The Government’s Transition
Published 16 Jan 2017
The government we have today has come a long way since it’s creation by the Founding Fathers. With the new disappointments arising towards the current administration, many have begun to question and asses the purpose of the constitution structured by the Founding Fathers and how it still applies to us today. Some go so far as to suggest that the federalists who framed the constitution insisted on limited federal involvement, but the history of America shows this is not the case. The Federalists protested limited government, while secretly creating a constitution that might one day form into an all powerful force.
In fact, history shows that every official in any given office usually tends to take actions to increase the power of the government, whether state or federal, regardless of party classification. This is a formula specifically structured to maintain a minority class of wealthy elite to rule over the majority. The only difference between then and now is technological advancement and experience in the elitist control of the masses. If it were not for the presence of these traits in American society, there would be no real physical change to analyze. In a sense, nothing has really changed; money is still as much the emperor of our nation now, as it was then.
Until the twentieth century both scholars and the public revered the Framers as demigods and canonized the Constitution as the crowning symbol of a democratic revolution against tyranny. However, the many publicized political and corporate scandals of the Progressive Era in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries influenced historians to begin viewing the Constitutional Convention with a more jaundiced eye. (Krawczynksi, 2003)
In his essay, The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, Keith Krawczynksi, convinced that men were motivated primarily by economic self-interest and that class conflict pervaded human events, argues that the Founding Fathers carried out a counterrevolution by creating a reactionary document to protect their interests against popularly controlled state governments that passed cheap paper money legislation, debtor laws, and other measures that favored small farmers and artisans at the expense of wealthy creditors (2003).
To prove their case they pointed to the many provisions in the Constitution that checked popular sovereignty: the difficult procedure for adopting amendments, the judicial veto, the election of senators by state legislators, the election of the president by an electoral college, the appointment of Supreme Court justices by the president, and the awesome power conferred to the central government to suppress popular dissent. Thus, the Constitution was equipped with a system of minority checks and vetoes designed to prevent majority rule (Krawczynksi, 2003).
There are many myths applied to American history. One of these myths in particular is that the founding fathers were all selfless and priceless politicians who were able to rise above the tyranny of their day to advance the workings of Democratic government. American reverence for the framers and the undisputed worship of the constitution are virtues instilled in all citizens born within this society. The majority of the Founding Fathers were wealthy conservatives who were actually opposed to democracy. Krawczynksi notes that they often referred to it as a mobocracy. This perception resulted in this elitist class constructing laws that would better maintain the control of government in the hands of the wealthy, and prevent the majority from realizing their strength.
Krawczynksi further points this out in his essay when he says, the Founding Fathers deliberately designed the new American government to make it difficult for any mass political movement to challenge the political dominance by the traditional ruling elite (2003). He points out that their behavior is justifiable by the fact that these framers were also the main men who risked hide and limb to protect their political standings from the British, and they weren’t about to just turn around and hand it over to the public after winning the war. It is Krawczynksi’s view that these patriots did not intend to revolutionize democracy and turn an elitist system, based on upper-class leadership, on its heals; their sole intention was to gain independence from Britain in order to get the country out of their pocket.
The Patriot elite did not for-see the way the American commoners would view independence from Britain as the time to adopt egalitarianism. Aware that this Constitution would be aggressively opposed by the majority working class, the signing and construction of the deceleration was held in private. The media was used conceal the constitutions true purpose as well as to sway people in its favor. We see this control of the media used daily in news papers, on television and the web, an example of this is the Republican Party’s financial hold over Fox News.
The constitution adheres to freedom of the press, but the press doesn’t represent the freedom of the people. Sociological genius Pierre Bourdieu asserts that public opinion does not truly exist. This poses the question, how should we conceive public opinion? If it is true that the public does not exist, than the real question is, whose opinion is public opinion? Rational Choice Theory poses the idea that human beings form their opinions and decisions based on collective observations and calculations. It also assumes all inpiduals are well informed of all of their options and that it is an inherent human tendency to think everyone makes decisions this way. If this is true, it would explain the blind faith people have in public opinion.
It is a faith so devout; it often sways and molds popular culture ideals. Pierre Bourdieu strongly negates this view. In all of Bourdieu’s beliefs, his most popular is his assertion that the public does not exist (1984). This concept is addressed in his book, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, in that he feels there is a different of class taste between the ruling class and popular culture. But, within this conflict, there is no public, only a media mediating between the two and a culture to which they often cater to do so. Jon Simons addresses this concept in his essay, Governing the Public: Technologies of Mediation and Popular Culture, when he says,
…technologies constitute the people as a mediated public. The public is only amenable to representation in the form of an electorate which is an effect of technical organization that can mediate between people at a distance from each other. The key point of this analysis is that the public does not exist prior to or outside of its constitution. (Simons, 2002)
His essay evaluates the importance of media technologies within a democracy. Bourdieu feels that in this field of power struggle, the ruling class uses their cultural capital to assert their distinction (1984). This is seen in the way politicians might only use terms or syntax understandable to the elite of society. This separation between popular culture and the elite culture of a society makes it virtually impossible for government officials to ever get the unanimous appeal for which they often aspire. Most political elites view popular cultures’ apathy towards politics with great disdain. Even still, they relentlessly attempt to relate to popular culture voters, whom they know will support them.
In John Fiske’s critique on television, Television Culture he analyzes the nature of what makes popular television. He concludes that the shows that succeed in gaining popularity tend to have many symbols and plot lines containing multiple meanings. He also states that remain within a duality of containment and resistance (1987). This idea basically revolves around the fact that television producers, who are viewed as the upper class and political elite, are expected to produce material that correspond with popular culture.
This material that the elite minority culture produces for the popular culture contradicts elitist ideals but allows the status quo to remain intact. This means the political elite can only remain the elite so long as they humor the beliefs and ideals of their less powerful but more dominant counterparts. The rules Fiske establishes for television shows can very easily be applied to the media. They present the media as a tool being used to prey on the wants and needs of different cultures.
The idea that there is no such thing as public perception in America, and that what we deem to be public perception is just a popular culture molded and created by the media to entertain the American majority, while still maintaining the ideals and power of their elite class financiers, is a common conspiracy theory. It is also true. The Federal government appears to have their hands in everything because they do. This is the result of technological advancement enforcing a constitution designed for a central government to grow in power over time. The biggest myth held about the Federalists is that they were opposed to giving the Federal government too much power. This myth is negated by the actions of the Framers who attained office, as well as the presidents who came behind them.
It must never be forgot, that all of these men were of the Financial elite of America. So, those Federalists who claimed to be liberalists in favor of Democracy, were only so in favor as would maintain their wealth. The appearance of caring for the will of the people, to maintain ones own wealth, as demonstrated by Friske, obviously started in America with the Founding Fathers. And, when these men got in office they did everything in their power to increase their power as well as financial stature. A classic example of this is the life and Presidency of James K. Polk.
The eleventh President of the United States, Polk was a Jeffersonian Democrat, which meant he was a strong believer of the freedom of speech and that the press was the best defense against a tyrannical government. He also believed in small business and small government, just like Thomas Jefferson. The irony of this is that both men, Jefferson and Polk, played historically the largest part in increasing the size and power of our nation’s government. His strong belief in expansionism later became referred to as Manifest Destiny. On this stance, Polk won the Presidential election and became the first and only member of the House of Representatives ever to become the President of the United States.
Polk was such a proponent of expansionism that he attempted to buy Cuba while in office. In 1848, he and the ambassador to Spain, Romulus Mitchell Sanders made plans to negotiate with Spain. They offered the Spanish government 100 million dollars. Spain rejected this offer. Many countries were undoubtedly aware of Polk’s ambitions. Polk established a large majority of Oregon as part of the United States. At one point after Jackson had resigned, the Whigs had completely taken over congress and the White house. It was very similar to the way the Republicans controlled the Capital, the White House, and the Supreme Court. They were a new wave radical political party, but they faltered in their true lack of support for expanding the nation.
It was through the ideals of Manifest Destiny (Expansionism), that Polk was able to claim is place as the Democratic candidate and eventually claim the Presidency. It should be noted that Polk was a long shot. It is not very clear why the majority of his opposition at the time didn’t support expansionism, but their opposition to that simple stance catapulted Polk into office. Many say if it was not for his devout expansionist ideals, he may never have won the election. The Democratic Party was not widely known for fallowing expansionism. In truth it is a more republican ideal. Or at least what we would consider to be Republican today.
Polk’s presidency has been categorized as the most successful, because of all of the power and land he accumulated for his country. Polk is the prime example of a presidential tradition to increase the power of Federal government while appearing to weaken the ramifications of its hold on the people. This is a tradition that has survived, beyond the public eye, in America to this day.
So what are the differences between our government now and the one the Framers modeled? Despite the fact that the Federalist constructed a governmental system that is virtually impossible to change, or even use for tyrannical purposes, their still have been a few changes to the original constitution since its construction. Since the original Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, their have been 17 amendments to the constitution. This is an average of about 1 amendment every 13 years. Since its creation, the constitution has been used to abolish slavery, give blacks and women the right to vote, and even prohibit the right to drink alcohol.
Today some of the freedoms the constitution allows citizens are unfathomable to imagine doing without. This is a prime example of the dramatic effect this doctrine has on all our lives. One subtle act in the constitution can lead to the entire sociological, or ideological shift of our entire country. So in response to the question, how has our government changed since its original framing? The truth is, not much on paper, but time has extended it as far as it may go, and I’m sure we will continue to do so.
- Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984) Distinction, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Fiske, John (1992) “Popularity and the Politics of Information” in P. Dahlgren and C. Sparkes (eds) Journalism and Popular Culture, London: Sage.
- Hirsh, John C., and John L. Motley. “John Lothrop Motley on the American Republic, 1846: a Document.” Journal of the Early Republic os 6.1 (1986): 59-65. Jstor. Strozier Library, Tallahassee. 30 Nov. 2006. Keyword: James K. Polk.
- Krawczynksi, Keith “The U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”History in Dispute, Vol. 12: The American Revolution, 1763-1789., ed. St. James Press, 2003. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale