A constitution is a valuable document that stipulates how a particular country will be governed. It is generally compiled by experts from across different professions so that the final copy is as comprehensive and inclusive as possible. The US Constitution was not different. It was compiled by a group of men from different professions and backgrounds. These men were later referred to as ‘Framers of the Constitution.’ However, the US Constitution has been at the center of discussion on many occasions that deliberate on whether the Constitution supports democracy and the degree of support. Most of the gridlocks that have hit the US government have been attributed to the framing of the Constitution.
The US government has made several adjustments to the Constitution in a move to support democracy since the initial Constitution was put into practice. This paper will objectively discuss how the US Constitution reveals an ambient view of democracy, the transformations in the US government for a democratic America, and how the overlapping powers vested in the Constitution precipitates the gridlocks in the US government.
How the US Constitution Reveals an Ambient View of Democracy
The US Constitution is a unique constitution that many democratic nations fail to understand. It is one of the few constitutions in the world that have not been subjected to a major referendum, even after having been in use for more than a century. However, there exist two groups of people who hold differing views on the democratic justification of the US Constitution. Some feel that the US Constitution offers the environment for the democratic United States, yet there are those who feel that the Constitution fails to support democracy.
Jackson (1999, p. 584) acknowledges that the initial Constitution that was made in 1758 did not meet the threshold of advocating for the democratic United States. However, the amendments that were made in later years made it suitable for a democratic country. Some of the famous amendments include the amendment that was made in the year 1913 and reinforcement in 1919, which recognized women as being eligible to vote during various political elections (Jackson 1999, p. 584). Before these amendments, women were not allowed to vote for any political candidate, be it the President, senator, or any other federal position. However, these amendments made it possible for the women to demonstrate their democratic right to vote for their preferred political representatives.
According to Dahl (2001), the amendments that were made to the Constitution in 1971 made it possible for anyone who had attained the age of 18 to vote. This was a bold move to make the Constitution more democratic, as more people would now be given a chance to vote for their preferred candidate. Dahl (2001) admits that the unamended Constitution had a higher age limit that locked out many Americans from voting.
Many of the democratic nations allow for a multi-party system. Rakove (1989) says that a multi-party state can give the opposing party a chance to carry out performance checks on the ruling party. These regular checks, as explained by Rakove (1989), are necessary for the growth of the nation. When the ruling party is mocked, for example, due to non-performance or failure to deliver according to the promised services, then its members wake up and devise suitable mechanisms to get back to the track. Otherwise, they risk being removed from office during the next available general elections. This is true in the United States, as there are two parties that are involved in the politics of the nation.
It is either the Republican Party that is ruling over the nation or a given state, or it is the Democrat party that is in power. The losing party conducts performance checks to ensure that the party in power gives back to society as promised. This is a true demonstration of a democratic nation, as provided in the US Constitution. As Jackson (1999 p. 590) puts it, a nation where the political parties are not competing in any way does not qualify to be a democratic country.
Any nation that claims to be democratic upholds the law of the ‘majority rule.’ This is a law that allows people to choose whoever they think is their best candidate. The US Constitution gives room for this arrangement. Amendment No. 12 of the US constitution was made in the year 1804 and allowed the President and the vice president to be elected using the majority rule. This can be argued as the best proof that the US Constitution supports democracy, as the topmost rulers will only come to power after the decision of the majority of Americans (Dahl 2001 p. 12).
The Bill of Rights is a section that every Constitution in a democratic country cherishes. It is these rights that the citizens of any given democratic country enjoy. If the rights are violated, then the citizens have the opportunity to represent their grievances in a court of law. The US Constitution did not initially give many details on how human rights would be enjoyed. However, the amendments that were done in 1791 allowed for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in what are known as Amendments 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 (Dahl 2001). Amendment 1, for example, gives the US citizens the right to choose their religion and the freedom of the press and expression. Jackson (1989) confirms that a country is truly democratic when the citizens of the country are given the right to worship and freely express themselves.
No country can claim to be democratic if there are sections of the citizens that are in any form of slavery. This has been proven to be true even among the early reviewers of the US Constitution, who realized the need to abolish slavery. In this light, the US Constitution was amended in 1865 in a move to abolish slavery in the US (Dixon 2011). This was a commendable democratic move that led to an end to the slavery rule that had been strong in the United States.
On the other hand, some scholars, such as Dahl (2001), feel that the US Constitution does not support democracy in a number of ways. According to Dahl (2001, p. 11), the US Constitution was created many years ago. The views and knowledge of the so-called ‘Framers of the Constitution’ were limited by their level of understanding and experience on matters relating to various human affairs. Dahl (2001), therefore, claims that the needs of human beings keep on changing as the world changes (p. 12). As a result, the modern-day Americans cannot be governed by the same Constitution that governed their forefathers in an effective way as it might have done in the early days, claims Dahl (2001).
According to Teter (2013, p. 1098), a democratic country is one whose leadership governs all regions. However, Teter (2013) claims that the US cannot claim to be democratic, yet there are different states that have their systems of governance. Teter continues to say that if the US was true as democratic as it claims to be, then all the states should have been amalgamated to form a republic, rather than different states that are said to be united. Teter attributes this system to the initial framers of the Constitution, who he thinks feared the introduction of full democracy to America.
The US Constitution allows for the existence of only two main political parties; that is the Republican and the Democratic parties. Although this provision may be seen by many as a democratic right, Rakove (1989) argues that it is not possible to claim that the US is democratic, yet it has just two political parties. He says that the Constitution could have allowed for the creation of several political parties that would ensure that the US is true as democratic as other democratic countries. Rakove goes on to say that two political parties may create a room where the rights of the Americans may be compromised because it is easy to compromise just one opposing political party than it is with multiple parties.
According to Jackson (1999), the US Constitution does not allow the equal representation of the Americans in the Senate. This is attributed to the fact that each state is represented by a single senator to the Senate, irrespective of the size. Many other scholars, such as Dahl (2001), agree with this fact, where they say that the states could have been divided into regions that looked less the same in terms of their population so that the Americans could feel fairly represented in the Senate.
The Transformations in the US Government for a Democratic America
The government of the US has made adjustments over time so that Americans can feel that they are in a democratic environment. These transformations have been gradual, where a majority took place shortly after the initial Constitution was officially made functional. Among the ways in which the US government has employed to attain democracy is the use of constitutional amendments (Schambra 2007). These amendments have been argued to wipe out a majority of what the initial constitutional framers had put in the Constitution as undemocratic. One such amendment was done in 1868 on the rights of citizenship. According to Dixon (2011), this amendment made people feel that they were in a democratic country because clear rules on who would become a citizen of the United States were laid out.
A significant amendment was made to the US Constitution in 1870, where people of all races and color were allowed to vote provided that they had attained the minimum voting age. Schambra (2007) admits that some races were not allowed to vote because they were regarded as immigrants or slaves. The inequality had tainted the US Constitution to a point where some scholars referred to America as a Republic, not a democratic United States (Dahl 2001). The 1870 amendment was also supported by the amendment that ended slavery in the US. Slavery had been in America for many years; thus, its abolition was received well. These kinds of amendments allowed the minority and marginalized races to feel accommodated within the US Constitution. The minority has now been elected to various high positions, including the Presidency, where the current US President is a black American
According to Dixon (2011), the US senators were initially elected by representatives as laid out by the framers of the Constitution. This meant that there was a majority of senators who sailed through to the Senate merely due to political inclination or a result of having good relations with the representatives. Dixon says that this was an undemocratic practice because the general public was normally left to watch as corruption and unfairness prevailed in the election of senators. Fortunately, a constitutional amendment was made in 1913, where the senators were to be directly nominated by the public. This amendment is popularly known as Amendment No. 17 (Schambra 2007). It gives the public the right to vote the preferred contestant as the senator. This can be argued as a great direction that the past US government had to take to promote democracy (Dixon 2011, p. 98)
The framers of the US Constitution had failed to recognise the need to allow state governments to collect revenue, according to the needs of the populations in particular states (Schambra 2007). This led to mixed reactions and confusion, as several states could not raise the required financial resources to complete various projects. The support that the state governments were getting from the central government was sometimes seen as insufficient because some states had to attend to bigger populations than others. In this revelation, the government allowed a revision of the Constitution in the year 1913, which allowed state governments to collect revenue from various sources like income tax, according to the needs of particular state governments. The amendment on revenue was Amendment No. 16 in the current US Constitution. This move was made so that each state could convince its population on the dedication that the US government had in ensuring that the US remained a relevant democratic country (Teter 2013, p. 1151).
The will of the people prevails over any other action by the government in a democratic world. The citizens of any democratic country are normally given a platform where they can air their grievances in case the government of the day is acting in a manner that violates its promises to the people. A referendum is called in case the government intends to make a significant decision that will harm the nation so deeply that even the coming generations will be affected by the decision. In a referendum, the members of the public give their views on the particular topic of concern. Teter confirms that the US government realized the need to engage the public if it were to win the trust of the public.
Unlike what the framers of the US constitution had put into writing regarding the involvement of the public in issues affecting the country, the US government had to succumb to the increasing democratic demands to allow referendums to be conducted on such occasions (Teter 20134). Today, the US government can call for a referendum if it wishes to engage the public in various projects, be they security, education, health, the judicial system, or any other national issues of relevance to the public.
In undemocratic nations, women are normally neglected in many national projects, as well as national leadership. However, women are a vital pillar in the development of any democratic nation. According to Nzelihe and Stephenson (2011), the US government has been at the forefront in recognition of the important and valuable contributions of women to the growth of America. For example, in 1920, a constitutional amendment was made that gave women the right to vote for their preferred political candidates. To date, American women not only participate in voting, but they are also vying for various political positions. This is a commendable democratic move; given the fact, there is a likelihood that the 2016 US Presidential elections might have a lady for the Presidency. Such a spectacular race would have been impossible if the US government made no amendments to the Constitution to enhance democracy.
Nzelihe and Stephenson (2011) confirm that a majority of the democratic nations sets out the number of years during which the President should be in the office. Such years could be in terms of terms. As an example, the US Constitution made it clear that the President shall not rule for more than two terms. This move was first put into writing when the Constitution was amended, with amendment number 22 clearly stating the two periods as the maximum number of terms that any US President should rule over the US. Nzelihe and Stephenson (2011) claim that such a provision is necessary because the public can exercise its democratic right in electing the next suitable presidential candidate.
Another transformation that the governments of the US have done in ensuring that the United States remains relevant democratically is the protection of civil rights (Madison 1788). A democratic government is responsible for safeguarding the rights of its people. In such a like manner, the US government took responsibility to protect the civil rights of every American (Madison 1788). Therefore, every American has a right to be listened to, be it in the judicial system or any government office. In addition, the US government has heeded the need to ensure that every American has access to basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing (Teter 2013). It is also the responsibility of the US government to ensure that there is an equitable distribution of resources. No race, religion, or community should have access to more resources than other races, religions, or communities, respectively. In addition, the US government ensures that the employment process is carried in a manner that supports equity and fairness (Dixon 2013). If no such measures are taken, then many demonstrations could be witnessed, where the public would feel that the government does not protect their democratic rights.
How Overlapping Powers Vested in Constitution Precipitates Gridlocks in the US Government?
According to Madison (1788), the US constitution allows for the separation of powers, where the government is divided into three sections. Each of these sections has its authority to decide and implement issues that affect its departments. However, the Federalist No. 51 says that each of these arms has to perform checks and balances on the other. It is this provision that gives rise to a gridlocked US government. In other words, one department cannot function fully without the interference of the other two arms of the government. According to Nzelihae and Stephenson (2010), this has extended even to the electoral process of the United States. Many decisions are made based on how various candidates are viewed by Congress (Nzelihae & Stephenson, 2010).
Teter (2013 p. 1155) says that the US government is sometimes unable to implement policies due to the presence of a gridlocked system of government. The legislature may come up with a policy that experts in a particular field may find as appropriate for the benefit of US citizens.
However, the policy may fail to be implemented by other arms of the government, such as the state governments. This scenario has resulted in many projects being dragged in their implementation and delivery. One such example is the US health care system. Several policies and mechanisms, such as the Obama Care and Medicaid, have been proposed for use across the US to better the health of Americans. These policies have been introduced so that each American can get access to better health care. However, several states have been reported to have initially opposed these proposed policies. As a result, the residents of that particular state had to wait for long before having access to the available facilities. Nzelihae and Stephenson (2010) admit that this kind of gridlock has led to the inability of the legislature to make decisions that are for the betterment of the American citizens.
The separation of powers has been reported to undermine accountability in several institutions of the US government, says Nzelihae and Stephenson (2010). The provision that each department should be independent sometimes results in situations where that department acts in a manner that does not show concern for public facilities. The fact that each department is to be checked by the other departments makes it possible for some officials who do not agree with the other department to act in a manner that portrays unaccountability. Nzelihae and Stephenson (2010), therefore, admit that the separation of powers was an unguided and unwise move of the framers of the Constitution. In fact, Nzelihae and Stephenson (2010) describe such a system as an ineffective system of governance.
In other cases, both the President and the Senate may have conflicting views and preferences on several agendas that are affecting the country (Teter 2013). Such agendas include security and health care issues. The President may, for example, be having some views regarding the handling of security in his nation. These views may be contrary to what the Senate holds as right for the people of America. In recent times, the President of the United States had his views on how the issue of nuclear weapons in Iran should be handled. However, his views were sidelined by some of the Senate members who were made to hold different views by external forces.
If the President proposes a bill or a policy that will address Iran’s nuclear activities, then he will be faced with stiff opposition from some of the senators and other members of the legislature. In fact, this kind of policy might not go through unless the President first convinces the Senate on the importance of adopting such a policy. This kind of example illustrates how the separation of powers has affected the operations of the US government.
Nzelihe and Stephenson (2010) show how electoral strategies work in relation to the separation of powers. The authors say that voters may support or oppose a proposed policy, depending on how Congress advises the public. If the President acts in a unilateral way, then voters may think that the President is biased; therefore, they might oppose the policy. On the other hand, if the President seeks the approval of the Congress, then there is a high likelihood that the public will support that particular policy. The explanation is that when the President involves Congress, then the general public sees a situation where there is a collaboration between and within the various arms of the government. In other words, the President is not seen as being biased. Congress will campaign for its adoption by the public when it is involved in the implementation of policies.
Neelie and Stephenson (2010, p. 623) confirm that there are advantages of having a system of governance where there is a separation of powers. This is contrary to what a scholar, like Dahl (2001) believes, that the system is a failed one. One of the advantages that Nzelihae and Stephenson (2010) realize is the reduction in the President’s freedom of action. In a dictatorial system of governance, the ruling individual has all the freedom that he requires to impose his desired policies. However, it is different in a system where there is the separation of powers, as the President is obliged to seek the approval of the Congress if his policies are to gain popularity. In such a move, the Congress filters what the President has presented and makes sure that what goes to the public is fit for uptake by the American citizens.
Secondly, Nzelihe and Stephenson (2010) note that the system of separation of power results in a situation where the public has trust in its government (p. 623). The public has a lot of faith and hope in Congress. The masses view Congress as their advocate, says Nzelihe and Stephenson (2010). This emphasizes the importance of the President having to go through Congress first before presenting any policy to the public. Nzelihe and Stephenson (2010) add that the public views the government as a united entity when different organs join hands to deliberate on issues that are affecting the public.
Finally, Nzelihe and Stephenson (2010) point out that the citizens in a system where there is the separation of powers are better off placed than citizens whose arms of the government are joined into one. This argument is supported by Teter (2013), who admits that a system with separation of powers gives room for having checks and balances. This is not possible in a system where all the government departments are united into one department. In other words, the public in a governance system like that of the US is better governed than those whose governance has no separated powers (Nzelihe & Stephenson 2010). This is also supported by the fact that the citizens in a system with separation of powers have trust in their government because other arms such as the Congress are involved in the formulation and the implementation of policies that affect the lives of citizens in the country.
The design of the US Constitution reveals an ambivalent view of democracy. The fact that the Constitution has recognized the need for women to engage in various projects, including voting processes, shows that the US has embraced democracy. Inhumane acts such as slavery that hit the US for many years have been abolished in the US Constitution. There are two main political parties in the US, which are recognized under the US Constitution.
This shows that the Constitution upholds the will of the people, as the Americans can choose their preferred candidate from the two parties. On the other hand, the US Constitution may be viewed as undemocratic because it was created many years ago; therefore, it is not able to meet the emerging democratic rights of Americans. The US government has made tremendous transformations to remain relevant democratically. Several amendments have been made to the initial Constitution to include amendments that are allowing senators to be elected directly by the public. These are moves that have seen the US government uphold democracy, even with an old constitution. The gridlock that the US government finds itself in from time to time is attributed to the separation of powers that are enshrined in the US Constitution.
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