Welcome to DC, Mr. Trump. These must be heady days for you and your team. Congratulations on winning a hard fought campaign.
You were in Washington a couple of days ago. Just two quick questions: Exactly how bad was the stench? Have you found the drain plug yet? Hint: It’s doubtful that it will be anywhere near VP-Elect Mike Pence and certainly not found in the embodiment of RNC Chairman Priebus (aka Chief of Staff) or in the halls of a Congress ruled by Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell.
On Jan 20, 2017 with the stroke of your pen, you can undo much of the extra-constitutional executive overreach and regulatory damage of the last eight years. Bring lots of ink. Be absolutely brutal. You have promised to dismantle the Obama legacy of big government elitism, regulation and activism. Keep that promise. The half life of political capital is very short so act with resolve, speed, and purpose. Elections should have consequences.
Against an organized opposition that included two political parties, multiple political dynasties, the media, academia, the global elites, and Wall Street, you have boldly reached out, tapped into the sentiment of millions of Americans, and taken control of more levers of power than the Republicans have grasped since 1928. Undoubtedly, the entrenched political power brokers and influence peddlers in both parties will make a valiant effort to seduce you with the merits of compromise and bipartisanship. After all, you are known as a deal-maker. Work with the institutions and personalities and do what you must to begin addressing the many contemporary challenges that America faces: jobs, immigration, radical Islamic terrorism, education, taxes, health care, national security, rebuilding our armed forces and relationships with our allies…the list is a daunting one. Compromise on tactics if necessary. We Citizens are expecting you to hold the line on principles. To paraphrase Mr. Cosby: “we the voters brought you into power and we the voters can take you out”.
Before you go nose blind to the aroma of rotten, self-serving cronyism that permeates Washington and prompted a movement of 60 plus million American voters to place their hopes for the future of their children in you, consider accepting one additional mission. Remember, you did NOT receive a majority of citizens’ votes. Many still need to be won over. If you play by DC’s traditional rules and pursue a traditional presidency, on Jan 20, 2021 or 2025, YOUR legacy might just as easily be brushed aside by a successor with a well packaged and marketed message of hope and change.
Your most resonant message was the late-entry campaign promise to #DrainTheSwamp. Powerful forces within Washington will resist every attempt to strip them of their power and perks in any effort of lasting reform. If you truly want to deliver on this promise and cement a lasting legacy, you must immediately launch a new, different type of campaign. Thankfully, continuing 3AM tweets suggest you are a man with lots of energy that needs little sleep.
The reason we have the backlog of unresolved contemporary challenges such as those above is that both Congress and critical political processes are institutionally corrupt and compromised. There are major, structural reforms that are beyond Congress’ ability to enact. In fact, they MUST be implemented in a manner so that future Presidents and Congresses can’t undo or alter them without the express consent of the American people. The drain plug, that once pulled, will begin to suck the malodorous slime from L’Enfant’s wide avenues is not IN the Capitol. It can be found about fifty miles away, just west of Leesburg and a few blocks off Harry Byrd highway at Patrick Henry College.
Article V of the Constitution provides the only mechanism big enough to drain the current swamp. In their wisdom, the Founding Fathers realized they didn’t have all the answers for future generations. Furthermore, they understood that a centralized federal government had the potential to become just as overbearing and alien as that which precipitated the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Article V provides for a covenant between the Citizens of the various States, expressed via Applications to Congress initiated by their local state Legislatures. This is the only way to implement federal government reform that bypasses Congress, the Executive, AND the Courts while remaining completely within our current constitutional framework. A Convention of States may debate and propose Amendments to the current Constitution for ratification by standard State majorities. Such amendments can only deal with issues enumerated in the original Applications. The “runaway constitutional convention” is just an urban legend promoted by entrenched status quo types playing on the fears of those who lack the confidence that contemporary Americans are capable of fine-tuning the rules that govern this Republic.
You are in luck Mr. Trump. There is an existing, ready-made infrastructure already tugging on the drain plug. The Convention of States Project (conventionofstates.com) has tens of thousands of volunteers in every state and congressional district. Millions of citizens have read the materials, signed petitions, and recruited their friends and family. Weekly conference calls organize activities and rallies and coordinate visits, emails, and phone calls to state legislators. The #COSProject is volunteer-based. It is lead and supported by reputable people: professors, activists, legislators, sitting governors, former and current senators. But most important of all, it is supported by everyday Citizens and Trump voters. This effort will not detract from existing structures and institutions. A Convention of States effort should remain wholly independent of Congress and the Courts. It can be re-energized simultaneously and in parallel with your new administration.
Geographically, demographically, actuarially, and technologically America is a much different place than 1787. Americans come from every corner of the globe. Life expectancy is decades beyond that 240 years ago. Human nature continues to reveal itself with new and often unflattering dimensions. Today, there are various “lists” of proposed Amendments from popular and well known sources. Professor Randy Barnett has an early one. Mark Levin published a book on the topic. Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently published his preferences. There are strength in all and overlapping themes in some. Some deal with detailed items such as specific tax rates. They address many of the symptoms of the broken body politic. Unfortunately, all contain some element of “redo” or fixing the bad outcomes that seem to perennially plague us. This is ludicrous. Only politicians would lead America down a path of layering on even more bureaucracy and legalisms.
Mr. Trump, as a businessman you will recognize that the path to maximum profitability seldom runs through the rework shop where shoddy product coming off the assembly line is repaired. The best approach is to identify root causes of quality deficiencies and engineer/produce “beautiful” product the first time. So it is with government. Rather than focus on symptoms, the governing document of this Republic should restrict itself to broad first principles and core processes. Furthermore, no single Amendment can address the full range of tears that have become so apparent in our national political fabric. The first wave of Amendments should focus on structural political reform. If Americans still don’t get efficient and responsive government, we can then launch follow-up initiatives.
After 240 years, America has some experience with running a constitutional Republic. We have done some things well; but there are some cracks in our founding Document. As long as we remain true to its principles, we should not fear taking bold steps to fine-tune our course going forward. It is for this reason alone that I would be so bold as to offer a slightly different mix of proposed Amendments. There should be a robust national dialogue with input from all elements of society, but here are some ideas you may want to consider:
Congressional Term Limits: Lifetime service in the Senate to be no more than 12 years; Lifetime service in the House of Representatives to be no more than 10 years with the sole exceptions that the sitting Speaker and Leaders of any major party are granted one additional term. Senators such as Teddy Kennedy, Mr. Strom, Bobby Byrd and Orin Hatch have used the considerable power of their offices to squat in Washington for half a century. Two complete generations of talent and energy never even had an opportunity to contribute in their States. The power and resources of the Federal Government must not be allowed to be concentrated in the same few hands for long periods. Those who would pursue decades in the same office are precisely the individuals America should keep OUT of Washington. On the other hand, your proposal to limit House service to six years would be disastrous. No president, with his/her enormous executive powers should be allowed square off in the final year of a two-term presidency against a Congress where the maximum seniority is just five years.
Campaign Finance Reform: Candidates for Federal Office (all 536) may only receive direct individual donations from citizens authorized to vote for the office being sought and in amounts not to exceed a designated (for example, 1 percent of the median American family income) per primary and general election cycle combined with immediate and transparent public posting of donors. An equal amount would be authorized for direct political party contributions. No donation to a candidate for federal office may be made prior to ninety (90) days ahead of a scheduled primary or general election. All candidates with residual campaign funds uncommitted on Election Day must return the balance to the Federal Treasury. No restrictions on individual contribution of time and energy. Eliminate corporate money and union money. Eliminate out of state/district money pouring in from special interests lobbyists into congressional races. No billionaires buying influence. No bundlers seeking ambassadorships. No pro or con candidate Super PACs. Issue-oriented ONLY PACs allowed. Every candidate would be directly accountable for their positive and negative messaging content. No more unaccountable innuendo from the shadows. Any candidate that can’t run such an enterprise should not be a federal office holder. Billionaire self-funding is welcome. There must be a way for minimal public seeding of funds in primary races for candidates that cross a designated petition threshold so that they have a reasonable chance to have their message heard. Bernie Sanders raised $186M in “$27 increments”. This is public financing of federal elections via a marketplace of ideas mechanism minus the corrupting influences we have today.
Balanced Budget: The federal government shall be funded and operate on a 2-year budgeting cycle, one per elected Congress. By the third budgeting cycle post ratification of this Amendment, the sum of all federal department and agency appropriations must total an amount less than or equal to federal projected revenues for the budgeting cycle and be passed and signed into law not later than 15 April of the year immediately following the last Federal Election. Failure of any aspect of this Amendment shall result in the government’s transition to caretaker status. ALL 537 federal officials terms shall end early and new federal elections shall be scheduled for the same Year. In order to ensure reasonable continuity and experience levels in Government, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall draw by random lot names equivalent to fifty percent of the Executive offices, House of Representatives, and Senate. Providing those names are otherwise eligible, they may stand for re-election. All others federal office holders may not participate in the upcoming election.
This would be a unique American twist on the parliamentary system of no confidence votes. Budgeting IS the primary function of Government. It maintains separate executive and legislative power centers and yet prohibits Americans from having dysfunctional government. Nothing will concentrate the minds of politicians in both branches and all parties like the possibility of losing their jobs early. America will quickly get a government capable of setting revenue and spending priorities. We deserve just as big a government as we are prepared to pay for. No generation should be allowed to burden future generations with debt. This is a moral principle and a generational compact whose time for addition to the Constitution is long overdue. The present foolishness and gamesmanship around debt ceilings and continuing resolutions are rendered moot.
Structured Federal Election Process: Federal election cycles shall commence on 16 April in the year in which they are to be held. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall draw by random lot five Early States and three remaining Classes of States each comprising one-third of the balance. Early states shall conduct primaries for all federal offices on the 2nd Tuesday in June. State Classes 1-3 shall conduct federal primaries on the 2nd Tuesday in July, August & September respectively. No candidate may appear on any Federal election ballot more than once. The general election shall be held nationwide on the 2nd Tuesday in November, a new National Holiday. Early and/or absentee voting shall be restricted to Citizens with prior authorization from a local magistrate: sheriff’s deputy, constable, commissioner, etc. Voting in personal shall require a valid, government photo identification to include verification of citizenship status at issuance. Federal voter rolls must be purged within 30-days of death and after three consecutive federal general elections in which no vote is cast. States shall continue to administer Federal Elections and require local election officials provide sufficient capacity and resources to support all registered voters.
Who declared that the fine citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire have perpetual superior political discernment judgment over the rest of us? Citizens of every state should have the opportunity to go First. And Last. The sanctity of the federal ballot box must be preserved. Every eligible citizen must have the opportunity to vote and should be confident that his/her vote in a well-run, clean election precinct is not contaminated by a ward boss’s corrupt actions in another. We are all in this together and the random, chaotic nature of the current election process is deficient, exhausting and unending. The current election season is too long; the current governing season is too short. While we allow a perpetual cycle to exist, we are incentivizing gridlock. The skill set to contribute to effective government and requirement to participate should not exclude those Americans unable or unwilling to endure multi-year marathons. The British, Aussies and Canadians select their leaders in 8-12 week campaigns. It is a figment of the political consultancy class’s imagination that America really needs these grueling 22-month cycles. We are much smarter than that.
Federal Judiciary Term Limits: No federal judge shall serve more than any portion of two seven-year terms. On the first federal general election following the third and ninth anniversary in which confirmation to the federal bench occurred, every Judge and Justice shall be subject to a Retention plebiscite by Citizens under their specific jurisdiction. A Judge or Justice shall be removed from office that does not achieve a forty-five percent retention threshold. This shall apply to District, Appellate, and the Supreme courts.
With current life expectancies, a young federal appointee might spend forty or more years on the federal bench with no real restraints or accountability to citizens. While politicalization of the judiciary via active, direct election will most likely not lead to the most qualified nominees, what democratic principles does the current lifetime appointment and lack of accountability support? The tendency is for the Executive to appoint younger ideologues for purposes of cementing “legacies”. America doesn’t need activist judges of any political persuasion. We need wise, seasoned, experienced judges interpreting laws as written and signed for their consistency with Constitutional principles. When lack of wisdom and judiciousness is present and demonstrated, citizens should have a method of recourse.
Federal Congressional Ethics: No former member of Congress shall ever seek to influence any current member of Congress in any capacity except in that of a private citizen or elected official with a publicly disclosed purpose. Every current member of Congress shall disclose each and every instance of contact with former members of Congress to include date, time, all attendees, method of contact, and information exchanged in a transparent, available medium within twenty-four hours of occurrence. Willful failure to comply with this disclosure requirement shall result in the expulsion of the member of Congress.
We have a broken “service” model. Congress is merely a stop for many on the way to personal wealth and power. The list in this category is too long to really enumerate but when a young congressman goes to Washington as a man of modest means and leaves thirty-four years later living full time in the DC Ritz, something is dreadfully wrong. Forget five-year exclusions. Make it a lifetime ban. Close the revolving door permanently. Tis the time for choosing. Make each prospective member of Congress pick one path or another.
Good people pursue opportunities to service in Congress for worthy reasons. Then life happens. Politicians on all sides succumb to the allure of power and perks (see former members as widely diverse as Fattah and Schock, each with a dozen plus felony charges and/or convictions). Yes we have a right to petition our Government, but we need to systematically and procedurally protect the Nation from our own human frailties where possible. An individual should accomplish something, develop expertise in a field, then go serve passionately in Congress for the benefit of the Nation. The member should then go home and live under the laws that were created on their watch.
Congressional Redistricting: Each State with two or more allocated congressional seats shall utilize an automated process to create districts based on the latest US census data by zip zone proximity without regards to or knowledge of the race, religion, sex, or national origin of the citizens residing within the zone. Every six years the geographical starting point for zip zone aggregation shall rotate clockwise by ninety degrees.
We live it a time where tremendous resources in both legislative chambers and within the Courts are expended (and wasted) in the decennial process of drawing Congressional districts for the sole purpose of categorizing and dividing citizens for political purposes. Politicians now pick their voters rather than citizen voters picking their leaders. There should be NO safe congressional seats or quotas for any subset of the American electorate. People of all faiths, races and political persuasions work together, live together, play together, support their favorite sports teams together. The marketplace of ideas should determine who sits in Congress, not skin color or any other attribute or personal trait. If more districts were randomly assembled from broader cross-sections of the population, there would be a natural moderation in our political processes. From a congressional organizational perspective, it is time to Move On.
Inter-Branch Relations: Presidential recess appointments shall be forbidden. Presidential signing statements excepting certain sections of laws passed by Congress and signed into law shall be forbidden. All existing such statements are Null and Void. The “take care to faithfully execute clause” shall be interpreted literally. When the President and majority of the Senate are of the same political party a supermajority of sixty percent shall be required to pass all regular legislation. When the President and majority of the Senate are of different political parties only a simple majority shall be required. Any legislation considered in a lame duck session between an election and the installation of a new Congress shall require a seventy-five percent majority. Presidential nominations to the Supreme Court submitted to the Senate with eighteen or more months remaining in the Presidents term of office shall be considered by and the Senate shall exercise its responsibility to advise and consent. Exclusive of presidential foreign travel, any Executive agreement negotiated with one or more foreign countries that involve either the expenditure of Treasury funds or a pledge of support for future mutual security shall be submitted to the Senate for ratification.
It is time to end the general tendency for inside the Beltway procedural gamesmanship. There are sufficient substantive issues to be dealt with. Recess appointments are an anachronism. We have this thing called air travel now. If a president takes exception to a prospective law under consideration by Congress, he or she must engage proactively and negotiate acceptable language before passage or veto. Congress was put in charge of writing its own procedural rules. They have proven themselves incapable. Citizens now need to provide clearer guidance. The era of avoiding tough votes should end. Citizens deserve to know where their representatives really stand on critical issues. Losers should not be allowed to legislate. Congress must reassert its primacy with respect to the power of the purse strings. This will curb excessive Executive adventurism and the entanglements about which President Washington warned. It is time for action only when there is a broad national consensus.
Equality Under the Law: Within 180 days of ratification, the Federal Government shall purge every digitally maintained data attribute of every Citizen that identifies that person by race, religion, sex, or national origin. These attributes shall never again be collected and stored by the Federal Government for Citizens within the general population. Such identifying attributes are authorized for non-citizens of all types and statuses and for Citizens convicted of felonies under either State or Federal statutes. After the later of fifteen years from conviction date or upon restoration of Voting Rights by a State Governor, these attributes also shall be purged on an individual basis.
America is a multi-cultural, multi-racial society with rapidly changing norms. There is no basis for the Federal Government to show special treatment and/or preference for or against any subset of our Citizenry. We should heed Chief Justice Robert’s admonishment and end government-based discrimination by eliminating government’s access to the data on which it is based. The sooner we do this, the sooner we will live in a society where content of character trumps color of skin. It is 2017…almost. To quote a contemporary, long-serving politician: “What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?"
President-Elect Trump, do you think there is even the remotest possibility that any of the above Amendments (or any other similar serious reform issues) will make it through the United States Congress? You are a teetotaler so, in your case, any claims about one stout drink too many offers no excuse. Likewise, unless there is something really adverse in the air or water in Trump Tower (or President Obama shared some of his stash), you must now come to terms with both the tremendous responsibilities you are about to inherit AND with the awesome opportunities to fundamentally transform America that lie before you. An Article V Convention of the States is an option to be given serious consideration.
While there is no constitutionally sanctioned role for the Executive within an Article V initiative, nothing precludes you from championing and using your bully pulpit in such an effort. In fact @POTUS will give you great leverage in DC and across the Nation. It will empower you to bypass the insiders and directly transfer the energy of 60M+ voters into a continuing movement that will engage Citizens and their Representatives for the next few years in a worthy, civic endeavor. Initiate this dialogue on a national basis. Stand on the Capitol steps on Jan 20, 2017 and challenge this generation’s Madisons and Jeffersons to step forward. Serious, popular structural and political reform of the federal government in areas such as those listed above will: a) increase your leverage with Congress immediately (in their heart of hearts, they know the “jig is up”), b) easily buy you the four additional years you will need to address the many unresolved contemporary challenges facing America and c) guarantee than any GOP candidate for State Legislature or Assembly or Congress in 2018 that fails to endorse this reassertion of government Of, By, and For the People of will be primaried into oblivion.
Some time shortly after Inauguration Day, board Marine One or load up the Beast for a Sunday afternoon drive. Head west to Purcellville. There is a drain plug that that needs just one more pair of big, beautiful hands to pull firmly on its chain. This is your only real guaranteed path to bequeathing a lasting legacy to America. Along the way, you will earn the respect and gratitude of a Nation. As an outsider, not beholden to special interests and large donors, you just might be the One we have been waiting for.
USMA, Class of 1979