Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Old Glory: Messy and Resilient


"I believe that our Constitution is inspired and that it is based on principles that are timeless and universal. This is the reason why 95% of all written constitutions throughout the world are modeled after our Constitution." Stephen R. Covey


To the casual observer, the political scene these days seems fierce and messy, and indeed it is. There is serious and continuous rancor between and within the political parties; between the President and the Congress; between the House and the Senate; between the President and the courts; between the federal government and the states; and between the elected politicians and the professional bureaucracies. The press and the media have gone far beyond reporting the contention to becoming combatants themselves (although some would argue that they always have been but now have cast aside the guise of neutrality.)  It's almost sickening to watch.
I, for one, however, am not distressed by this unseemly scene. In fact, I believe our federal system of government was intentionally built to work this way and as long as it continues to do so, our nation will survive and thrive. Let me explain.
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and those other geniuses who gathered in Philadelphia in 1777 to revise and ultimately replace the Articles of Confederation, understood first-hand the dangers of an efficient and all-powerful monarch. Their vision was to create a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," unlike anything else on the face of the earth.
These post-revolutionary patriots were no strangers to political conflict. As they met and sketched out the future of their country, they were required to balance and accommodate the competing and entrenched interests of small states and large states; Northern states and Southern states; delegates who wanted a strong central government and delegates who wanted a weak central government; those who trusted the will of the common people and those committed to government by the elites; those who wanted to copy the British model and those who wanted nothing to do with it; and many other contrasting viewpoints.
The wise and inspired structure they fashioned divided and disbursed the various levers of power among different branches of government and between the states and the national government. These competing interests were woven into an intricate tapestry of checks and balances that prevents too much power from accruing to any one official or group by pitting it against the interests of other officials, branches, and levels of government.
Their system also empowered individuals and non-governmental organizations to hold government in check by expressly safeguarding the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the sanctity of jury trials, the right to bear arms, and a long list of additional citizen-based rights and protections. They designed a limited government that would be subservient to the very citizenry it governed, an idea radically novel for its time that has become the gold standard for good governments everywhere.
The result of their magnificent efforts is a gloriously messy and inefficient system. As they intended, our government can't move forward unless a substantial plurality of citizens and officials agree on a given issue. Where a question is hotly debated and not clearly decided, government doesn't act. Is it sloppy and sometimes wasteful? Yes, indeed. But as humorist Will Rogers once insightfully quipped, "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for." That's the point of what our forefathers created - getting less government rather than more.
As frustrating and exasperating as this can be at times, the alternative would be governmental policies that vacillated wildly with the changing whims of the majority or the dictatorial leader of the moment. The rights of the minority would be under constant threat, and the reassuring political climate that is essential for growth and prosperity would be swept away. Much of what we have come to expect and appreciate as "the American way of life" could not survive in such a climate.
This model has been "stress-tested" in situations far more volatile and far more dangerous than today's tense environment. It has survived and "worked" through the westward expansion of the nation; during the bitter fight over the abolition of slavery and the Civil War; for the duration of the long decades of Reconstruction; as we fought two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the long and tense Cold War; and throughout the terrorist onslaught of the 21st Century. It has stood the test of time.
Notwithstanding all the messiness - or to be more accurate - because of all the messiness, the United States of America is strong and resilient, a beacon to the world. It has provided us fortunate Americans with the highest levels of individual freedoms, the greatest degree of self-determination, and the most extraordinary material abundance the world has ever known. In fact, in the long history of this planet, no country has even come close to delivering to its citizens the measure of blessings we Americans enjoy. On this Fourth of July, I concur with Calvin Coolidge, who said, "To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race."
God Bless America!

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