The Importance of the Constitution

Would-be Presidential spoiler Evan McMullin says Donald Trump doesn't know enough about the Constitution to refer to it. That may well be true, of course.

And I wouldn't argue against any of this.
We must never forget that we are born equal, with basic, natural rights, including those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are inherent in us because we are humans, not because they are granted by government. Government, indeed, exists primarily to protect those natural rights; the only legitimate power it has is that which we grant to it.

We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy.
I've said little else in this space for more than a decade, but clearly that hasn't moved mountains.


E Hines said...

If it's any consolation, my audience hasn't been any larger.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

liberal democracy.?

umm pet peeve....

you mean "Constitutional Republic"

Right? words do matter since we are talking about education?


raven said...

Curious how those limits on power get so very important when "their guy" won't be in office. If they had shown a vestige of respect for it over the last eight years I might give their opinion some credence- now it just sounds like sour grapes.

E Hines said...

Not necessarily. A liberal democracy is a representative democracy organized along classical liberalist lines. Both constitutional republics and republican democracies (my preferred term) are subsets of that.

Eric Hines

Joel Leggett said...

If Even McMullin believes that Trump is the one who threatens to "normalize the idea that he (the president) is the ultimate arbiter of our rights" then he is a day late and dollar short on this issue. This sort of misguided thinking has been going on for some time under both Republican and Democrat administrations. It certainly accelerated under Obama. The idea was normalized along time ago. What we need to do is de-normalize that which has already been normalized.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Joel Leggett - agree. Trump didn't start the fire. However, I don't think he's much of a rescuer on that score either. On other things, perhaps. Not on the Constitution. We can reasonably hope he doesn't make things worse and gets people used to the idea that the received wisdom isn't always right.

As to the old republic vs democracy argument with all its variations, I think E Hines gets it right. If the words had had stable meanings over the last 300 years we might refer to some particular definition as the true one and insist on it. But as the colonies didn't share the same definition we can only hope for approximation now. New textbook definitions might be misleading, but the old textbooks weren't that precise either.

Texan99 said...

If you have to know something about the Constitution to refer to it, we're going to still a lot of tongues. The argument is normally between two people with unformed if deeply held views about some general principles that can probably be found in there somewhere, viewed through a selective filter. Often there's outrage that a government could even imagine intruding in a particular sphere (where one's views may be in the minority), combined with a remarkable complaisance about intrusion in another sphere (where all right-thinking people agree). There's often also a split over which issues are so crucial to national survival that a deluded majority must be made to knuckle under to powerful experts (national defense? epidemics? abortion? segregated drinking fountains? criminal penalties for aberrant sex?). Since we see that split right up to the Supreme Court, "knowing something about the Constitution" probably isn't going to be the magic pill.

Establishing limits on government without inviting anarchy or weakness in the face of outsiders is a hard, hard, hard human task. Trump's no better at it than Obama. I believe he'll be a better president, but this won't be the deciding characteristic; I just think his errors are likely to be in a less dangerous area, or more likely to be subjected to correctives by other people, or at the very least, more likely to be a sloshing back towards the middle. At least when there's a pendulum swing, we all have to stay in the habit of imagining sauce for the goose along with sauce for the gander.

Ymar Sakar said...

The REpublic has been dead since FDR. Precisely because of education, people should have known that.

Ymar Sakar said...

We can no longer assume that all Americans understand the origins of their rights and the importance of liberal democracy.
The issue raised there isn't Trum being corrupted by his power. The issue is that Americans corrupt themselves by giving the President more power.

What we need to do is de-normalize that which has already been normalized.

That is up to the Alt Right and by extension, Trum, to decide. Other people can talk about it, but they lack the power to do anything about it. Which has become very obvious recently.