Did you miss our recent Reddit AMA with Professor Sarah Burns of RIT’s political science department? You can find the whole conversation here, or check out some of the highlights below.
Dr. Burns is a regular contributor to the Learn Liberty Blog, and starred in our series on America’s Founding.


Hi, thanks for doing an AMA! I’ve got a fairly straight forward question:
Do you believe that our inherent cultural paradigms have an impact on the acceptance of liberalism? And if so, how is globalization and the internet working to change/alter our cultural paradigms and attitudes with regards to liberalism?


That’s a big question! It’s also hard to answer without first addressing what you mean by liberal. Classical liberalism focuses on rights protection, limited government, and free markets. Presently in the United States, people connect the term “liberal” to people like Bernie Sanders who favors expanding rights protection, providing a government safety net and protecting American workers. Ideologically, it’s pretty much night and day! I would say that there is a core element of the American identity that holds firm to classical liberalism and an element that sees government as a check on the more volativle elements of a free market system. For that reason, if you think that free markets make goods cheaper which benefits all levels of society, you would favor globalization. Comparatively, if you think it causes a concentration of wealth and the exportation of jobs, you’d agree with Bernie Sanders. The internet provides a means for individuals to engage in confirmation bias. The more you see that globalization provides a net benefit, the more you support it. The more you see that globalization causes problems, the more you oppose it.


If you could rewrite the Constitution what would you keep? What would you get rid of? What would you add?


A dream come true!

I’ll do my top three:

1.  I would give Congress the teeth it needs to control the use of force. Presently the power to declare war doesn’t stop presidents from starting wars.

2.  I would get rid of the 17th Amendment. States need a say in the federal government in order to stop the federal government from gobbling up state power.

3.  Find a way to deal with parties. They aren’t accounted for in the Constitution.


Professor Burns, you mentioned that throughout the years the Founders and their followers had endured great hardships without altering the Constitution. Considering that the left has now joined the right in clamoring for a Constitutional Convention, do you think that will now occur and what do you think the outcome could be?


If the Civll War didn’t cause a Constitutional Convention I doubt we’ll see one now. You’d need a really big catalyst to cause one.


How do you think the 2016 election cycle will impact future presidential elections?


That’s a big question. First of all, everyone has to throw out the old playbook. Gone are the days when you can say money and organization wins elections. Hillary outspent and out-organized but still lost. We also may need to rethink our addiction on polling. I think it was horrible how people went after pollsters after the election when they correctly predicted that there was a margin of error that could lead to Trump’s win. It’s not their fault it happened. There may have been, however, some people who saw the polls and decided to stay home and/or vote. That’s giving statistics far too much power over our democracy. We also see the growth of populism in the United States. This is the first time since Andrew Jackson that a truly populist candidate made it to the White House. Populism has an extremely dangerous element. It’s rooted in passions and therefore somewhat immune to rational argument. That’s one of the reasons we see Trump support among his base remaining solid. They love him no matter what he does. I suppose I’ll say I hope that our institutions will do a good job of correcting for this excess of democracy (that can be bad as well). Those are my top take aways.


1.  What are some of the reasons why Congress has chosen not to declare war in the past 70 years? Does this play a role in the aggregation of power to the presidency that both parties have played a role in?

2.  What is a workable framework towards developing a better separation of powers on the issue of war powers? Should we take an originalist view of the presidency or should this better be understood in the context of modern warfare?


1.  The short and blunt answer is that Congress has shirked its constitutional responsibility. It’s in their interest to let the president sink or swim on his own and critique him from the sidelines. It does play a role in the collection of power in the presidency. Structurally the Constitution creates a system when one branch checks the other. It isn’t surprising that presidents want more power over war. What’s surprising is that Congress has given it to them.

2.  Congress needs real teeth and skin in the game. They need a more powerful way to check unilateral presidential war making. The power of the purse doesn’t work because it looks like they’re taking money away from our troops. They can’t stop presidents from initiating hostilities because presidents know Congress wants to avoid holding the executive accountable. If the president didn’t have discretionary spending to allow the initiation of hostilities without congressional assent, they would go to war way less. That could cause some issues for defense but those can be worked out. That would give Congress teeth and skin in the game. They voted to give the president the money he needs to engage in the military operation. They’re on the hook if it goes poorly as well. I think that framework stays true to the “invitation to struggle” created by the Constitution while acknowledging that modern warfare is different.


What is the closest historical analog for the current US political climate?


It’s similar to the turn of the 20th century. There was a real concentration of wealth (it was called the Gilded Age) and the working class had a lot of problems. There were calls to create unions to protect “the little guy” while a small fraction of the population got richer and richer. It was also an era of globalization as we were becoming more and more connected to other markets. There were populist movements and nationalism, just like we have today. There were also people arguing in favor of more globalization and freer trade.


What are the historical indicators of impending revolt, legal or otherwise, when authoritarian type leaders in America, or abroad are removed by the people?


I’m not sure what a legal revolt would look like, lots of lawyers and judges walking out of court rooms? I kid.

Traditionally, Americans have been very gun-shy around revolutions. They liked their own but after that they didn’t really support a lot of democratic movements for a while. I would also say that besides a few examples in the first half of the twentieth century, most developed Western democracies correct their problems through elections rather than revolutions. Typically for a revolution to occur there have to be very bad states (that do not provide basic services) without enough money to buy off the electorate (this happens in what are called rentier states; the government will give money to people in order to stop them from trying to create a more democratic government). Overall, I would say the history of revolutions is not a happy one. Most of the time, the state falls into anarchy (such as many of the states after the Arab Spring) or tyranny (such as France and Russia after their revolutions).


As the Baby Boomers continue to retire/die what do you think the future of our government will look like as more Millennials replace them?


I wouldn’t count out the Baby Boomers yet. There are still a lot of them and older voters vote. For that reason politicians pay attention to them. Moreover, life-expectancy has increased dramatically. That said, Millennials will likely go through the same cycle as Boomers. Presently they are more iconoclastic; as they grow up they’ll worry more about mortgages and educations; later they’ll wag their finger at the youngins’ who don’t have any respect or ambition. We (I’m a Millenial) can’t even claim that we’re the first to worry about the environment. Boomers beat us to that. Similarly the Gen-Xers can claim that the difference between life before and after internet was much more important than life before and after smartphones.


Do you think it’s dangerous that people are pro-Trump regardless of what he does?


There is an element of passion that sits at the heart of all democracies. After all, Madison in Federalist Paper #10 said we have to control the problem of faction rather than eliminate it. Trump’s devoted base could be considered a faction by some. As such, as long as our institutions check and balance each other, the passion of his supporters will not be the only thing guiding policy outcomes.


Do you support the Paw Print petition for the changing of Dinning Dollars to Destler Doubloons?