You cannot have it both ways. Either Donald Trump is a threat to constitutional governance and the norms it dictates, or the Constitution itself is an illegitimate and outmoded document. Some progressives desire to simultaneously hold these self-contradictory views, but intellectual honesty would dictate that they pick one or the other.
Joy Reid, one of the most progressive voices on MSNBC, tweeted Saturday that the “core threat to our democracy” is a “rural minority” that “will have disproportionate power over the urban majority” as demographic trends increase the gulf in population density. This, aside from being a putrid sentiment about rural America, is statistically true. In the tweet by Kyle Griffin that Reid was responding to, he points to a Wall Street Journal piece that estimates that by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will be represented by 30 percent of the Senate. Demographic projections are uncannily accurate in the pantheon of social science forecasts, so it isn’t unreasonable to presume 2040 will closely resemble the modeling of demographers. I can actually appreciate the honesty here — it’s rare that opponents of the Electoral College will admit they also object to the very existence of the Senate.
I’ll skip the pedantic civics lesson that could take up a column in itself – the reason we have bicameral legislature, of course, is to balance the democratic will of the people (the House) and the republican function of the states (the Senate) – because Joy Reid is aware of all of this. Reid is obviously intelligent, and isn’t confused about the function of American political institutions. Rather, she finds them illegitimate – the Founders feared a tyrannical majority just as much as a monarchical dictatorship, but to Reid, the democratic impulse ought to rule regardless of the Founders’ wishes. And how often have you heard some derivation of this from leading progressives: The Constitution was written by a group of white, male, slave-owning plutocrats seeking to uphold their own interests and, therefore, it’s a moot document. This sentiment is hardly new – much of the big government aspirations of the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party all but require an abrogation of the Constitution’s hardened prescriptions about individual liberty and negative rights.
What confounds me is that many of the same Saul Alinsky-disciples who want to overhaul the very premises of our founding concurrently worry that President Trump is tossing us headlong into what Joy Reid herself called a “constitutional crisis” in a tweet about purported Trump-Russia ties in July. If the Constitution is a distorted, racist document that allows “rural minority” to be the single greatest “core threat to our democracy,” who cares about whether Trump is faithful to its mores? I haven’t seen progressives at large so concerned with the stipulations of the Bill of Rights in my admittedly short lifetime – and it’s heartening, if only motivated by partisanship – but these seem to be the same people who despise the same document they now support. If they have to choose between rejecting the Constitution outright and becoming vehement defenders of the text, the optimist in me hopes they choose the latter. I’m not holding my breath.