How to Amend the Constitution
I believe that many people would agree that it is time to at least consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution, something that is usually contemplated with trepidation, and with good reason. But, chronic, very serious, problems in the body politic -- universally acknowledged, by the way -- some of which have been legislatively addressed only to be shot down as being Constitutionally incompatible, have created the zeitgeist for serious consideration. Here, then, are nine vital amendments which would go a long way towards healing some of the serious troubles within the commonwealth, along with the reasons that favor them.
Balanced budget. This is a bipartisan goal, at least on the surface. Most politicians balk at having their “pork” eliminated while others retain theirs. Remember when the pundits and the politicians warned hysterically that the country would collapse when sequestering would go into effect? Nothing happened. Therefore, during peacetime each year, Congress shall adopt a yearly budget for the running of the government which said budget does not run at a deficit and may, instead, try to have a surplus for the purpose of eliminating the national debt. Should the Congress not adopt such a budget, neither the members of Congress nor the President will receive a salary or any other benefits that accrue from being in office.
Line item veto. Approval for a line-item veto has also had bipartisan support for years, but a bipartisan law establishing it was struck down by the Supreme Court as going against the present tenets of the Constitution. By giving the President the power to veto individual items that are always appended to a major bill -- colloquially called “pork” -- would eliminate a gargantuan waste of taxpayer money. The reason for the bipartisan support is that individual legislators view with contempt the inclusion of spending items, but since that is being done, might as well do it for their own states in order to send federal money their way. But if nobody gets to take advantage of the system then they are all in favor of eliminating “pork.” Therefore, the President has authority to veto individual projects that are included in a bill passed by Congress.
Electoral College. I used to believe that the Electoral College was an absurdity, that it made no sense in a democracy and was in fact, counter to the concept of democracy. Serious study of American history, culture, and the legal system has dissuaded me from such a conclusion. In fact, the Electoral College is similar to the redistricting that takes place every few years after a census takes place. Federal courts, for example, take Federalism very, very seriously, that the United States is a federation, each state with its own customs and laws and not a unitary monolith, as is the case in, say, France. Having an electoral college during the presidential elections guarantees that the politicians, against their inclination, will pay attention to small states and the concerns of the citizens of those small states---or, actually, pretend to do so. This is why small states like New Hampshire and Iowa go first in their primaries. If that was not the case, presidential candidates would focus their entire campaign efforts at those states with a huge population -- like California, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio -- and essentially would tell the people of less populated states like Wyoming, Maine, Kentucky, Kansas to go to hell.
Having said that, however, there is an undeniable shortcoming to the concept of the Electoral College, which has twice become evident in the past decade. That is, that on rare occasions, the popular vote is higher than the electoral count, and so, the loser is actually the winner. This creates justifiable resentment. On top of that, recently there have been individuals who have advocated scrapping the Constitution in regards to the electoral process itself because they did not like who was voted President, and some of these have been electors. Therefore, a constitutional amendment should read that, in those cases where the popular vote is higher than the electoral count, the winner of the presidential election is the person with the highest votes. Additonally, electors must vote for the individual that won the election in the state; any elector that votes for someone else will be subjected to legal penalties and the miscast vote instantly corrected.
Foreign intervention. Although Congress has legally the right to declare war, in the past half century, the President has sent military forces overseas to other countries and the Supreme Court has paradoxically given its sanction as being legal. During the Cold War, the United States did so in order to stop Communist imperialism but now that urgency has passed. It has become evident by now that America has militarily intervened too many times in foreign affairs, whether as an act of war, or, on humanitarian grounds. It has become an addiction. It has become addictive to try to correct the world’s problems by sticking our noses into situations, most of which times, our government officials had no idea what was truly going on, but were urged to do so by a hysterical media, and by doing so, actually worsened a situation.
On the other hand, a future situation can be imagined wherein the President must act rapidly to an immediate threat. Therefore, the President may not militarily attack other countries, nor send any armed forces into another country, without the approval of Congress. The exceptions are: 1) if the United States has military bases in a country, the President may send additional forces into those bases during times of peace 2) if a country with which the United States of America is allied with by treaty is invaded by the forces of another country, and not by insurgents, the President may honor its treaty obligations by sending military forces for military purposes, at which point Congress shall determine whether a state of war exists.
Burning the flag. This is a no-brainer, although those Americans who have been brainwashed to hate their country will oppose it, claiming that it is a violation of free speech. Such individuals, as a rule, hypocritically violate others’ free speech as “offensive” and so need not be listened to. Therefore, anyone who burns the American flag, or deliberately desecrates it, will be punished by law.
No foreign aid. This is the amendment that will be fought tooth and nail. Foreign countries will pour millions into traitorous American lobbyists and politicians to scuttle this amendment, both at the federal and the state levels. During the Second World War (with Lend Lease), and during the Cold War, trillions of dollars were sent overseas, either in cash or in material aid, to other countries in the belief that such aid would stop Nazi expansionism and would undermine support for Communist movements in those countries, since it was the belief -- the mistaken belief -- that communism sprang from the dissatisfied and frustrated lower class; in actuality, the communist movements came from middle-class power-hungry intellectuals; there were few actual peasants and workers in those movements (but that’s another story: read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer or any of his other books). Foreign countries learned through the years the technique of sucking off money from the American taxpayer to the tune of trillions of dollars, aided by mediocre, corrupt, politicians and bureaucrats, whether it was to buy a chalet at the south of France or fighting ebola or AIDS or poverty or ingrown toenails. Rulers in other countries were amazed that they could insult America or its leaders and they would still get foreign aid (Duterte is a recent example) and mediocrities like Kerry were eager to comply, to give away money that wasn’t theirs. The end result is that at present, America is close to bankruptcy, yet the politicians keep sending money to other countries for a variety of “vital” issues; these countries, of course, don’t give a damn about what will happen to our country or to our citizens if this continues, they just want more of our money. Therefore, the United States will not send money to other countries or organizations in other countries unless those countries are allied to us by treaty and are at war with our common enemy. Nor will other countries receive material aid without immediately paying in full value for said aid unless those countries are allied to us by treaty and are at war with our common enemy.
Term limits. The professional politician is a blight. Members of Congress will be restricted to serve for three terms in a particular elected office, although they may run and serve for a different elected, or appointed, office.
Puerto Rico. In a manner of speaking, the island has been in a state of limbo for over a century. Because the population has its own language and culture, and is so distant from the mainland, it will never become fully assimilated into American culture, nor should it. Its present commonwealth status has severe financial detriments both for Puerto Ricans and Americans too numerous to detail here. On top of that, as a Commonwealth, Puerto Rico cannot vote in national elections, so that it has taxation without representation. Lastly, a small but sizeable section of the population see themselves as a colony which must achieve independence, by violence if necessary, so that continuing with the status quo, or statehood, would prolong this open sore. Therefore, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is hereby declared an independent country.
Adopting all, or any, of these amendments would go a long way in eliminating political and financial problems in the country. What is particularly attractive is that almost all have bipartisan support, if past history is any indication. During the past decade the Congress received justifiable contempt and loathing from citizens for basically being obstructionist and not doing any actual work. These amendments would be a way to vindicate itself.
Armando Simón is a retired college professor who lives in San Antonio and is the author of The Only Red Star I Liked Was a Starfish, A Prison Mosaic and A Cuban from Kansas.