Being stereotyped is a hard thing to crack. Your affiliations, your brand, your friends, family, and coworkers, how you dress, where you live, what color your skin is, all of these things help other people put you into a bucket, a category, a stereotype. In politics, we often use ‘isms’ to classify the people in our world. One such -ism that has become popular in the last ten to twenty years is the idea of Constitutionalism. A constitutionalist believes in the strict historical interpretation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights under its original filter of white nationalism and a heavily protestant Christian worldview.
In fact, the Constitution Party is the fifth largest political party in the United States. In order, those are Democrats, Republicans, Green Party, Tea Party, and Constitutionalists. The members of this party keep company with the likes of the deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and share values with many modern conservative republicans like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
The failure of Constitutionalism as a sound political ideology stems from its more moderate followers’ tendency to cherry pick policies to which they adhere and policies to which they shy away. If the basis of the party’s rhetoric is strict adherence to the constitution and the frame of mind of the constitution’s creators, being selective of policies and efforts to modernize the message won’t get you very far. For example, the framers of the constitution were all white Christian slaveholders. Choosing to reject the notion of slavery, a notion so heralded by our founders that they specifically addressed it with a three-fifths clause dictating slaves offer the vote of three fifths of a free citizen, would be rejecting a simple and clear tenant of that constitutional mindset. A rejection of that idea may be of sound judgement by the moderate individuals in your party, but not to the white nationalists and extremists you share your party with. How exactly does one justify gun ownership through the outdated concept of the creation of well-armed militias, but reject the notion of slavery and not fall victim to the perception that their ideals are only of that which is expedient to their cause?
The direct quote from the second amendment, for those who are concerned, would be “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.” The amendment was written prior to the founding of a national armed force and has now been replaced by the roles of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and domestic and international efforts of bureaus like municipal and state police forces, the FBI, CIA, and NSA. These have fully replaced the need for well-regulated domestic militias and point to a topic we’ll cover in another post – gun ownership.
Another premise rejected by the modern constitutionalist is the separation of church and state. Constitutional framers believed their religions could affect their decisions when holding public office, but wished wholeheartedly for there to never be an establishment of a national religion, especially at the detriment of those minority religious, atheistic and agnostic values that would be pushed aside by such an establishment. The United States were founded specifically by individuals seeking freedom from religious persecution by the catholic church and its affiliation with Great Britain’s patriarchal society.
That brings me to another –ism: social conservativism. This is the idea that we can best protect traditional conservative Christian beliefs by limiting progressive beliefs. Under this label, individuals seek to reject women’s rights, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and the notion of feminism. They do this by attacking programs and organizations like Planned Parenthood on the notion that no funding should ever be provided to an organization that provides abortions. What they fail to acknowledge is that Planned Parenthood does much more, and far more impactful work in the community. In fact, forty two percent of their annual budget is spent treating STDs and STIs, thirty-four percent is spent on contraception, and nine percent is spent on life-saving cancer screening. The reality of the Planned Parenthood budget is they spend only three percent of their annual budget on terminated pregnancies.
A modern example of a social conservative would be former Governor of Indiana and current Vice President Mike Pence. In fact, as fallout for comments Pence made about Planned Parenthood on the campaign trail, anonymous donors to the organization began flooding it with donations under the pseudonym “Mike Pence” to spite his detrimental ideologies.
The third –ism often associated with conservativism is the economic and international relation policies involving protectionism and isolationism. At the most basic level, these are seclusionist methods of devolving American relations with the rest of the world.
Protectionism creates tariffs on imported goods to equalize the playing field so American goods otherwise non-competitive in a free market are the only ones likely to be purchased by Americans. This would have been effective in a world where the United States was the preeminent manufacturing society of the world, but our current status as a service economy and waning innovation economy means our manufactured products are often much more expensive than those made outside our borders. Often, growing protectionist tendencies will manifest themselves in withdrawal from multi-lateral trade deals in which multiple nations negotiate to create one blanket agreement of mutual benefit to all of those nations. One could argue moving to bilateral trade agreements which are negotiated directly between two nations could potentially allow one nation to better leverage their economy over another nation’s, but we must also ask if that behavior is scalable, and what kind of power it leaves us to install powerful multi-nation economic sanctions on a state like Russia when they’re found to have meddled in numerous elections around the globe.
While protectionism represents a partial economic withdrawal from world relations, isolationism represents a drive to retreat fully from global interaction – be it economically, socially, militarily, or all of the above. In the 1930s, the United States largely withdrew from global involvement in the idea the nation had suffered enough loss in the trenches of World War One and in the annals of the Great Depression, and could remain impartial to world affairs to focus on national recovery. Unfortunately, escalations overseas in Japan and Germany were ignored until fossil fuel abundances in North America drove Japan to attack the United States, taking thousands of lives at the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942. Only then would the sleeping beast that was the American economy wake up and help change the face of the war.
Under a Trump presidency we’ve already seen planned withdrawals from or asks for restructuring of NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, and a potential self-alienation from NATO. When a nation retreats from the fiscal policies that made them an economic powerhouse, eliminate equal taxation, and reject science-based policy-making decisions, they no longer maintain the ability to adequately take care of their citizens. Neglect of infrastructure, failure to adequately curb climate change, and shying away from significant regulation from government agencies will affect all, but hit the lower and middle classes the hardest. Of those poorest and most disenfranchised Americans, it will be the Latinos in south Florida and black Americans in Louisiana hardest hit by climate change, it’s our poor rural farmers suffering from crumbling roads in the far reaches of inland Texas and the Midwest, and it’s our poorest urban areas like Flint, Michigan suffering from failures of government agencies like the EPA to adequately limit the decisions municipalities and corporations make to justify deadly actions for profits. Whether intentional or unintentional, -isms like Constitutionalism, Social Conservativism, Protectionism, and Isolationism inherently lead to some other less-positive isms: classism and racially-biased elitism.