Who would have thought that the American experiment in republican democracy could collapse so quickly?
Two hundred and eighteen years ago, after a long, hot and sweltering Philadelphia summer, fifty five men – delegates from every state in the newly-free colonial possessions of the Crown, gathered in from all the corners of the young country – worked out a new constitution for their country. Not exactly the job they had been sent to this New England city to accomplish, but they felt that the country deserved better than their original commission; that the long years of the Revolution deserved better; that the colonists who had starved, fought, killed and died in that Revolution deserved better; that the nascent American people who had sent them to this meeting hall had expected better. And so these men delivered the best that they had in them. Indeed, these men were themselves the best that the states had to offer, as Jefferson himself, from his ministership in Paris, wrote: “It really is an assembly of demigods.”
They had brought forth the Constitution of the new United States of America - the framework of a republican government for the ages, a New Order of the Ages, as they dubbed it, having adopted that slogan as a motto for their new nation.
The new Constitution was printed up and copies circulated. It was published in every newspaper and tabloid in the country - every single word of it - with signatures attached. There was not a citizen or slave in the entire country who had not heard of it, and everyone who could read - which at that time included some 90% of the free population - read it.
This was no rush job. It was discussed by every citizen. It was the subject of public debate in taverns, city squares, private homes great and small, church meetings, state assemblies and letters to the editor. The debates and discussions lasted twelve months.
In due course, it was ratified by every state in the union as the supreme law of the land, and everyone elected to public office then took - and even today takes - an oath to “preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States of America,” which has as its opening line:
“We the People ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
That one phrase summed it up, as far as the people were concerned: it wasn’t “ordained” by Thomas Jefferson, or Tom Paine, or James Madison or Patrick Henry or even George Washington. No, this document had no force unless and until it was ordained by the People. This was the People’s Constitution, and this document was the foundation of the People’s government.
It served the people well for 214 years: immediately through another British war, then a cataclysmic Civil War, the Spanish American War, crippling economic depressions, two World Wars, and the Cold War. Guiding this nation just fine, it preserved and protected the People’s civil liberties just as designed for over two hundred years, and then it hit a snag in the shape of a smirking, truculent, self-aggrandizing little prick of a man who has decided that he calls the shots, and piss on the People.
This inarticulate ex-drunk, this smirking, swaggering president, and – as he is so fond of reminding us, this “Commander in Chief” – has decided that he doesn’t want or need to play by the People’s rules any more, so he has started making up his own rules. And he has defied anyone, especially Congress (which is the elected representative of the People), to make him play by the rules that everybody else agreed to so long ago in writing and by sworn oath and over many a dead body.
When children pull this kind of stunt, there is usually an adult around that someone can appeal to, to make the bully - for surely that is what this president is – to make this bully play by the rules that were originally agreed upon and paid for so dearly.
But these are not kids, this is not a children’s game, and there are, apparently, no adults around to force this bully - this pissant - to cease his illegal power-grabbing as well as his outrageous and immoral crimes against humanity and the rule of law.
In less than five years, this bully has taken us back to the age of the Spanish Inquisition, to the rack and water torture, to the gag and the electric whip. He has, in effect, thrown over the Constitution with his invention of the “unitary” executive; a concept, by the way, that is found nowhere in the language of the Federalist Papers, or any of the writings of the Framers of the Constitution themselves.
But he didn’t do it alone; this president is far too dumb for that singular accomplishment. No, he has been aided and abetted by a coterie of like-minded cronies, assistants, lawyers, and a mendacious vice-president, as well as an active majority of the very Congress itself - the alleged representatives of the People.
He has been helped by the silence of its members for the most part, and by the active participation in his schemes of power for the other part.
And with the notable exception of a mere handful of Senators and Congressmen, this Congress has voted overwhelming in favor of the centralization of power in the hands of a Booby.
Astonishingly, these members of Congress come from both sides of the aisle, and represent every faction and state in the Union. Their motives range from crass greed to venal bigotry to fear for their positions of power. They have no shame and no honor.
Now they have assembled a “Blue Ribbon” panel to decide the future course of the war in Iraq, thus abandoning any pretense of responsibility for decision-making at all.
While I like to think that this Constitution is bigger than this present group of hacks, turncoats and mealy-mouths cowards, I still fear for the future of this Republic; as I survey the American landscape, I see a nation of sheep, bemoaning the stupidity of their leadership, yet loath to throw the bums out.
Perhaps this “unitary” executive is the true will of the People, and the Constitution is dead in all but name.
And it only took five years.