Cracks in the Constitution
Future generations, if there are any, will date the second American Revolution, if there is one, from the passage of California’s Proposition 13 in 1978, which obliged the managers of that gilded state to reduce by more than half the tax on real estate. Historically, this revolt was not unlike the Boston Tea Party, which set in train those events that led to the separation of England’s thirteen American colonies from the crown and to the creation, in 1787, of the First Constitution. And in 1793 (after the addition of the Bill of Rights) of the Second Constitution. And in 1865 of the Third Constitution, the result of those radical alterations made by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments. Thus far we have had three Constitutions for three quite different republics. Now a Fourth Constitution—and republic—is ready to be born.
The people of the United States (hereinafter known forever and eternally as We) are deeply displeased with their government as it now malfunctions. Romantics who don’t read much think that all will be well if we would only return, somehow, to the original Constitution, to the ideals of the founders, to a strict construction of what the Framers (nice word) of the First Constitution saw fit to commit to parchment during the hot summer of 1787 at Philadelphia. Realists think that an odd amendment or two and better men in government (particularly in the Oval Office, where too many round and square pegs have, in recent years, rattled about) would put things right.
It is taken for granted by both romantics and realists that the United States is the greatest country on earth as well as in the history of the world, with a government that is the envy of the lesser breeds just as the life-style of its citizens is regarded with a grinding of teeth by the huddled masses of old Europe—while Africa, mainland Asia, South America are not even in the running. Actually, none of the hundred or so new countries that have been organized since World War II has imitated our form of government—though, to a nation, the local dictator likes to style himself the President. As for being the greatest nation on earth, the United States’ hegemony of the known world lasted exactly five years: 1945-1950. As for being envied by the less fortunate (in a Los Angeles Times poll of October 1, 1980, 71 percent of the gilded state’s citizens thought that the United States had “the highest living standard in the world today”), the United States has fallen to ninth place in per capita income while living standards are higher for the average citizen in many more than eight countries.
Although this sort of information is kept from the 71 percent, they are very much aware of inflation, high taxes, and unemployment. Because they know that something is wrong, Proposition 13, once a mere gleam in the eye of Howard K. Jarvis, is now the …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.