Zachary Antoyan is a political science junior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
I’m going to start this off with a question: How dedicated are you to the Constitution of the United States? Like on a scale of one to Nicholas Cage (think National Treasure) how relevant is the Constitution to you?
Perhaps one of the most important documents in the history of our modern times, and molded after in countless other democracies around the world, the Constitution has for nearly 225 years guided policy and been a major national symbol. The perfect document for the perfect country, it would seem.
Except, it’s not the perfect document, and this country is anything but perfect. Everyone has their reasons for believing this country is going to implode: Liberals blame conservatives, conservatives blame liberals, the elderly blame the youth and I’m pretty sure my great-aunt still blames communists.
However, in the words of Louis Seidman in his New York Times Op-Ed article, “Let’s Give up on the Constitution,” he argues, “almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution … ”
Is he right? Hell if I know. But let’s entertain the possibility that our most revered piece of paper is indeed the root cause of the issues within our country.
Now, I am not going to attack a specific portion or amendment of the document. I have no interest in telling you that you shouldn’t have the right to bear arms (*cough* *cough* gun control), or arm bears. Rather, I would like to examine how we as a country view the Constitution, in as much as the ambiguity revolving around its interpretation.
The Constitution could be seen as an instruction manual for a democratic republic in the United States, but as we move farther away from its creation, we find it harder and harder to agree on what the document actually says or how to read it. Despite the text being right there in front of us, we argue ceaselessly over what it means. The justices of the Supreme Court, senators, congressmen and ordinary people all interpret the commands of the Constitution in a multitude of ways.
This divergence of belief on the role and the wording of the document hinders our ability to make policy. The Constitution itself did not come with a manual on how to read it or how to use it when forming policy, and when left open to the interpretation of those creating such policy, we begin to see something similar to the stagnation of today’s Congress. Our current Congress, by the way, passes a mere 2.8 percent of bills introduced — the lowest in history, as stated in the study from the Brennan Center for Justice.
You’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of passing a bill in today’s system (don’t take my word for it).
I cannot argue that the differences in opinion on how to interpret the Constitution is bad, because it allows us to see those different perspectives, then to act accordingly. It is our belief, however, in the perfection of the Constitution that blinds both citizens and policy makers to the necessity of being critical of the wording.
There is a fundamental flaw in our blind obedience to the Constitution, namely that it prevents us from thinking critically about it. Our devotion to the document highlights our desire for the rights it protects, but it is easy to mistake those rights as parts of the Constitution, rather than the other way around. In other words, the Constitution is seen as the absolute, not the rights, and if there is something wrong with the Constitution, then there must also be something wrong with the rights guaranteed by it.
We are so afraid of condemning the document, for fear of also condemning our rights, that we refuse to see the wording of the document, the vagueness and ambiguity, as actually working counter to our freedoms. In an attempt to protect our freedoms, we have constrained ourselves to a 200-year-old maxim that might have no relevance to the issues of our time.
I’d like to believe that our government is a living, breathing and constantly changing entity that must be able to think objectively about the rules that direct it. Our Constitution has been instrumental throughout history as a shining symbol of democracy (America, %$#! YEAH).
But perhaps it is time we stop beating our chest about it, and truly ask ourselves if the way we perform government is flawed because of the foundation on which it rests. I don’t expect there to be a clear answer, but to merely think about the question is to open ourselves to the possibility of a better future.
This is Zach Antoyan, the liberal columnist, hoping his first piece isn’t a flop. Have a fantastic week.