Experts have many definitions of what a constitutional crisis is, from a party that embraces a cult of personality to refusing to accept the results of an election, to rising authoritarian sentiments, to powerful political actors systematically violating the Constitution and the law, to an operational crisis where the system fails to handle significant challenges facing the nation.
In a press briefing by Ethnic Media Services, a panel of experts touched on the subject to help understand its signs and how to cover this critical topic, which may be on the table before or after the 2024 election.
The country seems to drown itself in a political crisis. From a House of Representatives that always has internal problems to the presidential candidates that can’t get away from defeating a former president in the opinion polls. In the realm of political science, a constitutional crisis is a problem or conflict in the function of a government that the political constitution or other fundamental governing law is perceived to be unable to resolve. There are several variations to this definition but mostly everyone seems to agree that the U.S. constitutional crisis is imminent.
“It was believed that political parties would responsibly field appropriate candidates to run for office, but that is no longer the case,” says Seth Masket, pointing to Donald Trump’s alleged insurrection. Masket is a Professor, Department of Political Science, Director of the Center for American Politics at the University of Denver.
Gloria Browne Marshall, Professor of Constitutional Law, at John Jay College, says – historically – all sorts of people, many with criminal records, have put their hats in the ring for elected office. The difference now, she says, is that Trump is a viable candidate who seems likely to win.
Prof. Aziz Huq, of the University of Chicago School of Law, says the ordinary voter is more concerned with pocketbook issues, rather than character.
What happens if a presidential candidate says he will choose to disregard the law, panel host Pilar Marrero asked. “It isn’t necessarily a vote killer,” says Seth Masket.
“Trump says he could kill someone in Times Square and still get elected,” says Browne-Marshall “We need to understand the mindset of voters who still ardently support him.”
“It’s a mistake to think we have a perfect democracy,” says Prof. Aziz Huq, a Scholar of United States and Comparative Constitutional Law at, the University of Chicago Law School. “But the reality is it could get much, much worse.”
People are voting against their interests says Browne-Marshall, pointing to women who voted for Trump, despite his sexism, Latinos, regardless of his immigration policy. Minorities will soon be the majority, but the country will remain “artificially white.”
White people feel like they’re losing ground to minorities and are more likely to ignore dubious behavior if it helps them keep their hold, says Seth Masket
“People are experiencing extreme trauma and loss, including economic loss” which may influence their voting, says Prof. Aziz Huq.
Browne-Marshall says the founders of the US did not want to make America a religiously-led country. But evangelicals have taken hold in all branches of government, she says.
“Why wasn’t it seen as a Constitutional crisis when African Americans and Asian Americans were denied the right to vote? Why do we only focus when it affects the white middle class, Browne Marshall pointed out?
“A functioning democracy requires that parties be willing to accept when they lose,” Masket added.
“There is a real news desert here,” she says. The decline of local news media has contributed to voter disengagement,” says Masket.
Huq says voters should look at deregulatory agendas that would cut out social benefits, and safety nets for many people.
Browne Marshall says – historically – all sorts of people, many with criminal records, have put their hats in the ring for elected office. The difference now, she says, is that Trump is a viable candidate who seems likely to win.