In the Twinkling of an Eye: Impeach or Wait?

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A Constitutional Republic

It’s no longer a partisan question. It becomes clearer every day. It’s not a strategic question. It’s no longer a question of how much more, or when is enough enough. It’s a constitutional question. It’s an oath of office question, the oath taken by every member of Congress under the U.S. Constitution.

Image "We the People" from original U.S. Constitution

U.S. Constitution Article VI. clause 3

“The Senators and Representatives … and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution . . .”— U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 3.

U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 3

Oath of Office, Article VI, clause 3

“I, __, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

The Integrity of Office and Democratic Republic

With every passing day, some who have taken the oath of office side-step the duties of their offices by “purpose of evasion” in the face of the growing constitutional crisis. It is no longer a question of which side of the aisle you are on. Supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution means, at very least, upholding the constitutional checks and balances among executive, congressional, and judicial branches designed to protect a democratic republic from its implosion. Assaults and circumventions around that division of powers are assaults on the Constitution and the rule of law it protects.

Purpose of evasion

EVASION. A subtle device to set aside the truth, or escape the punishment of the law; as if a man should tempt another to strike him first, in order that he might have an opportunity of returning the blow with impunity. He is nevertheless punishable, because he becomes himself the aggressor in such a case. Wishard, 1 H. P. C. 81 Hawk. P. C. c. 31, Sec. 24, 25; Bac. Ab. Fraud,

Loyal Opposition and Loyal Majority

The British idea of “loyal opposition” — loyalty to the nation and to the oath to “support and defend” the Constitution — is a long-standing tradition. The loyalty is to the Constitution. Faithfulness to one’s oath of office, not loyalty to a person. Loyal opposition holds the party in power accountable. Loyal opposition infers loyalty to the Constitution by members of whatever party is the majority.

Patisan stone-walling against the Constitutional duty of Constitutional oversight — whether by a President, the House of Representatives, or the U.S. Senator — constitutes violation of the oath of office by “purpose of evasion”.

The Twinkling of an Eye: No time to blink

Some argue that an impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives, regardless of its findings, is destined to fail because the majority party in the Senate will exonerate the President of the majority party.

We do well to remember the wisdom of an earlier American President:

Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.

John Adams

Some things cannot wait. Some things have time limits. Constitutions, the rule of law, and democratic republics can disappear in the twinkling of an eye.

This is no time to blink.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 25, 2019

Senator Rubio, Welders and Philosophers

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” said Mr. Rubio during last night’s Republican presidential debate. “We need more welders and less philosophers.”

No one on the stage seemed to remember John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, who observed,

“I must study politics and war [in order] that my sons may study mathematics and philosophy.”

Instead of raising the minimum wage, Mr. Rubio calls for re-tooling America’s educational system to prepare people for jobs so they’ll make more money. Education would become training for a specific job.

His contrast between welders and philosophers is more about liberal arts education than about wages. Classical liberal arts programs teach people how to think. Philosophers are thinkers.

There is an anti-intellectual streak in American culture. When a skilled debater scratches that itch, there is loud applause, as there was last night in Milwaukee.

In the search for simplicity, those who applauded Mr. Rubio’s swipe at philosophers ignored philosopher Bertrand Russell’s observation.

“To teach how to live without certainty and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can do for those who study it.”

The stereotype of the philosopher as aloof and beside the point makes for an easy target and an immediate laugh. But governing is not like welding.  We need need good philosophers and good welders.

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy; neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” – John W. Gardner

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 11, 2015

 

Throwing Up in the School Cafeteria

Gordon C. Stewart          Feb. 28, 2012

“It makes me want to throw up!”

Nothing causes indigestion more than a food fight over religion and politics. Just because there’s a food fight in the school cafeteria doesn’t mean we should join it.

The 2012 election is shaping up as a battle over religion and the state. But the battle is ill-framed, using a shotgun that sprays everywhere.

The failure to differentiate the issues is widespread in the thinking of the candidates, their supporters and detractors, and news media that are increasing driven by sensational sound-bites that increase viewership and profits than by professional journalistic standards that would help clarify the debate.

Take Mr. Santorum’s statement on ABC’s “This Week” when asked how his faith fits in with his ideas about governing. He referred to then-candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s speech affirming the absolute separation of church and state. The speech, he said, makes him “want to throw up.”

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” he said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

There are three separate issues here: 1) the role of religion in shaping public policy; 2) the role of a candidate’s personal faith in the exercise of the duties of elected office in a democratic republic; and 3) the wall of separation between church (institutional religion) and the State.

The question was not about church (i.e. institutional religion) and state. It was issue #2: how the candidate’s faith/religious convictions would influence the way he would govern, if elected President of a pluralistic democratic republic.

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum asked.

In that respect, Mr. Santorum is correct. For the public or a candidate to assume that it would make no difference would assume that faith and religion are strictly private, personal matters, while politics is a public matter. But as theologians, ethicists and critics of religion like Bill Maher agree, that’s not how it works. What we believe privately informs and drives what we do publicly, whether our personal convictions are religious or some version of secular humanism.

The cross-over between these core convictions and public policy is too important to ignore. The “culture wars” are real. The definition of marriage, the rights of women v. the rights of the unborn, institutional principle/conscience (e.g. contraception) and health care, the value of public education, end-of-life decisions, war and peace, workers’ rights, America’s role in the world, the distribution and re-distribution of wealth, wealth and poverty, and capital punishment are public issues hotly debated by an electorate whose varying religious and secular convictions place them front and center on the national agenda.

The genius of the U.S. Constitution lay in its framers’ ability to differentiate  between individual faith and institutional religion when it comes to matters of State.  What was later described as the “wall of separation” between church and state was, in fact, a wall that prevents the establishment of any one religion as the religion of the State. That is to say, the United States of America was not and would never be a theocracy. It would bea secular democratic republic which respected the free exercise of religion, whatever its stripe.

The founders were also clear that the success of the experiment in representative democracy rested on its citizens being what John Adams called “a moral people and religious people”  instructed in civility and committed to the search for goodness and the common good. They drew the line between the State and institutional religion to protect the republic from the horrors they had witnessed when the two had merged in the attempted theocracy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and to protect the free exercise of religion from the restrictive powers of the State.

In that sense, all three questions are fair game. Given the current food fight, the question is not whether to keep all such discussions out of the school cafeteria. Only when we, the electorate, inform ourselves of the nuances of the debate, will the cafeteria be more civil and the candidates stop throwing up in public because they swallowed the wrong question.