US constitution violated, claims think-tank

Stirring: The Tea Party says it is ‘taking a stand for our nation’. © PA

The founding principles of the United States have inspired freedom lovers everywhere. But as the election enters the final phase, one influential think-tank warns that they are under threat.

Last night millions of Americans watched the second of three presidential debates. There were charged exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, amid extraordinary revelations about Trump’s misogyny.

But for one commentator, it was a sideshow. Angelo Codevilla, of conservative think tank the Claremont Institute, says the USA’s founding principles are under threat, no matter who wins.

‘Regardless of the election’s outcome, the republic established by America’s founders is probably gone,’ Codevilla has written. ‘We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution.’

Codevilla says the USA is ruled by a liberal class with a ‘shared social and intellectual identity’. Its chief feature is ‘disdain for ordinary Americans’. It has subverted the US core ideals of freedom and limited government, and ‘chosen raw power over law and persuasion’ to enact effective ‘regime change’.

This has allowed politicians to violate the constitution. Broad interpretations of anti-discrimination legislation have undermined freedoms and equality of opportunity. Independence, family structures and traditions have been undermined. The judiciary and even science have been politicised; government has expanded.

Codevilla is scathing about Democrats and their allies. The consequences of a Clinton victory are ‘crystal clear’: the trends that concern him will accelerate. But a Trump presidency would not return the nation to constitutional principles either.

His thesis has proved controversial. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has criticised its ‘hyperbole, defeatism, and ahistoricism’ and said it is ‘dripping with hysteria’.

But there have been signs of nascent revolutionary movements in the USA since the 2008 financial crisis. A radical right-wing group, the Tea Party, has called for a crackdown on government spending and a literal form of constitutionalism. The left-wing Occupy movement has protested against the power of Wall Street banks. Could this discontent mutate into something more significant?

Disunited States

Codevilla says that those in power are trampling on the documents that formed the United States. Those who wish to fight government’s crushing of citizens’ ‘unalienable rights’ will soon have no option but to take back power. And those who disagree, or feel the real threat comes from an economic elite, may retaliate in kind.

Alarmist nonsense, replies Friedersdorf. The USA has never been, and never will be, perfectly true to itself. But measures like the 1964 Civil Rights Act have helped. The republic has withstood slavery, a civil war and the denial of votes for women. The idea that moderate expansions of government pose a greater threat is a vast exaggeration.

You Decide

  1. Do you support Angelo Codevilla’s concerns about the world?
  2. Are the founding principles of the USA under threat?

Activities

  1. Write a list of five questions raised by this article which you would like to be able to answer. Discuss with a partner why you chose them.
  2. Work in groups of four. Find out about the events that led to the US constitution being written, and then write and act out a three-minute sketch of the constitutional convention of 1787-9.

Some People Say...

“The United States is the greatest country in the world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I am not American. Does it matter what happens there?
The USA’s founding principles have inspired democratic politicians in many countries around the world. So if you want to see people enjoy democratic government, events in the USA are important. The USA is also the most powerful country in the world, so its stability affects events in many other countries. Your politicians will make many military, economic and diplomatic decisions on your behalf based on the policy positions of the US government.
Does this mean the US presidential election does not matter?
No; it does matter — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have very different views for the direction the USA should now take. Even Codevilla would agree with that — but his argument suggests that much more powerful forces are at work.

Word Watch

Shared
Largely the result of similarities in university education, Codevilla says.
Regime change
According to Codevilla: ‘People and practices at society’s margins have been brought to its centre’ and ‘people and ideas at its centre have been marginalised’.
Legislation
In particular, Codevilla argues, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial segregation, became ‘the little law that ate the constitution’ when it substituted an ‘open-ended mandate to oppose “discrimination” for fundamental rights’.
Freedoms
Such as freedom of speech, religion and association.
Independence
Codevilla says immigration policy since 1965 has encouraged dependency on the state, as 60m people have entered the USA.
Traditions
For example, school prayer.
Judiciary
Codevilla criticises judges for making abortion ‘the most inalienable of human rights’, and decisions which have ‘forced bakers and photographers to take part in’ gay weddings.
Science
Codevilla says established positions on evolution and the climate are not critiqued enough.
Unalienable rights
A key term in the Declaration of Independence.

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