I got around to watching 12 Years A Slave, the award-winning film about our founding fathers. In one scene, a sadistic slave owner named Thomas Jefferson strips and ties up his black female slave, played by Lupita Nyong'o. Then Jefferson brutally whips the young girl until she's left unconscious in a pool of blood. In an earlier scene, a young George Washington apathetically purchases a hysterical woman as her frightened children, about to be separated forever, are ripped from her arms.
Later in the movie, Jefferson, while shitting in a hole in the backyard, writes a vague set of laws on parchment made from endangered rhino hide and says, "This should pretty much cover the next 250 years."
No? You mean that wasn't supposed to be Thomas Jefferson? Eh, I'm not good with names. But what difference does it make? Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry and James Madison, just like the characters in 12 Years A Slave, owned human beings. Don't think of George Washington as one of our founding fathers; think of him as a 2014 Academy Award nominee for best supporting actor.
For years, society ignored the founding fathers' association with slavery. But things changed. And now we are constantly reminded that these rich white men were slave owners. But we've become emotionally detached from the words. To say "slave owner" doesn't carry much of an impact. We don't describe these men as being evil and despicable, and they auctioned off children and raped little girls and they forced human beings to spend all day, every day, out in the hot fields to do physically exhausting, mind-numbing work. Rather, we say, "Yeah, slavery was bad. But the situation was complicated." Complicated?! Setting up your Facebook privacy settings is complicated. Slavery is not complicated.
I've been told, "But George Washington freed his slaves after he died." Well la di freakin' da. That's like Bernie Madoff telling the judge, "But I'll give the money back after I die."
I've been told, "Slavery was horrible. But those were the times." The times?! You mean back when black people liked being slaves? What "times" are you talking about? Back in the days when getting whipped didn't hurt? Two-hundred years from now, people will not look back and defend school shooters. "Eh, those were just the times."
I've been told, "But slavery was part of the South's plantation industry." Give me a break. Our founding fathers were wealthy aristocrats. Memo to Thomas Jefferson: If you truly can't afford to pay these people a wage, then sell your Porsche and move into a smaller Monticello. And if your business still requires slavery to make money, then quit your business and do something else! I like potato chips, but if cooking them required that we punch old ladies in the face, I could go without. It's about moral choices.
People continue to treat the Constitution as if it's some all-knowing mystical force, beamed to us from outer space by omniscient alien gods who were absolutely certain of the universal, never-changing fact that Senators should serve six-year terms, rather than five.
Well... maybe the founding fathers were wrong about a lot of stuff. Is that even a possibility? We shouldn't always have to debate what the founding fathers' original intent might have been. Does it matter what Thomas Jefferson might have been thinking? Are we seven years old? Can't we ever just figure stuff out on our own?
Understand that "founding fathers" is just a romanticized term. Thomas Jefferson was not your actual father. He didn't take you to baseball games.
Things change. Is it so unreasonable to think that, when they wrote the Constitution, the founding fathers had no foresight into gay marriage and iPods and 9/11 and cars and lunatics shooting people in shopping malls and that the American Idol contestants would be so awful this year?
Nor did the founding fathers have the foresight to know that, in 2014, states would vary so differently in population. What would Benjamin Franklin have to say about the absurdity that Alaska, with less than a million inhabitants, has the same Senate power as California, a state with over 38 million people -- and even more if you include the nights when Charlie Sheen is seeing double? I suspect he would say, "I'm dead. Figure it out on your own. And what happened to Glee? That show has really gone downhill."
The Constitution was written by very flawed men, who owned human beings, whose foresight has been proven inaccurate, and who prayed to dogs. Americans today shouldn't take every word of it as the gospel. (Note: Though I think I might've read about the "praying to dogs" thing in a dream.)
The Constitution is a political blueprint for a time when white people owned black people, the average life span was 35 years old, and news was spread through people yelling on the street. Today, white people marry black people, Dick Cheney is 149 years old, and news is spread through people yelling on cable channels. Things have changed.
Incidentally, the reason for the stupid age laws in the Constitution -- you have to be 30 to be a Senator, 35 to be president -- is, in fact, because people lived such short lives back then. The logic being that once you leave the Senate, you won't have a chance to manipulate your clout for personal gain... since you're probably going to die soon afterwards. Though it should be pointed out that back then, just like now, the rich white guys with power tended to live longer. Thomas Jefferson lived to 83. George Washington was only 67 when he died, but he ate a lot of carbs.
Along with the age thing, the Constitutional provision that one must be a natural born citizen to be president is also outdated. We're no longer in danger of English loyalists taking over our government. Well, maybe Hugh Grant. Things have changed.
Look, a country can't operate without a political blueprint of operation. We need a constitution. But we don't necessarily need the Constitution. The citizens of Australia don't operate under our Constitution, yet they are still free to publically criticize kangaroos. Now, the Australian government's legislative branch isn't set up the way our Constitutional legislative branch is organized. But what's so great about our legislative branch? According to a recent poll, Congress' approval rating has dropped below all-time lows. There's something wrong with the system. Nobody disagrees with that. Hence, to question the Constitution should not be sacrilege.
Or, if nothing else, perhaps we need to add a Constitutional amendment that would make it easier to change the Constitutional provision that makes it so difficult to change the Constitution. Yes, you might have to read that sentence twice. There have been only two changes to the Constitution since 1967. But a lot has happened during the past 40 years. We have sex robots now.
I can't relate to 1789, a time when our leaders owned human beings and wore powdered wigs and had wooden teeth. Can you? It was a different country back then. It was a lesser country. Back in colonial times, cell phones were still big and clunky. As a nation, we've improved. And we still have room to grow. But our growth is stifled by stupid laws that have no relevance to modern society. As Americans, the most patriotic thing we can do -- aside from listening to country music, apparently -- is to question and criticize the way our system works, in order to make things better. But improvement is crippled by this mistaken notion that the founding fathers were brilliant. They weren't. Well, Benjamin Franklin was, but at least he freed his slaves and became an outspoken abolitionist by the end of his life. If the founding fathers themselves questioned their original beliefs, shouldn't we question them, too?
Take, for example, the 2nd Amendment, the section of the Constitution that refers to the right to bear arms. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..." What did the founding fathers mean by "militia?" Individual citizens? The National Guard? Those Duck Dynasty rednecks? What did the founding fathers mean by "arms"? The muskets of 1780? High-powered automatic rifles developed in 2014? Nuclear arms? Madonna's overly-muscular arms?
You don't know how the founding fathers would have felt about today's gun control laws. I know that you don't know because I don't know. Neither of us have a time machine. (Though if I did, I would go back a few years before they invented the time machine and I'd invent the time machine. Why not take the credit, right?)
The founding fathers predicted the future about as well as Boomer Esiason picks NFL games. Not very well. So change the Constitution. Make the law "you can have all the guns you want" or "you can't." Whatever. But at least we'd eliminate the subjectivity, and we can finally move away from psycho-analyzing old guys who lived and died a long time ago.
Our political system no longer works. The public servants representing us no longer have our best interests at heart. To think that my tax dollars are going to investigate Benghazi again makes me puke. Cheers to the founding fathers for making an effort. They tried. But the Constitution, as it is written, is no longer functional; it can't compete with money, technology, big business, political corruption, and Ryan Seacrest's Twitter feed.
So here are some suggestions for the new Constitution...
Get rid of the Senate. Sorry, Rand Paul. If the government was a singles bar, the Senate would be the drunk guy cockblocking you. The only thing the Senate does anymore is impede progress. From now on, the legislative branch will consist only of the House of Representatives. So Puerto Rico still gets a voice.
Television cameras are mandatory inside the Supreme Court. If Americans can watch Tori Spelling's marriage crumble on TV, they should also have the right to watch legal testimony relevant to their actual lives. Do the Supreme Court justices ride to work in horse and buggies? No, they don't. The judges live in a modern world. Shielding themselves from modern technology is not just hypocritical, it's out-of-touch.
A Congressman's annual salary will be that of the median household income. These people are public servants. Congress is not supposed to be a place to get rich. If your Congressional salary isn't paying the rent, then get a second job like everyone else.
Each Congressman will serve one six-year term. That's enough time to make your mark. Just ask the Beatles. Then you have to leave. Congress is a place to make laws; it's not a nursing home. You're not supposed to die there.
In order to be president of the United States, you are required to be an American citizen of at least 18 years old. That's it. None of the other nonsense. We're all equal now, although it will suck if the most powerful person on the planet isn't allowed to drink beer.
After the president gives the annual State of the Union speech to Congress, the opposing political party shall give no organized "response." Do you know when we officially became a divided nation? No, not when Felicity cut her hair. Rather, it was 1966. That was the first year that, after the president delivered his speech, the opposing party responded with a televised criticism. The two parties are supposed to work together to keep American strong. If the other party's purpose is, by definition, to tell us that our president is lying, then the government's dysfunction shouldn't be a surprise. It's like if the groom says his wedding vows, and then the bride gives her opposing response. Think that marriage is gonna work out?
Re-word the 1st Amendment: "Congress cannot make a law that favors the establishment of one particular religion, which by definition means the separation of church and state; or, just to be even more clear, you can't hang up the Ten Commandments in public courthouses; you might not approve of coveting thy neighbor's wife, but it's not illegal; that prohibits the free exercise of religion -- so let's give Tom Cruise a break, all he did was jump on a couch, it's not like he ever killed anyone; or that restricts freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people to gather and engage in peaceful demonstrations -- and "speech" means any sort of emotional expression, even if that means other people think it's obscene or offensive; in other words, any speech that if you don't like it, you can just change the channel."
Oh, and this is not a law, per se. But it would be nice if all Americans learned the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. It's a pet peeve of mine. And I'm sure that Thomas Jefferson would agree.