Constitutionalist No. 2: The Need For A Congress We Can Trust

“(‘The late convention at Philadelphia’) composed of men who possessed the confidence of the people,, and many of whom had become highly distinguished by their patriotism, virtue and wisdom, in times which tried the minds and hearts of men, undertook the arduous task (of creating ‘a national government more wisely framed’). In the mild season of peace, with minds unoccupied by other subjects, they passed many months in cool, uninterrupted, and daily consultation; and finally, without having been awed by power, or influenced by any passions except love for their country, they presented and recommended to the people the plan produced by their joint and unanimous councils.” – Federalist No. 2, by John Jay.

Perhaps part of our biggest problem as a democracy is that we have gotten away from electing public servants who we trust.

Trust is an issue whether you look at the legislative branch, where approval ratings were near 19 percent back in January, or at the executive, where the President has made numerous decisions drawing the ire of Americans, such as his choice to leave the Paris accord last week. We as a nation seem to have lost faith in the patriotism of most of our politicians, a stark contrast from the way it was when America was formed.

Of course that’s partly due to the differing circumstances of the times. Our world was simpler to navigate in the 1700’s, if only because things took more time. Social media obviously wasn’t a thing and information only spread as fast as a rider with a letter could deliver one via horseback, which meant that decisions of government took longer to affect, and responses had to be given more time to be composed. That’s a far cry from now, when the people know of any decision by a government official mere seconds after it was made.

The debate over the advantages and disadvantages of each shall remain largely untouched here, but what I will say is that in dangerous times such as these, the speed of information gives the people new opportunities to make positive changes to their government.

I sincerely believe there is reason to hope for the United States.

When John Jay wrote his portion of The Federalist, there were far fewer senators than now if only because there were fewer states. Yet there have always been temptations which could cause a government official to stray from placing the best interests of the nation first. Those temptations now are at least as numerous as they ever were in Jay’s time, but true patriots do still exist in Congress. These men and women work in a way demonstrative of placing the good of the United States and its people ahead of their own.

I have long marveled at a few of the most readily available examples; men like John McCain, a republican out of Arizona, and Elizabeth Warren, a democrat out of Massachusetts.

I have also of late marveled at the power of the judicial branch of the United States, specifically for its ability to challenge both the executive and legislative branches.

Perhaps the most recently example comes from Monday, when the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed a decision by a lower court, shooting down the redrawing of 28 State House and Senate districts in North Carolina. The lower court had ruled that the districts, drawn in 2011 by the mostly-Republican legislature, were basically racist. They were drawn, the court ruled, with race as a predominate factor without compelling reason, thus violating “equal protection principles,” according to the New York Times.

The combination of strong stances by the courts, and the patriotism of certain members of Congress should give us hope. Hope that true patriots do still exist in our legislative bodies, and that our government can be made, perhaps more than ever, to function for the benefit of everyone, regardless of class, race or gender.

Barack Obama’s election stands as an example of the power we have to bring positive change to our government through voting. We only need wield it.

But we must wield it.

The future of America need not be written by old white men.

We are the generation lawfully able to empower women and minorities in a way no other generation has ever been able to. We can elect members of Congress who believe in this principle. Through technology, we can remind those we elect that this is what we as a culture want and desperately need. We are at a moment when we can make great strides for humanity by passing laws protecting unjustly-minimized populations in our society.

When those politicians don’t listen, we can and must refuse to reelect them.

We must promote those from within our communities who have earned our trust: those who believe in what we believe and will place our nation’s welfare above their own.

We must persist in this pursuit, until Congress again is filled by those who the people can rightly trust to look out for them, not just the wealthy ones.

All of this is lawfully and peaceably in our power, but we must be wise enough to start voting and stop sitting on the sidelines of history. There’s reason to hope and believe in our government, but for that to matter we must be brave enough to lawfully and deliberately act upon it.

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Constitutionalist No. 1: The Introduction

Let me just come out with a question recently on the front of my tongue here lately, uncensored and blunt: Could it be that America is destined to prove democracy can’t in fact work?

Could it be that in 100 years, other countries will be look back on our nation not in the present tense but in the past, as the frayed memory of what was once the world’s foremost military and economic power before it collapsed upon itself? Could we be the one other countries then point to and say “See, our form of government is superior because clearly republican democracy and capitalism can’t work!”

History is rife with examples of governments failing, regardless of the form they took. It teaches that every form of government is at least equally frail as such a hypothetical democracy might have proven in the future to be, but by then that concern would have passed. Self-rule: The idea of a government operated by representatives chosen by and for the people, would have proven unfeasible in the eyes of the larger world, and thus so would the idea of a government based on so many important concepts fundamental to our unique empire, specifically one founded on what the Founding Fathers envisioned as universal equality.

The idea of freedom of speech, an independent-of-state community of journalists, the right to bear arms, the concept of a government both powerful yet limited in power by a written, established order of checks and balances; all those things would be gone, and would serve simply as evidence in a case study against the failed prospect of self-governance within humanity. The idea of a nation by the people and for the people, would have irrevocably proven impossible.

Will we allow ourselves to be the generation historically remembered for allowing this to happen?

Do not mistake my words as hyperbolic. With the election of 2016, the people of the United States chose a president who now leaves the rest of the world concerned about the state of American leadership. Our nation, once a proud light in a dark world, now threatens to depart from the very wax that allowed that candlelight to grow. Our standing as a “melting pot,” a place where the oppressed could find refuge, where the tired, weak, broken and ignored could find safety and shelter, has all been brought into question by the leadership we as a nation have chosen.

In Federalist No. 1, Alexander Hamilton wrote “The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.”

Hamilton published those words regarding the ratification of the U.S. Constitution back in 1787, yet they are equally pertinent today.

Despite the 2016 election, and perhaps because of it, the U.S. is at least as politically divided now as it was back in the 1700’s, as the nation debated whether to become a nation at all. Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for the Washington Post, recently wrote about the plight of the national opinion on politics. She quoted former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer as saying “Most Americans absorb Washington news with an approach of ‘wake me up when you stop fighting.'”

Yet we as a nation do not have the luxury of sleeping in until 11 a.m. on this issue. This is not an issue we can take a vacation from, not one which we can set aside like a vegetable we don’t want to eat, like a budget we can wait until September to pass.

This is an issue we must face now. We must, as a public, wake up and discuss our nation’s ideological future as vitally as we confront our individual budgets each day or week or month.

Other issues at hand include questions such as “Is it still noble to be a refuge for immigrants from around the world?” and “Should we commit the necessary resources to welcoming those immigrants?”

The answer to those questions is “yes.”

We as a nation must, I reiterate: must, now look inward and renew our resolve toward being the greatest nation on the planet again, evidenced by our stance toward the oppressed, forgotten, and in need. It IS still noble to be a safe-haven for the tired, and the abandoned of this world. We as a country are built upon the principle of every person’s freedom to pursue Life, Liberty, Happiness, and depending upon your perspective of history, property. It is vital we recommit to preserving these ideals, and evolving the ideal that all men and women are created equal. These are the concepts we are now called upon to recommit to exemplifying. The eyes of eternity will judge us for our next efforts.

The choice we should make is not an easily-executed one. The American citizen, as evidenced by the quote above, is more distrusting of the current government than perhaps ever before in our history.

People don’t vote now because they don’t see the point in voting between two bad options (as evidenced by voter turnout between the 2008 election, when America had  seemingly two good presidential candidates and 2016’s, when many citizens would argue the country had none). People don’t vote now because as the last election demonstrated, the popular vote in America does not necessarily determine the winner of the election because of the whole “electoral college” thing.

People don’t vote anymore because we don’t believe our little vote matters in the national election.

Yet the individual vote’s perceived insignificance is a reason to become MORE involved in the electoral process, not less. With the current results of the recent election, the question lurking below the surface in the people’s subconsciousness might boil down to “Why does what we have matter? With all this political corruption, how can a person say our government is really the best model, or even that the founding concepts were right?”

I believe they are, and henceforth aspire to argue on their behalf.

I have no illusions about the flaws in our government or in the system, I’m not naive. But I am a patriot, one who believes in the ideas of self-rule by and for the people. Above all, I believe our nation is great, not because of the flawed and mortal men and women who may administer our government, but because of the overwhelming principles and the flexible nature of the document all public officials swear to uphold and defend: The United States Constitution. I believe in our overwhelming ability as a citizenry to, when called upon as we are now, to affect change upon even the system itself so it becomes increasingly better with age.

I believe in the justness of the sacrifices so many men have made defending others from oppression on that very Constitution’s behalf, many of whom the Americans will honor tomorrow as part of Memorial Day.

In the coming essays in this series, I seek to make a solid, educated argument to this effect. I seek to answer the questions above, to create an open forum in which we as a public can have a grounded, educated discussion about what the United States does and should stand for, and how best to ensure the unity of the two. I also present consideration as to how we might best alter certain governmental procedures to accommodate the pursuit of living by our ideals; namely discussing the electoral college and if/why it should either continue to exist procedurally or be altered in a way that allows the popular vote to matter more.

Above all, I seek to convince the reader that the American cause is a noble one, and the United States government, despite the occasional failings and flaws of the men and women who operate it, is worth not only preserving, but improving, and that now more than ever, we must elect to do promptly do so.