Welcome to The Session, a monthly event in which beer and brewing bloggers get together to all write about a chosen topic on the same day! This is Session #19, for which 21st Amendment Brewery writers Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan has chosen the topic, “The Repeal of Prohibition”.
Happy Repeal Day! 75 years ago today, the United States of America ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, and returning to the people the right to consume alcohol! The system works, and no harm done! Obviously!
Agh, my head…
A lot of people, especially beer drinkers and brewers, view December 5th with a great deal of reverence. In ways, it’s justified; not having a freedom restricted is probably something to celebrate — I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone their revelry. To me, though, Repeal Day symbolizes the inherent failure of modern democracy to govern effectively.
Prohibition was one of the most universally reviled pieces of legislation in American history. It was an act of cut and dried oppression that, despite public disapproval, lurched through Congress and state legislatures on a platform of moral and religious activism (separation of church and state indeed!), turning the American people into a nation of criminals overnight.
Few people are still alive who remember the days of Prohibition vividly enough to appreciate the gravity of the 18th Amendment’s passing. It forced higher federal income taxes — thanks for setting that up, 16th Amendment! — to counter the loss of revenue from alcohol taxes. It created violent black markets. It turned some law enforcers into corrupt pawns of gangs looking to smuggle their newly illegal wares around the country, and turned the rest of the police into goons enforcing an unjust law.
Though remarkable, it should not be the least bit surprising that such an unpopular piece of legal detritus could ever appear in the United States Constitution. I stress this to people all the time: No public official at any level of the United States government is required to execute the will of his or her constituents. We expect our legislators to answer to us, and in many cases, they do, but a Republic is nothing more than a dictatorship with the blessing of the people.
We give our elected officials free rein the moment they enter office, rarely removing them for misbehavior until their term of office is up, usually long after the damage has been done. But we tolerate this by comforting ourselves with the belief that we’ve got freedom and democracy right and that no other country has figured it out. Meanwhile, our government erodes our freedoms on a daily basis under the marionette strings of wealthy benefactors and pious zealots.
Repeal Day reminds me of the inherent flaws in representative governance, and of the lolling complacency that Americans have given themselves to about it. It reminds me that in politics, it is far less important to be right than it is to be convincing. Most of all, it reminds me that the desires of the powerful few will always outweigh the needs of the common many, so long as the people remain so ignorant as to believe any suited figure that tells them that it knows what’s best for them.