The moment that defined the American condition in October 2018 wasn't so much the suspense-free 50-48 Senate vote to install Brett Kavanaugh as the nation's 114th justice of the Supreme Court, but what came moments later. Angry everyday citizens surged up the granite steps of the high court and began pounding on the heavy wood doors, desperate to make sure that both Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts could feel their drumbeats of rage.
As autumn darkness descended on Capitol Hill, the demonstrators chanted "Hey hey, ho ho … Kavanaugh has got to go!" and "We believe survivors!" — of sexual assaults such as the one that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath that America's newest Supreme Court justice had carried out when both were teenagers. Police officers looked to push the spontaneous protest back — a thin blue line between the people and Kavanaugh's latest and greatest closed-door fraternity initiation, pledging his allegiance to Delta Kappa Patriarchy's unbroken reign over the United States.
Undoubtedly, the tumultuous events that took place in Washington on Saturday and which riveted a watching nation were a kind of Rorschach test for a nation that hasn't been this divided and this mad since the Vietnam and civil rights battles of the 1960s — with passions even causing some to invoke the fraught months of 1860-61 when America slid into its bloody Civil War.
For President Trump — still obsessed with size after all these years — the protests were to be dismissed as an event "that wouldn't even fill the first couple of rows of our Kansas rally," with nary a thought given to the grievances of his citizens so furious over their lack of a voice in a government that seems so indifferent to a culture of assault. Trump also echoed the GOP senators who — having watched the hallways and elevators of the Capitol flooded by waves of protesters, desperate to change even one vote — redefined the issue not as the matter of Kavanaugh's dubious integrity but rather the behavior of what the president called "an angry left-wing mob," comparable to "arsonists."
Of course, one person's mob is, to others, what democracy looks like — a debate stretching all the way back to 1775. Believe me, this so-called "angry mob" would much rather spend its fall weekends at their kids' soccer games or picking apples than chanting themselves hoarse or, in dozens of cases, getting arrested. But this was inevitable after two years of watching Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his henchmen crash through the guardrails of democracy to stall and kill the SCOTUS nomination of the profoundly decent Merrick Garland and then ram through the indecent and indignant Kavanaugh. Not to mention a confirmation process designed to throw darkness rather than shed light, right up to a sham FBI investigation as ordered by the White House. No wonder citizens are airing their complaints to a government that's indifferent at best and autocratic at worst. If this was a mob, then it was a mob in the exact same spirit as — dare I say it — the Boston Tea Party, without the tragic waste of caffeine.
On the gray and foggy Sunday morning after, rather than relitigate the nightmare that was Kavanaugh's confirmation (although trust me, that is going to happen one way or the other), let's talk about the much bigger problem hiding in plain sight for decades and now thrown into blinding sunlight over this unforgettable last month. The system of government as written up right here in Philadelphia in 1787 is in shambles, badly broken to the point that if we don't make radical repairs soon, American democracy will die a painful, ugly death.
The backstory to Saturday's vote that matters is this: Brett Kavanaugh was named to the Supreme Court by a president who got three million fewer votes than his opponent, in an election where nearly half the eligible voters didn't even cast ballots. He was confirmed by a legislative body so antithetical to the supposedly cherished American ideal of "one person, one vote" that it made no difference that senators representing the majority of the U.S. population — nearly 56 percent — opposed him. Those disconnects led to the ramming through of the most unpopular Supreme Court pick of modern times — who will now spend the rest of his life making the rules about women's bodies, workers' basic rights and your ability to vote, even though no more than 30 to 40 percent of citizens ever wanted him there.
If that doesn't scream out for an American Bastille Day, what does?
Here's the thing about the U.S. Constitution. It in many ways remains, 231 years after its drafting, a document worthy of reverence — thanks to its first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights — because of its freedoms to protest, worship and commit acts of journalism. It also established a new, representative form of government when most of the world was still ruled by kings who crushed any peasant rebellions. But our classroom indoctrination into the notion of American Exceptionalism can blind us to the Constitution's flaws. Yes, some key clauses are probably outdated, but the bigger problem rests with America's original sin: Too much of our system of government was created to preserve a morally indefensible system of human bondage: slavery.
Take our most bizarre mechanism, the Electoral College, which has given America not one but two minority-vote presidents just in the 21st century. The Founding Fathers in Philadelphia had just designed a Rube Goldberg-style system of legislative representation — including the morally reprehensible compromise that made African American slaves three-fifths of a person to satisfy the demands of southern states — but a similar problem confronted how to elect a president. There were more eligible voters in the Free (well, freer) North than in the Slave South — an advantage that was erased by the Electoral College that gave weight to the presence of slaves even though they weren't able to cast ballots. As a result of the Electoral College, four of the first five presidents were Virginians. Angry contemporary critics called them "slave presidents." They weren't wrong.
Slavery has been gone for more than 150 years, and yet today the Electoral College exists to undercut the states that tend to be home to large numbers of the descendants of slaves, immigrants, and other voters not as interested in preserving the status quo. And yet the notion of abolishing this vestige of the slavery era never gets past the occasional newspaper op-ed, thanks to the ingrained idea that the U.S. Constitution was brought down on stone tablets by God Almighty. It shouldn't be that way. Abolishing the Electoral College is just one of the changes that could fix the constitutional crisis exposed by the Kavanaugh mess.
What could end the crisis?
— Abolish the Electoral College. If America wants to have an "imperial president," let's at least elect that commander-in-chief by a simple majority reflecting the will of the people, as happens in much of the civilized world. Crazy, I know.
— Reform Congress to make it more democratic (with a small "d'). The courts have consistently upheld the notion of "one person, one vote" — for just about everything except the U.S. Senate, which single-handedly decides the shape of the American judiciary, confirms the president's appointments, and ratifies treaties. A resident of Wyoming now has 60 times the influence in the Senate as a voter in California. That unfairness, more than anything else, is how we got Kavanaugh.
— Ban gerrymandering. Require a uniform system of drawing up districts for Congress that depends on input from citizens and not power-hungry legislative majorities.
— Reform the Supreme Court. End lifetime appointments. Some Democrats in recent days have proposed that a post-2020 government with their party in control could expand the high court to 11 seats (which wouldn't require an amendment) to undo the twin damage of the Garland and Kavanaugh outrages, but that also could spark Civil War II. This does seem, however, like the right moment to end lifetime appointments. An idea that was meant to remove partisan politics from the bench has instead enshrined it. Fixed terms would lead to a more accountable system.
— Reform the voting system to make it easier for millions more Americans to vote. Mandate that federal elections be held on Saturday, create a system of automatic registration and allow for mail-in voting with the goal of matching other developed nations when it comes to turnout. Ban the practice of barring felons who've paid their debts to society from voting. Legislatively redo the 1965 Voting Rights Act to counteract the gutting of that measure by the Roberts Court.
Those are just a few of the changes that America needs right now, but the policy fixes that would make our society more just and create equal opportunities for all can't even get to first base when the fundamental system is rotting to death. Needless to say, these changes would not be easy — they'd be fought, tooth and nail, by the patriarchal elites who used their system to force Kavanaugh on the citizens without their consent — even in a perfect world, and the world is not perfect. The Founders also made their Constitution close to impossible to amend, with the same small states that elected Trump and confirmed Kavanaugh holding power to block any meaningful change.
Yet radical change has happened before. In the mid-1860s, amid the bloodshed of the Civil War, America found it within itself to enact the amendments that banned slavery and guaranteed — however imperfectly it's played out in real life — equal protection to all citizens. With that in mind, here's another crazy idea: Let's once again radically fix the way America does its business — this time, before a civil war breaks out.