Andy Schmookler: Vote for checks and balances
We can know how America’s founders would want for us Americans to vote in these upcoming elections. A compelling case can be made that they’d want us to vote for checks and balances.
The FIRST step in making that case is to listen to what our founders have told us, through the Constitution, about what is Job One in our system of government. Their priority is revealed right there in the oath of office that is required — by the Constitution — of every officer of the United States to take before they can be invested with the powers of their office: they must swear to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
That’s the one thing they thought essential.
Our elected officials are not compelled to swear to advance any other cause, not even to protect our national security. Defending the constitutional order is the one thing that matters beyond all others, our founders seem to be telling us, because it is that order that keeps us free and enables us as a people to choose our destiny.
Most of the time, office-holders don’t have to do anything to keep that solemn promise because most of the time the constitutional order isn’t under attack and therefore doesn’t need defending. But when that order is under attack, our elected officials are under an absolute obligation to protect and defend it.
And that leads to the SECOND point: we are now unmistakably in one of those times when the Constitution needs defending.
We now have a President who is assaulting our constitutional order in a whole variety of ways, including menacing the free press, ignoring the constitutional prohibitions to prevent a President from using his office to enrich himself, lying continuously to the public, refusing to protect our election process from a foreign adversary, tolerating blatant corruption among his cabinet officers…
But nowhere is the threat to the Constitution more dramatic and publicly visible than in the ongoing effort of the President to attack the rule of law in order to protect himself.
Our founders insisted that we were “a nation of laws, not of men.” The alternative, they understood, was for the system to devolve into tyranny. And preventing such tyranny was one of their chief concerns. It was essential, to prevent a president from placing himself “above the law,” and trying to make the law into a weapon to enforce and expand his power (“Lock her up!”).
To protect our freedoms from tyrannical abuses, they created what every civics class declares to be at the heart of our constitutional order: a system of “checks and balances.”
In particular, they gave Congress the power to ferret out the truth about presidential wrong-doing and, if necessary, to protect the Constitution by stripping a lawless President of the powers of his office.
Which brings us to the THIRD point: these past two years, even as the threats to our constitutional order have expanded and deepend, the system of checks and balances has broken down.
Even as Trump has repeatedly acted to subordinate American law enforcement to his will – with Jim Comey at the FBI, with his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and with repeated lies to the public about the FBI and the Mueller Investigation (dismissed as a “witch hunt”) – the Republicans who have controlled both Houses of Congress have betrayed their oath of office.
Far from performing their constitutional duty, congressional Republicans have chosen instead to act as the accomplices of the president they are honor-bound to check.
Despite a whole raft of major scandals of corruption in the administration, the Republicans have held no hearings to uncover the truths the public needs to hear.
Despite vital questions that need to be answered about this President’s relationship with an adversary of the United States – a hostile power we know meddled in our election to help Trump win — the Republicans (especially in the House) have used their control of Congress not to inquire into the truth but to obstruct such inquiry. They’ve helped advance lies the President has told in an effort to discredit legitimate law-enforcement efforts the President wants blocked.
Which brings us to the FOURTH point: the responsibility of the voters.
The Constitution does not enforce itself. Those who hold office are compelled take an oath to protect that Constitution, but no mere document can prevent them from betraying that oath. If those in power will not honor their sacred promise, then it falls to the people to give power to those who will.
That’s what America’s founders would want us to do in the upcoming election.
This year, to vote for Republicans would be to ignore what our founders told us was the most important requirement for our freedom and well-being.
Giving control in Congress to the Democrats is the only course available to the American people, at this point, for preserving the American democracy that — over most of these past two-plus centuries — has given us Americans a rather fortunate history.
That’s why, at this perilous moment in our history, voters who regard themselves as Republicans but as American patriots first, are called upon to vote for Democrats.
That may be difficult for some. But this perspective can make it easier. Voting to give Democrats control in Congress need not be seen as an endorsement of the Democratic Party per se. It can be seen, rather, as a vote for the “checks and balances” our founders fervently hoped would be used at a perilous moment like this one.
Lifelong Republicans like George Will, Steve Schmidt, Jennifer Rubin, and Max Boot have said much the same thing: Vote Democratic to enable the system to work as it must to preserve the gift our founders gave us.