Clear and Present Danger
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are facing an existential threat to the future of our representative democracy. But contrary to the media spin of the day, it is not the current occupant of the Oval Office.
If it were possible to step far enough back from the noise and contention of the current moment to view the events of the last three years in the objective and contextualized manner in which history judges all human activity, I believe we all could see more clearly the true danger we face.
A threat more insidious, more cynical, more substantial and more destructive than we have ever faced before. A threat of our own domestic making, in which foreign actors have played only minor, supporting roles. A threat with the potential to destroy this country from within.
We are a nation “of laws, not of men.” Our Constitution holds primacy and deserves our respect and protection as the foundational expression of the compact made by a free people to allow themselves to be governed. It outlines the terms of that deal. It created a limited form of government: any rights and powers not expressly granted to the government are reserved to the people, the true national sovereign. It established the United States as a representative democratic republic in which the people exercise their power of democracy through election of others who are expected to represent their interests while exercising the power delegated to them. This “Great American Experiment” has served us well for over two centuries.
The Constitution establishes three independent and co-equal branches of government: Legislative; Executive and Judicial. All members of the Legislative branch (Congress) are elected directly by the citizens of their respective states and districts. All Executive power is vested in one single man or woman (the President) elected by the nation as a whole, not directly but by way of another representative mechanism, the Electoral College. The Electoral College exists to ensure that citizens of all states have a voice in the selection of the president and is structured to prevent dominance by any one or more highly populated states. This is how and why it is possible for a candidate to win the majority of the popular vote but fail to secure enough Electoral College votes to win the office.
These are “the rules of the game,” and have been for as long as we have been a nation. They have allowed our country to transfer great power and authority from one party to another smoothly, soberly and without bloodshed. History buffs will know how unusual that is in the totality of human existence.
In 2016 we held a national election for president. The successful candidate did not win a majority of the popular vote but secured enough electoral votes (304) to be elected president. Despite claims to the contrary and cries for the abolition of the Electoral College, his election was legitimate under the Constitution.
But some did not or would not accept that conclusion, and have since literally the day of that election actively sought to overturn its result or at least blunt its impact. This is what I see as the clear and present danger to our republic.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I do share James Madison’s concerns about the potentially adverse influence of “factions” as he described them in Federalist No. 10 (1787): “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed [sic] to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
There are three groups or factions that I see as currently operating in a manner antithetical to our rights as citizens to democratic self-determination: elected Congressional representatives seeking to remove a sitting president less than a year from a national election; unelected bureaucrats using their delegated power and authority to undermine and frustrate the agenda of their boss, the elected head of their branch of government; and the press, which I believe has abandoned its role as truth-teller in favor of rank partisan advocacy.
I do not believe history will be kind to the current impeachment effort. The spectacle of public hearings over the past few weeks must leave most fair-minded people with the unsettling sense that the process has not been handled correctly or fairly. Impeachment was intended by the Founders as an extraordinary measure to correct a grievous problem unaddressable by other means; an act of last resort to preserve and protect our nation from corruption at the very top of its government. It was meant to be used rarely, if at all, and then only in the gravest of circumstances.
What we have seen instead is a purely partisan use of this great power and responsibility by members of one political party to damage a president of the other party in advance of a national election. The end result has never been in doubt: the House will send articles of impeachment to the Senate where a fairly perfunctory trial will be conducted and the president will not be removed from office. We’ve known this from even before the effort began. I believe history will judge the articles of impeachment being pursued as constitutionally defective – vague, overbroad and not meeting the standard of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” (Article II, Section 4). I also believe that this (to my mind, improper) effort to gain political advantage cheapens and trivializes the impeachment power, rendering it an all-too-tempting tool to use again for partisan purposes in the future. Furthermore, I believe that it will not have the damaging effect intended, as there will always be a footnote or question surrounding the legitimacy of this particular impeachment.
We have witnessed (and I fully expect we will witness more) astounding evidence of improper actions by senior leaders of our most respected and cherished government agencies aimed at undermining the elected leader of the executive branch, upon whose pleasure they serve. We have also witnessed testimony by members of the diplomatic corps and participants in presidential advisory groups such as the National Security Council who seem to believe that their personal opinions and policy preferences should be followed by the president, not the other way around. I for one was shocked and deeply concerned by the hubris on display. Are we now to be ruled by faceless, unelected bureaucrats?
All this would be manageable, and survivable, but for the abject failure of the third faction, the national press, to play its historical role as an independent and objective communicator of information and seeker of truth – “to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests involved.” (Adolph S. Ochs, founding father of The New York Times, 1896).
Can anyone deny that journalism as we knew it is dead, or at least in hospice care? From both (all) sides of the political spectrum we are inundated with opinion, most of it clearly tied to a political agenda. That is the classic definition of propaganda. Trying to extract information (“true facts”) from this miasma of rancor and contention has become so difficult that many (most?) people now simply “turn off and tune out.” This is absolutely terrible for the future success of our democracy, which is predicated on the existence of an educated population. If we all put our heads in the sand, we may find ourselves a nation of ostriches.
Why am I so worked up about this? Last night I finished the final season of “The Man in the High Castle,” an alternate history TV series depicting a universe in which Germany and Japan won World War II. Gone were our traditions, our ideals, our constitutional protections. The result was predictably horrific. It was a sobering reminder of what we could lose if we do not fight to respect and protect our constitutional way of life.
I'll close with a quote from someone who had a particularly good opportunity to observe this all up close and personal:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men [and women] were free.
-- Ronald Reagan
May we all find in the new year reason to come together and find common ground upon which to celebrate and promote all that can make our national future brighter and more secure.