratified a few treaties since then, it’s still not enough to show its commitment to battling domestic human rights issues. Broken promises and treaties are more American than apple pie. To this day, the government has not ratified some of the most crucial international treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making it the only country alongside Somalia to not have ratified the treaty, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, making it the only industrialized country to not have done so. Though even after ratifying the treaty, it would be up to the U.S. government to pass laws that uphold the treaty, which some critics would interpret as “violating” Constitutional rights.

  This type of individualism and the elitist mindset of the U.S. being the “best country” has prevented it from looking at itself in the mirror. Both major parties are to blame for its dismal track record of protecting human rights, as some treaties signed by Democratic presidents were never sent for ratification. Even so, the Republicans have had fears that these treaties would grant too many rights. For the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, they thought the former would prevent them from disciplining or homeschooling their kids, while they thought the latter would normalize abortion. Even for the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, they thought that those “weren’t rights,” despite the treaty promoting housing and favorable working conditions as human rights. If the Constitution is a reason for not ratifying and acting on the treaties, then it further proves that no men are created equal in this country.

As the U.S. morphs into a more diverse society (racially, religiously, etc.), the Constitution may change

  Although White immigrants continue immigrating to the country, the White population is already declining as fewer White babies are born and old White people pass away. Just look at the median age for the demographics, which is 43.7 among White people in comparison to 37.5 among Asian Americans, 34.6 for Black Americans, 29.8 for Hispanic/Latino Americans, and 20.9 for multiracial Americans. Generation Z is already the most diverse generation, and diversity will only increase among subsequent generations. As of late 2018, the slight majority of schoolchildren (53%) are non-White.

  As described earlier, the Constitution was all about pumping up the White man’s right to govern land that they stole from Native Americans and exploited Black people on. Race aside, when it comes to religion, the “freedom of religion” was never about respecting all religions. Rather, it was written with only Christians and non-religious people in mind. The Establishment Clause states that “the government may not favor one religion over another, or religion over secularism (non-religion). Under this approach the government may not endorse (actually and symbolically) religion.” Although with the Pledge of Allegiance having the line “one nation under G-d,” the Bible being used when swearing in politicians, and some political positions having been restricted to Christians, the U.S. has symbolically endorsed Christianity. In addition, the word “G-d” or a reference to deity appears in every state constitution, U.S. currency has the phrase “In G-d We Trust,” and Christians composed 88% of the 117th Congress, sworn in on January 3, 2021.

 Radical Christians use the “freedom of religion” defense when their principles are being legally jeopardized (i.e. refusing to vaccinate their children, teaching evolution over intelligent design, promoting the Bible in public spaces), not when defending followers of other religions. The pandemic infamously brought out their true colors when they refused to wear masks, and the government’s mishandling of the pandemic highlights individualistic traits too. Don’t the teachings preach about looking out for one another? How can you preach “love thy neighbor” when you don’t even wear a mask to care for yourself and others? Then again, as devotion to Christianity and going to church has decreased over the past decade, agnosticism, atheism, and non-religious affiliation has increased among the American population. 

  Since the U.S. is gradually becoming more diverse in terms of identity and experiences, it is time to start thinking outside the Eurocentric box. The Constitution remains inside that box, and outdated ideals should not be used to undermine the rights of marginalized groups and non-Christian faiths. There needs to be more emphasis on collectivism and making decisions based on universal principles instead of solely making decisions based on individualism and one religion (Christianity). In the coming years and decades, the U.S. should start being more involved in solving domestic human rights violations, fighting gerrymandering, and electing politicians that care about creating a more equitable society. That would mean ratifying treaties, enacting laws that uphold those treaties, allowing Black and Indigenous people to become more involved in the political process, and even being okay with having term limits. 

  The Constitution and the state of U.S. politics has allowed career politicians (mainly old White cisgender men) to remain in office despite their lack of care for changing times. And if creating a more trustworthy government involves revising the Constitution or even having to create a whole new constitution, so be it.

“If the Constitution is a reason for not ratifying and acting on the treaties, then it further proves that no men are created equal in this country.”

Reflection Questions

  • What were your thoughts about the Constitution before reading the article? Have your thoughts on the subject matter changed?
  • What things about the Constitution and the U.S. government do you have the biggest issue with?
  • As demographics continue evolving in the U.S., how do you think politics should evolve as a whole? Which types of politicians do you think would best evolve with the changing political environment?
  • What issues do you think the U.S. government could do a better job at handling? Do you think the Constitution plays a role in how they’ve handled those issues? Why or why not?

Written by: Krista Savage-White

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