Shortly after the delegates emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked him what sort of government the convention had decided upon. Franklin’s prescient response: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
While our government is often erroneously referred to as a democracy, it is in fact a democratic or constitutional republic; the latter half of the description meaning that citizens grant limited and enumerated responsibilities to its leaders rather than directly governing themselves. Franklin knew that while the American Constitution-still the world’s longest-standing government charter-would avoid many of history’s worst mistakes, it would also put an incredible strain on the people. For the nation to be successful its people must be more vigilant, informed, and skeptical of its leaders than any of its antecedents.
Over two centuries later we appear to be none of the three. We’ve nominated on one side: a dishonest, corrupt, power-hungry hawk who has supported every single US foreign intervention of the last two administrations (and even some that we didn’t undertake); a woman who advocates for large government but doesn’t think she should be held to the same laws as the people. Hillary’s positions are driven solely by political calculations, from her support of her husband when he executed a mentally-disabled man to her opposition to same-sex marriage until it was polling well (and some 40-odd years after the Libertarian Party officially endorsed it).
On the other side we’ve selected a bigoted charlatan, a man who has crassly insulted women and just about every minority group in the country; a purported “business tycoon” whose limited success has been the result of a healthy inheritance from his father and who has had countless ventures become utter failures. He takes advantage of working-class Americans by selling them prosperity through protectionism…pure economic snake oil. He supported one of the worst Supreme Court rulings in history, cheering the federal government for literally kicking a poor old woman out of her home. The man changes positions so often that he makes Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney look like persistent ideologues; the idiocy of his policy agenda is matched only by its incoherence.
The magnitude of these candidates’ awfulness is stunning, and this is a terrible thing for the republic. Presidential elections are when most Americans actually start to care about politics. But because of how untrustworthy Hillary is and how hateful Trump is, the vast majority of media coverage and advertising has been about the other candidates’ flaws.
@sunnyright I mean…are they even fighting back? HRC messaging, smartly, seems to just be: “LOL look at what that idiot just did.”
— Brian Ruddock (@brianruddock) September 1, 2016
Negative campaigning is by no means a new thing, but the extent to which personal issues have trumped (sorry) policy arguments is unprecedented. Summarily, Americans will likely come out of this election even more polarized and less informed than they were prior.
Franklin is likely rolling in his grave. Americans are already perilously uninformed about even the basics of government and politics. As the scope of government broadens, this becomes more and more dangerous. Said another way: if the government is doing more stuff, the consequences of voters not knowing the basics of how it works are potentially far worse. This is why it took a patriot risking his life and livelihood to get government to admit it was spying on its own citizens; not enough voters cared enough to demand that their congressional representatives actually look out for them.
In light of these dreary circumstances, what can the concerned citizen do? First, they can resist the temptation to simply blast the candidate they’re opposed to. If you’re a Trump supporter, the onus is on you to call him out when he spouts off his latest nonsense. If you’re voting for Hillary, you need to demand that she be held accountable for her various obfuscations.
Second, even if your preferred candidate wins, insist that they adhere to the limits of the executive branch set forth in the Constitution. The Founders didn’t get everything right, but this election cycle shows why they were brilliant to envision the president as a mere administrator, not creator, of laws. Voters and pundits have a tendency to cite these limits when they don’t like the president, but then bend over backwards to create extralegal justifications when it’s -their- guy in charge. This robs the arguments of any validity and increases the chances that a lunatic can enact their agenda.
It’s far too late to expect a principled, honest candidate to win the election. However, with a modicum of effort and respect for the Consitution, Americans can ensure that the republic is kept.
A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption (Jay Cost)-Amazon
Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter (Ilya Somin)-Amazon