Jack Balkin @University of Indiana
Maurer School of Law
Jack Balkin delivered a lecture at the Maurer School of Law at the University of Indiana on September 13, 2017. It's worth a listen. Balkin discusses our "recent unpleasantness," that is the political ennui and dysfunction of our time. What we are living through is not novel, he says. It is part of a cycle. We are living in a troubled moment, and not unlike the Gilded Age, this moment too will pass--within five years he promises. Let's hang on to that thought!
Our politics has been dominated by periods of stability overseen by a major party, followed by decay and rot. He identifies six such periods:
- The Revolutionary regime, dominated by the founders: ~1776-1800
- The Jeffersonian (small government, rural republic) regime: ~1800-1824
- The Jacksonian (pro-slavery) regime: ~1824-1860
- The Republican reconstructionist regime: ~1860-1932
- The New Deal civil rights regime: ~1932-1979
- The Reagan (smaller government, less regulation, less taxation, culture war) regime: 1980-present.
These regimes were all undermined by increased polarization and constitutional crisis (the Civil War) or rot (all the others).
The civil war was a moment of constitutional crisis, but what we have today is constitutional rot, not crisis, says Balkin. The Reagan regime has lost its mojo, and we are awaiting a new regime to assert itself. During the Reagan regime our system has become less democratic, more oligarchic, less devoted to the public good, more corrupt. We are looking at you, Newt Gingrich! There's something rotten in the body politic, but we are not in crisis, says Balkin. Our past political cycles provide hope that we can (and will) renew ourselves once more.
Our present constitutional rot has been brought on by a breakdown in the parties, the failure of campaign finance reforms, the info-tainment of mass media, and the poison of talk radio. Yes, we are looking at you Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity! We are left more susceptible to propaganda from within and without, says Balkin.
Polarization is a symptom of constitutional rot. It undermines trust in government, trust in our fellow citizens. Cynicism grows. Today we have more oligarchy, less accountability, greater economic inequality than we had in the 70's. Greater inequality results in more cynicism, polarization, and lack of trust in institutions; it's a vicious cycle.
Left unchecked, oligarchy, polarization, and unaccountability result in economic policy disasters: the Iraq war, and the financial deregulation that led to the 2008 financial crisis are just two examples. Oligarchy and electoral unaccountability also leads to risk shifting, e.g. the shift from defined benefit pensions (risk borne by employers) to 401K plans (risk borne by employees). This leads to further inequality, polarization, disillusionment--rot; it's a vicious cycle.
But our present rot, too, will be cut out of the body politic, suggests Balkin. We will rejuvenate ourselves before we are faced with an actual constitutional crisis yet, he suggests hopefully.
That's the gist. . . . Listen to the talk, it's 50 minutes well spent. [Balkin's comments start at 2:50]
Here is the original link to Balkanization, always a site worth checking in on.
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