I’ve been thinking for several weeks how to pen the post I’m about to write. I know the title is provocative and will make readers a little uncomfortable. But hasn’t the rhetoric in our country been quite uncomfortable the past few years?
In the 19th Century, the United States fought a bitter Civil War due largely to the fact that the Founding Fathers elected to skirt the slavery issue when crafting the Constitution. The issue finally came to a head after the 1860 election. Sadly, our country did not integrate the South until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. As we have seen from recent events that took place in both Ferguson and New York City, many would argue that racial tensions still linger.
Today, I feel we are facing another kind of Civil War – an ideological one. Our form of government is a Republic, not a democracy as many choose to believe. It is a representative form of government where you elect officials to represent your interests. The two branches of Congress were constructed to ensure that both big states and small states had an equal say in government, and checks and balances were established in order to prevent the establishment of another monarchy, or one branch from usurping excess power. Our constitution was well crafted – Benjamin Franklin made this eloquent reflection as he encouraged delegates to approve it:
When you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, he reflected, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinions, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does.
However, it was John Adams who showed such clairvoyance when he made the following warning (of which George Washington agreed):
There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
I fear we are reaching an ideological test to our Republic like none we have ever seen. Some facts to support my hypothesis:
- Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig has demonstrated how special interests and money has driven elections and taken away the voice of the individual.
- Efforts to create a formidable third political party have failed.
- Ideological extremists have invaded political parties (I will discuss this later).
- The branches of government are not respecting each other nor the Constitution
Ideological extremists such as the Tea Party have reignited the debate between Federalism and State autonomy (i.e., Jeffersonian philosophy). We are seeing legislation that reasserts state rights (e.g., Anti-Common Core bills) and also trying to permit discrimination under the auspices of “religious freedom.” Further, these factions are attempting to rewrite U.S. History under political biases, not too dissimilar to what Vladimir Putin is enacting in Russia with his “Anti-American” propaganda largely surrounding their aggressive Crimea annexation.
Our branches of government have recently engaged in very disturbing behavior. For example, Congress attempting to sue the POTUS for his Immigration Executive Order, the genesis which was due to the lack of collaboration in Congress to enact a strong immigration reform policy. We see Congress skirting executive branch protocol and not only allowing a foreign Head of State to speak to members of Congress without executive consent, but also publicly damaging the administration’s fragile, yet critical negotiations with Iran. We see almost daily public statements of a personal nature attacking the President, and then seeing members of Congress assail one another almost regularly. The discourse is not “civil” anymore. All of this aggression places enormous pressure on the judicial branch who must play “King Solomon” around issues including health care and same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court has arguably been forced into an activist posture (which it detests) never before seen since the Bush vs Gore decision that settled the 2000 Presidential Election.
Many people though that the election of a well spoken black President would help unite our country, but instead, it appears the ideological divide has widened. Do we face a constitutional crisis, and has our Republic ever been tested more severely than it is now? As an American, this is what keeps me up at night. Can’t we just find a way to get along, respect differences, and work together to reinvent America as the greatest country in the world?