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Let One Part Of America, At Least, Be A City On A Hill – Thinking Big In The Trump Era

February 9, 2017

housedividedHalf of this early December column by Chicago writer, labor lawyer and public intellectual Thomas Geoghegan consists of advice to Democratic electors headed towards the meeting of the electoral college that formally elected Donald Trump president of the United States, and is therefore irrelevant.

The other half is, at the very least, food for thought for Trump’s opponents as they try to figure out how to deal with the enormous power the new president has with united Republican control of the executive, legislative and (soon) judicial branches of the federal government.

Geoghegan offers two simple and big ideas:

  1. Make voting mandatory.
  2. Create a new interstate compact (an old idea) that effectively functions as a constitution within participating states.

Let’s look at them one at a time.

Universal voting—which states have the authority to require—is the only tool that Democrats have to dismantle not just the Electoral College but the other ways that the GOP is now able to rig the vote,” Geoghegan argues. Imagine if California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Colorado (all currently controlled by Democrats) instituted compulsory voting, like Australia did nearly a century ago. The increased turnout would sharpen the divide between “red” and “blue” states and put increased pressure on the already creaky Electoral College.  Geoghegan, like Lincoln in 1858, believes “a house divided against itself cannot stand“; also like Lincoln, Geoghegan treats that insight as a call to heighten the existing divide so that one side (the “Slave Power” in Lincoln’s time) can be defeated.

Geoghegan’s more provocative idea is to take the framework of an interstate compact (see here for one example) and apply it to “a quasi-constitution—a model for what the whole country should have“.  In addition to mandatory voting, the compact could include:

  •  a ban on partisan redistricting of U.S. House and state legislature positions.
  •  a right to healthcare.
  •  a commitment to carry out their share of what the U.S. committed to in the Paris global warming accords.
  • a bill of rights for employees, including a right not to be terminated except for just cause.
  • a formula for a just level of funding for public education.
  • a comprehensive system of background checks for gun purchases.

Geoghegan points out that “(s)ince each of the above is an act that the state itself would be free to take, an interstate compact would not infringe on federal sovereignty —or require approval of Congress under Article I, section 10.” (emphasis added)

And it’s that emphasized part that is (I think) Geoghegan’s main point:  with Trump and his allies so nakedly willing to defy democratic norms to wield as much power as possible, Trump’s opponents should be be prepared to use every bit of democratic power they have to confront and defeat “Trumpism”.

 

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