The United States Constitution is basically a restraining order. It uses the ultimate authority of We the People to limit government power. But if you want government to meddle in every nook and cranny of people’s lives, then the Constitution is a huge nuisance. Something to be tossed aside or at least enfeebled.
The left has used a number of techniques to enfeeble the Constitution. First and foremost is the idea of a living constitution. A living constitution is an insidious concept because it promotes the idea that the Constitution is always open to new interpretation. It denigrates the supreme law of the land while transferring power from the legislative branch to the judiciary. If you believe in a living constitution, then like Gulliver, you want to progressively snap each and every tie that retrains your movement.
The Constitution has been further disparaged by claims that it is far too old to deal with the modern world. If that doesn’t work, then we’re reminded that it was written by rich, white men. Critics also portray original intent as a mystery and, by the way, if the original document were adhered to religiously, it would prohibit women from voting and reinstitute slavery.
Some of this has an element of truth. All of the Framers were white men and most of them were rich, but the Constitution was debated nationally and ratified by conventions of the people from every walk of life. An architecture to harness the worst impulses of man and woman cannot be too old to work in our world unless human nature has changed. The Founders left an immense record of original intent, including Madison’s notes, the Federalist Papers, the Antifederalist Papers, minutes of the ratification convention, sermons, congressional debates on the Bill of Rights, and state ratification of the first ten amendments. Originalist believe in the authority of the Constitution, including the amendments which make suffrage universal and outlaw slavery.
These arguments are disingenuous, but all of them are meant to promote a single goal—to remove the shackles from the exercise of power.
Disparaging the Constitution used to be the province of progressives. Progressives wanted government to do more. Progressives wanted a free-wheeling president to guide each and every one of us to an enlightened future. Progressives wanted federalism relegated to a closet with triple locks on the door. Progressives wanted that troublesome Constitution viewed as a cultural talisman rather than the supreme law of the land.
Evidently, that’s changed.
Edmund Kozak at PoliZette has accused conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Senator Ted Cruz of the dreadful sin of “Constitution worship.” This is significant because the editor-in-chief of PoliZette is Laura Ingraham, a supposed conservative pundit and supporter of Donald Trump. Some who claim membership in the conservative movement have found their own alpha-male, and now they too want to banish that pesky Constitution.
When asked about executive orders, Donald Trump said “I won’t refuse it. I’m going to do a lot of things … I mean, he’s led the way, to be honest with you,” referring to President Obama. “But I’m going to use them much better and they’re going to serve a much better purpose than he’s done.”
I guess Trump promising to “use them much better … to serve a much better purpose,” is enough for Kozak to abandon a key conservative principle and award unchecked power to a President Trump. His article defines his own perspective on conservative principles, and they omit constitutionalism and the belief that we are endowed by our “creator with certain unalienable rights.” I guess Kozak gets to decide who wears the conservative label, except from tactics to beliefs, Kozak’s incarnation of conservatives looks an awful lot like the progressives.
Kozak suggests that the Constitution is nothing more than “a mere piece of paper.” He’s wrong. It is an integral element of his touted “custom, convention, and continuity.” The fifty-five men who came to Philadelphia in 1787 were a historic gathering of the greatest minds in the nation. Many of them had spent a lifetime studying government systems and they capped the Enlightenment with an unprecedented work that secured the popular ratification of a grateful nation.
Donald Trump is not in their league. Nor is Edmund Kozak, for that matter.
James D. Best is the author of numerous books, including Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the Constitutional Convention, and Principled Action, Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic.