This Amazing Experiment

Some days I think I am witnessing the beginning of the end of the project that began in the late 18th century and resulted in the establishment of an independent democratic republic, the United States of America. From the very beginning the new republic understood that it had a role in history and a role in the world: to demonstrate that a society could be based on values, philosophic, moral, religious, such as the equality of all people, the importance of equal justice, the role of government to attend to the common good, and the rights of the people to freedom of expression, assembly, religion. I wonder if it all is going to end when the President of the United States warmly embraces authoritarian political leaders who not only don’t embrace those democratic values, but jail dissidents, assassinate critics or threats to their authority, shut down the media, and murder drug addicts. I wonder when the President seems to value authoritarian leadership over anything else and finds a way to say kind words about the most egregious dictators in the world, and when the Secretary of State announces to the world that American foreign policy will no longer be based on moral values but on pragmatism, explaining that our most precious values are a nuisance in international relations and that we should not impose them on others nor expect others to share them – as if equality and freedom and justice are arbitrary, conditional, ultimately disposable.

Every President has been irritated by the press and the proclivity of reporters to ask difficult and probing questions. But no President that I know of has suggested loosening the provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution to allow the government to sue news organizations and reporters the President doesn’t like. There has been nothing I know of like his relentless attacks on the media as purveyors of “fake news” and calling White House reporters “scum” and “very bad people.”

Not to deal in melodrama, but every dictator in history understood that central to maintaining absolute, unfettered authority is to undercut and then dismantle sources of information and to claim for himself the right to define truth. That is what the phrase “alternate facts” means. At the heart of a free society is the unimpeded flow of information and the open discussion of the issues we face as a nation. Any attack on and threat to that is a threat to the Constitution and our future viability as a free society.

As every tin-pot dictator in history has done, he has masterfully exploited the power of fear of the other, in his case, immigrants who, contrary to the truth, he claims are “murderers and rapists” and that “carnage” prevails everywhere in our nation.

On other days I am reminded of the glory of an independent judiciary and the genius of our 18th century founders in building into our system balance and limits so that the affairs of the nation cannot be managed out of the White House like a global real estate empire. Executive, Legislative and Judicial authority limit and balance one another here, the linchpin of the system lodged in the courts.

I was a Government major in college and by far the most difficult course I ever took was Constitutional Law. It involved an enormous amount of reading; page after page of complicated, sometimes obscure and tedious judicial decisions: Plessy vs. Ferguson, Marbury vs. Madison, Dred Scott, Brown vs. The Board of Education. I was elated and relieved merely to pass the course and discard the encyclopedia-sized text book. Today I find myself deeply and profoundly grateful for that course and, once again learning the lesson that a book discarded will someday be missed.

Days of gratitude for the constitutional system balance my days of concern for the future of my nation, so far.

So, I pray for judges and the integrity and independence of the entire system and for this amazing experiment in republican democracy.

Comments

  1. Don Hunt says:

    What an eloquent expression of our very alarming and sad situation. Thanks, John.

  2. Jerold Shetler says:

    So well thought out and expressed eloquently.

  3. Tony Volpe says:

    Very well said, John. I believe that the majority of Americans share your concerns , and that Trump’s
    continuing recklessness and immaturity will eventually result in his departure from office.

  4. Ron Magers says:

    Thanks for this moment of reflection on troubling times. I do so enjoy your writing and, more importantly, the thoughts that inform and inspire it.

  5. Kelly Ward says:

    It is sad that most citizens cannot pass a basic Civics course. Sadly, the miss the point altogether and judge the press as being biased.

  6. Kristi Peterson says:

    Beautifully – expressed. Sometimes (often), I am unable to find the words that describe my distress. You have a gift, Dr. Buchanan. You articulate it all so precisely. Grateful, I am, for you and your ministry that continues.

  7. Ken Richard says:

    If you think all the other presidents faced a press even close to what is going on now you may be able to express yourself beautifully,but you have zero objectivity

  8. Crisken says:

    Thank you John. >

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