I’m convinced more than ever that most people really don’t understand, or even want to understand how the Constitution of the United States works, and how the federal and state governments function within it. All one need do is read the “takes” on this past Tuesday elections to understand they, meaning the newspapers as well as the voters, simply don’t get it.
This lack of understanding is precisely why the federal government can grow its power and has been doing so since the Wilson administration (1913). So, with an eye on trying to provide a public service, here is a basic understanding of how the entire “thing” is supposed to work.
Feel free to pass this on to the “youngsters” who don’t quite understand.
First, the Constitution was a document set up to provide strength for the ideas and ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Most are unaware of that fact. Essentially, the Declaration of Independence guarantees one’s individual rights, free from government control but with certain limitations. Further, the Declaration, along with decreeing “our” freedom from outside control (Great Britain), lays out the notion that a people is free to set up a government they deem proper and necessary for their well-being, reserving the right to change it if said government doesn’t meet their needs. This is straight from the 18th century English philosopher John Locke in his work Two Treatise on Civil Government.
With all of that said, the United States Constitution is set up in a very specific way: It sets up the nation as a federal republic, NOT a democracy. Our make-up does have democratic principles, especially on the state level, but we are expressly NOT a democracy. The Founders hated the notion of pure democracy for they saw such government as devolving into a tyranny of the majority, meaning the “majority” can force their ideas and ideals down the throat of the “minority”, thus creating an authoritarian government of sorts, which would lead eventually to a revolt.
This is exactly why the Congress is set up the way it is; forced compromise which allows the minority group a say, forcing the majority to compromise. This conflict is built in everywhere in our government…on purpose.
Please note these men were children of the 18th century Enlightenment, men who were learned as well as keen observers of society. They understood the moment they were in, and understood the push away from monarchies, the French Revolution confirming their suspicions (Jefferson was a big fan of the FR, including the deposing of Louis XVI…and was still a “fan” despite the brutality of it, admitting later he rejected the violence…kind of).
One note: The brutality of the French Revolution combined with the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte had the effect of strengthening monarchies after 1815 until the First World War, although there were always undercurrents of “liberalism” which, in this case, refers to basic ideas such as freedom of speech, assembly, and what we might call basic rights, rights that gradually came to be codified throughout the century.
The United States Constitution set up the federal republic in a very specific way. The Founders were quite skeptical of an all-powerful central government, expressly intent on preserving states’ rights. Each state was an independent entity, as recognized by the Founders. However, the American Revolution exposed the problem with that: There was no effective way to organize for defense of the states collectively, the great weakness of the Articles of Confederation. So, after the war was concluded, the Founders decided they had to remove the Articles and create something that would give more teeth to the central government so they could “provide for the common defense,” among other things.
The arguments are laid out quite nicely in the Federalist Papers, a series of newspaper articles written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison (Hamilton being the major contributor and written under the pen name Publius).
The most important thing to remember is that despite the creation of the federal government, and despite the fact it was to have enhanced powers, it was not to become authoritarian in nature. States were to keep their individuality, state residents voting how they saw fit, creating the state they wished to live in. This is why Illinois is governed the way it is, and Texas the way it is. No two states are the same, and no two states should be. That was the entire purpose of the Constitution; to guarantee diversity.
The powers of the federal government were laid out to deliberately keep the federal government from having too much power. That was the design, a design that not only gave voice to the under-represented, but also preserved the power of the states to govern themselves as they saw fit. This reasoning is precisely why the 9th and 10th amendments exist. However, neither of those two amendments are taught well in schools, and certainly, most people today don’t know or understand their significance, a significance that has been eroded over time as the federal government expands.
This is one reason why the Roe vs. Wade decision was overturned. That faulty decision was not constitutional when it was rendered in 1973, the power of that decision being returned to the states. It matters not one’s stance on the issue, for as a constitutional issue, the correct decision was made when the court overturned it; it is a state matter, and the recent elections on Tuesday reaffirmed that notion, with states electing people or measures that either support or deny Roe’s stance. I very much applaud the decisions Ohio and others made as it came from the people, exactly how it was supposed to.
See, many of the issues we’re plagued with nationally are really states’ issues, but the first reaction of the populace is to ask, “What’s the government going to do,” or “What’s the President going to do,” which is not in keeping with how this nation was founded.
WE THE PEOPLE, are to find the answers to our problems, primarily via state and local government, NOT federal. That’s the forgotten part, the part that then demands citizens pay attention and vote accordingly. Even the immigrant crisis for those states that chose to be sanctuary cities should not be involving the federal government. They’re the ones that chose that path and therefore they’re the ones that should pay the freight. It is not a federal matter locally, although it is regarding immigration reform, stemming the tide, or opening the gates.
So, when the mayors of these sanctuary cities head to Washington, asking for money from the federal government to help them, they are also helping to expand the power of the federal government…not what was intended.
What we are finding out is that as the federal government expands, more and more money is needed to feed the beast, money we simply do not have, resulting in printing more money and exacerbating the rate of inflation (this is a very basic explanation, there is much more).
In case you’re wondering, Alexander Hamilton, he of the famed musical, is largely responsible for beginning the expansion of federal power when he was Treasury Secretary.
Basic civics. That’s all this is. Basic. Needless to say, our federal government has greatly exceeded its mandate, and due to Congressional apathy, be it deliberate or not, the power of the presidency growing out of its original clothing, as one outgrows theirs as they age. The office of the presidency should be whittled down to what it once was, an executive, not a quasi-monarch as we’ve allowed the office to become.
Federal power as well as the ever-expanding federal programs also should be whittled down, forcing people to depend on themselves once again, states and localities becoming once again the focus, not the federal government, as the Constitution dictates.
Should we re-engage that line of thinking, many of our problems, fiscal and otherwise, will have a better chance at being resolved.
 Ironically, one of the most liberal nations was Germany, spurred, in large part, because of the gaining popularity of communist/socialist ideals. Union membership was made legal, and Germany under Bismarck enacted social programs like health insurance to placate the increasingly vocal socialists throughout Germany.
 See George Washington’s letter (December 23, 1777) during the war telling the Continental Congress they would lose the war and the army would dissolve if they didn’t organize and come up with the requisite funding
 He was often called a “monarchist” by Jefferson as Hamilton began expanding the power of the federal government during the creation of the Treasury department. That term, “monarchist” was about as bad a nae as one could be called in those days.
 Entitlements, money the federal government provides (welfare, social security, etc.), currently comprises 52% of all federal spending.