In 1787 following the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was asked “Well doctor, what have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy?” To which he famously responded “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Representative democratic self-rule had never been tried before on such a large scale when our founders invented this new form of government, this new Republic. All previous governments were ruled by strong monarchs, dictators and/or elites because of the view at the time that the general population, “the mob” were too unsophisticated, limited in education, experience, foresight, intellect to rule themselves. The idea of the general population choosing their representatives and holding them accountable via the ballot box in both State and Federal elections was unheard of. It became the “American Experiment” or as Lincoln so eloquently said in the Gettysburg address “Government of the people, by the people and for the people…” He coined that phrase during one of our greatest Field Test to see if this experimental government could survive, the Civil War.
Human beings are not all humane angels, saints and intellectuals. There will always be a segment of any population who for whatever reason thrive on bigotry, racism, intolerance, fear, hatred, greed, self-centeredness, etc. over all else. This was the concern our founders had in allowing representative government by the People. What if these less refined people selected their government? Could a nation survive such instability, anger and violence? Surely only the wealthy elite, people from Royal lineage can govern such a population by the Grace of God. To allow lesser people to have a say in governing is to allow “mob rule.”
There’s always the argument regarding whether the Civil War was an issue of Slavery or an issue of State’s Rights. In my opinion it was both. The Southern States wanted to maintain their rights, (from the people who installed their leadership) that the views of Racism and Bigotry held true over the views of humanity and equality of all people. Thus Slavery was natural and just. The “State Right” to hold human beings in slavery was the core of what led to the Civil War. Mob rule polluted the more egalitarian aspects of government and threatened the experiment of self-rule by the people. Monarchies around the world at this time were already outlawing slavery, only the Southern States wanted to maintain it.
Well the United States with great effort, pain and loss actually passed this Field Test. Not only did the Union Hold, it became greater. Our constitution was amended to outlaw slavery and guarantee rights to all Americans regardless of race. However, the people who thrive on negative views of life and civilization were not silenced. That is contrary to the concept of our National Experiment and an impossible task. These people have and will always exist and will be heard (first amendment). The theory of our Republic is the numbers of the more positive views and natures of the people will ensure that although these negative voices are heard, their views could never be institutionalized in government to cause harm to others. Further, if representatives were to ever gain power in government, installed and supported by either those who thrive on negative views and/or corruption they could be removed if found to be corrupt and dangerous themselves. Our constitution, before even talking about the office of the Chief Executive explains how the Congress will remove via impeachment members of government for High Crimes and Misdemeanors. States around the country have statutes for recalling State representatives and Governors by the people if they’re found to be lacking in positive or popular leadership.
For over 200 years our “Experiment” in self-rule, our Republic underwent numerous field tests of which we all passed. As mentioned above we had the Civil War, we also had two World Wars, we had Chief Executives who were less than ideal who were controlled and held to account by Congress and/or the Supreme Court. We even had Congresses who were lacking to the American Idea held to account by Chief Executives and/or the Supreme Court. The field tests were not always “aced” but we completed and passed them. In terms of the Chief Executive, the Nixon test showed how despite winning a popular re-election and having almost “cult-like” support among a segment of the population, as his crimes became more apparent, his own party aided in convincing him to resign from office. Congress did her job as the founders intended. As Gerald Ford noted, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule”.
Not all people were happy with the outcome. Some felt Nixon should’ve been allowed to serve out his term, some wanted him in prison, but most were glad this was over and the nation could move forward. It was a Constitutional crisis but the Constitution did ultimately win.
The Great Depression is another example of how our system worked. Over time pro-business and pro-greed representatives took over Congress and the White House. Deregulation of businesses and the banks ensued, safeguards removed and then the Market crashed resulting in a worldwide depression. The people organized and changed the country via the ballot box to install a government that fixed the harm the previous government had created. The “better angels of our nature” took control and our nation survived and thrived. We will never be rid of the “worse demons of our nature” taking charge or influence, but until recently, we’ve been able to correct the harm they’ve imposed.
Today we face a field test I don’t believe the Founders could have ever consider. They knew there would always be a segment of the population with negative views who would have influence on governing, but how could they have ever imagine a foreign adversary being able to influence our elections by hacking private communications and using bots via the internet to influence our electorate to believe fake news accounts. A perfect storm of dangers imperils our Constitution and our American Experiment today:
1) A political party more interested in their Party and power has gained control of Congress (Something the founders warned against)
2) The free press was more interested in ratings and getting advertisers to buy time than to report balanced and important news. The press provided Donald Trump free coverage in the amount of up to $3 billion without going into details about his shady past, his inexperience, his cohorts, and blatant unfitness to rule. By treating Trump as a ratings cow, they helped Russian bots influence the electorate into believing Trump was legitimate and able to rule.
3) Congress per their corporate donors’ demands are legislating to give them more tax cuts and improve their bottom lines via deregulations of banks, corporations and environmental controls. These acts have a direct negative impact on the people they represent in terms of social safety net, environmental protections and their tax burden. Knowing they need a President willing to sign off on their regulations they’re allowing Donald Trump who is clearly compromised to remain in office despite growing evidence of collusion, corruption and incompetence.
4) The electoral process with help from the Republicans is being changed to institutionalize voter suppression under false pretenses in order to thwart the voice of the majority of the people.
5) The Federal Court system to include the Supreme Court has been infiltrated with more and more Justices more concern with a business/corporate agenda than human rights and as such has become more politicized (Something our founders warned us against).
6) Our education system has been compromised over the past several decades in that civics and critical thinking are no longer part of the national curriculum resulting in generations of Americans not understanding our system of government, the need for their involvement and the ability to think out solutions instead of just learning how to pass a test.
7) Less educated and more ideologically inclined people in rural areas of the country are able to have a higher influence in the Electoral College system. Land mass thwarts population. Despite what Trump says, the Electoral College favors Red States because they are more sparsely populated with more ideologically minded people while liberals and moderates congregate in more densely populated cities. This along with gerrymandered districts gives one party more control over government than the other.
8) Along with voter suppression, voter apathy has become mainstay and as a result, record low percentages of registered voters even bother to vote. The views that “my vote doesn’t matter” “the system is corrupt” “both sides do it” have taken control and too many Americans have simply given up.
So, due to an increasingly under-educated public (founders warned us about this), the party system (the founders warned us about this), big money influence (the founders warned us about this), a stifled and/or compromised free press (the founders warned us about this) and covert foreign influence of the electoral system (founders didn’t envision this) we currently have the most unqualified and incompetent President in the White House. Even though the Constitution provides an immediate remedy to this problem, the ruling Republican Party appears unwilling to take the steps necessary to correct the situation and do the bidding of the People they’re “constitutionally” required to represent.
At this time, should Congress fail to do its Constitutional duty to remove Donald Trump from office and instead follow the bidding of a small segment of the wealthiest Americans with the help of a small percentile of Americans who support racism, bigotry, intolerance, sexism, xenophobia and nationalism and ignore the over 70% who have the opposite views then the experiment is over. Our Constitution and the idea that governance of, by and for the people will have failed.
Since our Constitution was ratified this nation has suffered through corrupt members of the House, Senate and Executive Branch, we’ve suffered through bad Supreme Court Decisions, we’ve suffered through the worst elements of our population taking too much control or influence in our democracy. But in the end, the people have always took charge to fix it. This time however, because the worst elements of our government have had the time (hiding behind the complacency and stupidity of the people), have changed the system to make it harder for the people to step up and correct the situation. There is even a movement led by Billionaires influencing State Representatives to (under the Constitution) hold a new Constitutional Convention to rewrite the Constitution in their favor. They nearly have all the States they need to accomplish this.
So here we are. Can the majority of the country once again rise up, influence our elected government to look to us and the “better angels of their nature” to bring us back to a functioning government of by and for the people or do we give up and permit a government to take complete control led by a party more interested in power and personal wealth than the people they represent and a President who is clearly not up to the challenge of leading a diverse and large population of people?
If this can be fixed and the experiment allowed to continue, it’s up to you to get yourself and others involved. It’s only your lives and freedoms that are at stake here.
There were several points that stood out to me but this paragraph really put the Electoral Collge into sharp relief for me:
“Land mass thwarts population. Despite what Trump says, the Electoral College favors Red States because they are more sparsely populated with more ideologically minded people while liberals and moderates congregate in more densely populated cities. This along with gerrymandered districts gives one party more control over government than the other.”
Well put together article, thanks!