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Document Type

Lecture

Publication Date

Winter 2019

Publication Citation

94 Indiana Law Journal 253 (2019)

Abstract

In this Article, I will talk about what I expect is going to happen in the next five to ten years. Unlike eclipses, however, one can’t be entirely sure of the future. Politics is not astronomy, and human affairs do not operate like clockwork. Moreover, we can’t assume that everything is already foreordained: that if people simply sit on their hands and do nothing, the cycles I describe in this lecture will take care of themselves. Quite the contrary. I am telling a story about what happens in the long run, but it is not a deterministic story. The actions of many individuals over time, pursuing their values and interests, but constrained by institutional arrangements, will tend to cycle in intelligible ways. But people have to actually pursue those interests. They have to be motivated to respond to the problems they face. Above all, they can’t allow themselves to be overcome by despair and paralyzed into inaction.

Of course some people do despair today. They fear that we are headed inexorably toward fascism, authoritarianism, and the end of democracy. That is not what I think is going to happen. Nor do I expect that the American public will sit on its hands. I believe that Americans will respond to the misfortunes of our present age, just as they have many times before. And for that reason, although I will mention our current President at various points in my discussion, I will not be delving into great detail about the crazy and often disturbing things that have happened since his election. Instead, I will view him, and the party he leads, as exhibiting the effects of the cycles of constitutional time on political life in America.

My purpose, then, is not to tell people that their democracy will take care of itself without any effort on their part. Rather, it is to offer a bit of hope for people who read the news every day and fear that things are only going to get worse. Hope does not guarantee action, but it makes beneficial action more likely. If people misunderstand our situation, and conclude that American decline is inevitable, they may unwittingly help to make that fate a reality; but if they understand the cycles of constitutional time, they may come to believe that their democracy can be redeemed, and do their part to realize that worthy goal.

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