A Twitter thread by Erik Torenberg.
Summary / takeaways from the book "The Age of Entitlement" by Christopher Caldwell.
The main thesis is that we have two irreconcilable constitutions, and our country is split over which constitution they subscribe to, the one of 1789 or 1964
Passing civil rights act of 1964 (which he supports & which worked!) created legal precedents that expanded beyond its initial scope
Meant to stop segregation in the south, it later set precedents into uplifting other groups beyond race (e.g. immigrants, children, gay rights)
Even just within race, it was never meant to expand beyond segregation in the south.
Hubert Humphrey said, “If this results in affirmative action, I’ll eat the bill”
In the Congressional debate then, you can see ppl mocking others worried about things that later came to pass
Given that segregation was such a severe issue, + the rampant racism at the time, it made sense to challenge the prevailing understanding of the 1st Amendment as protecting not just freedom of assembly, but freedom of association.
For that issue.
But wasn't so clear for others.
The distinction some ppl draw is between individual rights and group rights.
People were always "protected" as individuals, but today they're protected as groups.
Unclear how to determine which groups need extra gov't protection beyond individual rights & in what capacities.
"Civil Rights Act became the mechanism through which to spread an entire social agenda that the American people did not necessarily vote for, agree to, or even particularly want in the moment..
served as a precedent for kind of activist government in the in the years that follow
What's big wasn't just the outcomes, it was the legal precedent set by the *process*
In short, power moved from congress to courts.
By moving to the courts, activists could get written into law things that were highly unpopular & would never get legislated otherwise.
Bilingual education, for example, was implemented tops-down by the courts without any vote or pre-existing law.
This could have only happened based on legal precedent Civil Rights set.
Bypassing congress became an alternative way of conducting politics in the United States
By the late 70s, you had something going on where you had a very expensive new constitution, but a public that was not willing to pay for it, & wanted to go back to 1789 constitution.
Raegan ran on this platform & won. But he didnt/couldnt overturn it
Instead he called a truce.
Reagan ended up satisfying both constitutions by paying for it via debt.
Combination of Raegan tax cuts plus social programs plus competing with Russia put us in debt.
He tried to have his cake & eat it too, which worked temporarily, but future generations had to pay for it.
"So overwhelming is the hegemony of this 1964 constitution over the 1788 constitution, that our politics has pretty naturally sorted itself.
into a party of those who have been helped by the new constitutional developments and the party of those who have been harmed by it."
In light of all this, it's interesting to think about intersectionality & identity politics as not just cultural or intellectual fashions/belief systems, but also, among other things, legal strategies adaptive to their environments, thanks to 1964.
The book then goes on to chronicle how Clinton accelerated it, how not much happened under Bush here, how Obama accelerated it—and the book conveniently ends right before Trump is elected.
Interested in hearing responses to Caldwell's ideas