Critics of President Trump, especially liberals, often complain that he and his administration have either attacked, ignored or dismantled fundamental constitutional principles and norms such as adherence to the rule of law, support for the system of checks and balances with a co-equal legislative branch, and the importance of an open and free press. Added to these charges are the now over 10,000 proven lies and misstatements by the President and the growing list of scandals and corruption by members of his inner circle of cabinet members and advisers. We now live in a time when”constitutional crisis” is an oft-used term that suggests this country is experiencing a democratic decline, or worse yet a move toward authoritarianism.
And yet with a strong economy that boasts low inflation, low unemployment, solid growth, vibrant stock market numbers, and for most Americans more money in their pockets, there is scant discussion among the general public and certainly among Trump’s base about the obvious challenges to constitutional principles that have guided this nation since the early days of the Republic. Trump’s directive to his staff to ignore Congressional requests to testify before committees, his refusal to turn over his tax returns, the attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, and his not so subtle acceptance of right wing hate, violence and wack-job conspiracy theories are too often greeted by a near majority of Americans with a casual shrug or a silence that signals consent.
Why has America entered a time when our most cherished document, the Constitution, the Bill of rights, and long standing procedures and governing values, are so easily dismissed as not terribly important? There, of course, is no simple answer to this scary predicament; it is not enough to say that too many Americans want to “stick it” to the liberal elite or that Trump’s army of ” low educated” voters have become the voice of the nation or that Trump represents an angry revolt of those disgusted with government.
My take on this real threat to our democracy is a sad and growing ignorance of what this country stands for, what hundreds of thousands of men and women died for on the battlefield, and what our forefathers and mothers envisioned as the “shining city on a hill”. During my youthful years as a political science professor I would take student groups to Washington D.C. and visit among many monuments, the National Archives where the Constitution is encased in glass. Those visiting the Constitution would always pass by and whisper in a kind of governmental reverence, akin to going to church or reading the Bible. These days the National Archives is not a destination site and a declining number of Americans have never read the Constitution or the thinking of the writers in forming a “more perfect Union.”
There is certainly nothing wrong with feeling great about a booming economy, but it is deeply disturbing to see a growing number of Americans show little understanding or support for our governing values or hail the President of the United States for blatantly working to tear down our democratic heritage. The Constitution and the amendments are not exciting reading, but the entire document is rather short and can be examined in the time it takes to watch the last episode of Game of Thrones.
We remain a great country with enormous potential, but these last two years we have become a people who care too little about our governing values and are too willing to follow a president who I suspect has never read the Constitution and cares less about the principles that define our democracy and indeed our nation. My advice – read the Constitution and support the values expressed in that wonderful document.