5 Crazy Scenarios You Didn't Know The Constitution Allows
It's hard to imagine that there are any exciting surprises lurking in the U.S. Constitution. It might be the foundation of our democracy and the backbone of our country, but it's not exactly a page-turner. However, while politicians on both sides like to cherry-pick amendments to quote from to serve their purposes, they consistently manage to leave out the wildest, juiciest, and downright crazy parts that could change the country as we know it in a heartbeat. For example ...
"Godel's Loophole" Could Allow America To Become A Dictatorship (If We Could Find It)
Despite our contrasting political views, most of us probably agree that it's a good thing we're not in an actual dictatorship with, like, executions and non-hashtag resistance forces and people ratting their neighbors out to the authorities. The Founding Fathers made damn sure that the Constitution would prevent Americans from ever having to live under the yoke of some asshole king. Except, if you believe one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, it could totally still happen.
In the 1940s, a lot of scholars and other professional thinking types escaped light Nazi interference by moving from Europe to the U.S. Among the refugees was Kurt Godel, a world-famous philosopher, mathematician, and logician. When he arrived in the States, he had to jump through the hoops of obtaining citizenship, like passing tests and presenting character witnesses -- for which he chose Albert Einstein, because he was a big believer in the philosophical principle of "go big or go home."
But before Einstein could pimp-slap Godel's paperwork away, he was witness to the philosopher's official citizenship interview. The conversation went perfectly fine, but at the end of the interview, Godel casually remarked to the immigration official that, during his studies, he had found a loophole in the Constitution that could allow the country to become a full-blown dictatorship. With the late '40s not being the greatest time to question America's dedication to freedom and democracy, Einstein had to step in and save Godel's ass. He was given his citizenship, and neither Einstein nor Godel ever revealed what this supposed loophole was.
Of course, ever since, Constitution nerds have been trying to figure out Godel's Loophole. As best as anyone can guess, the answer might lie in Article V, which deals with amending the Constitution. One thing the article forgot to do was add a clause exempting itself from being amended, meaning the Constitution could be entirely rewritten if someone managed to amend Article V. Currently, it takes a two-thirds majority of votes both in Congress and among the states to change anything about the document, but if one party could ever get those numbers for even a second, they could vote to change about anything, turning us from a thriving democracy into the kind of Ancient Roman nightmare where some God-King makes his horse the junior senator of Maine.
Of course, the fact that no one has managed to decisively figure out the loophole might mean that the story isn't true, or that Godel merely said what he did to be a badass. But we prefer assuming that instead of warning people, Einstein and Godel used their science brains to make a time machine and tell the Founding Fathers to cut that shit out.
The Constitution Could Make Us All Pirates
As we said before, the Constitution is not a particularly cracking good read. There are lots of boring parts about preserving liberty and not being nice to black people. So how do you make any kind of book more exciting? Add pirates, of course! Pirates are the Hamburger Helper of literature, turning even the blandest of pages into something fun and filling. Although, if that's the case, how have we missed that the Constitution already has pirates in them? Quote Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power ... to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water
The Constitution was written at a time when being a pirate wasn't only a career goal for imaginative seven-year-olds and Johnny Depp. Pirating was an legitimate occupation, for which you only needed a boat, a crew, and a badass nickname to get started with. Except that pirating didn't have a great severance package, because if the law caught you, they'd cut off your head.
Instead, you wanted to go legit and obtain a letter of marque, a license issued by the government deputizing you to capture, destroy, and plunder in the name of your country -- i.e. privateering.
And because the government has gotten allergic to giving up power, Congress never repealed this article. So with its blessing, you and your buddies could absolutely lease a yacht and start broadsiding ISIS. No, seriously. During the Second World War, the Goodyear blimp Resolute was awarded a letter of marque authorizing it to hunt submarines off the Los Angeles coast. And as recently as 2009, Ron Paul was suggesting to commission boat people to hunt down Somali pirates and reclaim their treasures.
The President And Vice President Could Switch Places At Any Time
Maybe you've noticed, but not everyone is very happy with the current president. And when you've heard those very rare, very occasional grumblings about him, someone might have mentioned the 25th Amendment, which could make the current president not ... current anymore.
The 25th Amendment is remarkably clear about its crazy premise. It allows, under the right legal circumstances, for the president and vice president to switch places, Freaky Friday-style, at any point during their time in office. If the president volunteers, he can transfer his power and duties to his vice president without needing to ask those squares in Congress for permission -- and vice-versa once the new president figures out his new VP left him to hold the bag for something.
Now, before any of you start seriously debating in your head whether you prefer being ruled by the devil or the deep orange sea, know that the 25th wasn't intended to allow for a permanent switch. In fact, it has been used as a temporary measure several times throughout U.S. history, such as when George W. Bush transferred power to Dick Cheney whilst he was undergoing a medical procedure. The amendment was never to be used as a tool to win voters over, whereby a party could treat their VP as a possible usurper in case their base liked to see a change. But it could work that way. According to this hypothetical scenario, there's no rule against the presidential and vice presidential candidates double-pinky-swearing in public that they're going to switch places at some point during their first term and just, like, doing that. Simply have both Coke and Pepsi on the menu. Why has no one ever thought of this before!?
Texas Could Be Split into Five States
Texas has always had a fraught relationship with the rest of the country, in the same way that any state large and wealthy enough to beat up any other state would. And Texas really likes its independence, armed insurrection and all. Fortunately, like with any state, the people of Texas aren't able to tear up the rest of America. But thanks to the Constitution, they can tear up themselves.
As it turns out, Texas might have a secret superpower that allows it to divide itself into several smaller states and irrevocably screw the Electoral College. It all relies on combining, peanut-butter-and-jelly-style, the Constitution with the 1845 Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States, the document which admitted Texas into the Union. In the constitution, under Article IV, Section 3, Congress has the sole power to allow states to divide themselves up -- which is how we wound up with Maine, Kentucky, and West Virginia. But that was nothing but some old-fashioned gerrymandering. There's really no way they'll allow Texas to pack up and leave.
Except there's a line in the 1845 Joint Resolution, which was approved and signed by Congress, that kinda sounds like they already did, albeit unintentionally. As it states:
New States of convenient size not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas and having sufficient population, may, hereafter by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof.
So without interference from those Washington carpetbaggers, Texas can go all mitosis and break up into five full-fledged states -- "not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas." How would that help Texas? It wouldn't, but it would severely hurt the political status quo. That was true in the North-South division days (giving more votes to the pro-slavery part of the country), but it's still true today. Nobody can completely predict which way these hypothetical new states would vote if they suddenly popped up, so the resolution has basically given Texas a gun to hold to current ruling party's head and say, "Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?"
The closest that Texas has ever come to divorcing itself was in 1847, when Henry Van Zandt (the man responsible for the "four states" clause to begin with) ran for governor of Texas on the sole platform of breaking up the state. It's only because he died of yellow fever that his plan was never carried out. The rest of the attempts to trigger a #Texit have been less professional. In 1852 and 1868, there were proposals to split Texas in two, but those failed because neither side was willing to give up even the tiniest sliver of Texan identity to the other ("Which state would yield the emblem of a single star?" "Who will give up the bloodstained walls of the Alamo?"), or even figure out where to draw the demarcation lines. Mostly, the rule helps Texans feel big and important while probably never being able to pull anything off anyway -- and we have a sneaking suspicion that was Congress' plan all along.
Surprise, Slavery Still Exists
One of the most popular conspiracy theories out there is that the government / deep state / George Soros are working to strip away all of our rights, lock us in detention camps, and sell us into slavery to corporations. It's a cute idea, but there's one thing these powerful ne'er-do-wells haven't considered: The Constitution of the United States will stop them.
Except that it won't, and it isn't. As most of us know, slavery was intended to be abolished via the 13th Amendment, which states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States." In principle, the amendment makes slavery as dead as the Confederacy. In practice, however, it's as alive and kicking as the Confederacy.
It all hinges on this little clause: "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." So while the Constitution makes damn sure no "innocent" soul is taken into bondage, it's a whole different ethics game if you've been convicted of a crime and imprisoned. Then you become a cog in the prison-industrial complex -- a major income stream of for-profit prisons wherein prisoners are forced participate in work programs. Prisoners must either help operate the prison or "participate" in a convict-leasing program through which corporations such as Whole Foods and Victoria's Secret (among others) can borrow inmates to do jobs that most people would ordinarily demand to be paid for. Oh, and the inmates don't get a choice. If they're medically fit, they have to work under the threat of being placed into solitary, and you know that's only because guards aren't allowed to whip people anymore.
So why should we care about a bunch of criminals having to do tech support and stock shelves? Well, maybe it's because that the 13th Amendment loophole takes away decent blue-collar jobs from regular hardworking people. Or maybe it's because prison is supposed to be about repaying your debt to society, not to AT&T. Or maybe it's because, after they get out, we've made sure those ex-cons aren't allowed to get paying jobs for the same work they've been doing for free for years. Or maybe, just maybe, you don't want to live in a system that incentivizes mass and long-term incarceration to the point where state lawyers have been caught arguing against releasing prisoners because prisons would "lose an important labor pool." Take your pick. Or get a prisoner to do the picking for you. That's what they're there for, apparently.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter about depressing history that you should definitely subscribe to.
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For more, check out 6 Myths About The US Constitution Too Many People Believe and 4 Constitutional Debates America's Founders Never Saw Coming.
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