The Trump/Biden duel feeds today’s headlines, but history may see the more important battle to be between Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci. The ignorant blustering leader versus the intelligent persistent scientist is a forerunner of democracy’s critical questions: How do we select our leaders and other representatives? In 2020, has our country’s Constitution locked us into governance by a fearful irrational minority who bend rules to stay in power?
Seeking answers in American history, I was gobsmacked to find that in his last years, Thomas Jefferson encountered a Dr. Fouchee, pronounced like Fauci. It concerned a political vacancy, but this blast from the past invites me to consider why we have an electoral “college” fostering ignorance, a Senate dominated by a minority, and a Supreme Court staffed capriciously with political supplicants and approved solely by that same Senate rather than the more representative House?
Jefferson kibitzed from France as his peers wrote our Constitution and wrestled with the question we face today: How do we put good men in positions of responsibility? While popular vote would have given the presidency to Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, the Electoral College gave it to George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Historical consensus places Bush’s administration among the worst in U.S. history and Trump’s will hardly be judged kindlier.
The Constitutional Convention’s task 230-plus years ago was to find rules for 13 colonies perched along the Atlantic seaboard to fend off European domination. Some compromises, such as the 3/5ths count for the enslaved population made sense to them if it helped them hang together, rather than hang separately. That rule is repugnant to us today, although if Donald Trump could order that mail-in ballots counted only 3/5th of a vote, he probably would. But we must ask whether our Constitution is a living document or just one that fearful judges can interpret to get results that enforce their blinkered upbringing.
The Supreme Court now has a majority of justices appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote but were empowered by the Electoral College. The current election will determine the Senate majority and do not be surprised if a close-vote Senate seat is decided by these justices.
Jefferson in his later years was upset that judges had life tenure.
Is the Constitution failing us or is it just old white men? Could our choice for president in 2024 come down to Nikki Haley versus Kamala Harris? Far stranger things have happened. Those playing the long game and staying behind the curtain invest in a diverse portfolio to keep control.
Living as I do in a liberal community in a “blue state,” where so many share dismay over Trump and Republican hypocrisy, it is hard to know how to influence the rural voter aligning with Trump. Aware as I am of limited progress on social issues over my lifetime and of the inevitable messiness of forthcoming changes in climate and demographics, I’m not comforted by Jefferson’s statement that “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
My hope is for turnout. Turnout that turns Trump out, turns fear-mongering senators out. Turnout that continues for mid-term elections, for local elections, for science seminars, for listening to others, for listening to silence and the silenced.
Jeff Petertil is a longtime Oak Park resident.