Carole Owens: Will the people fight?
STOCKBRIDGE — This is not a complex story. It is hard to imagine why anyone says it is. This is a simple story. This is the basic plot of every action movie. Here it is. Something of great value is at risk. Someone wants to destroy it. Someone must fight to save it. Who will fight? Who will win?
But wait --- fighting to save the valuable thing is scary and dangerous. The fighting itself, regardless of the outcome, risks wealth and well-being. Losing risks everything.
In the movie, you meet the cast. You watch as some decide to fight to save the valuable thing and others demur. Which are the heroes and which the cowards? There are bad guys seeking to destroy; heroes willing to fight, and those unwilling to act. It is "High Noon." As the clock ticks, sides are drawn, guns are cocked, combatants step into the street while others cower and hide.
Maybe the street is the Senate and the valuable thing is the Constitution of the United States of America, but the plot is the same. It is a simple choice: stand up for the Constitution and defend our way of life; destroy the Constitution and usher in a different form of government. Ours is not a perfect form of government, but as Churchill said, it is better than all the others.
Some decide to destroy out of self-interest or greed; others decide to fight to preserve our way of life. Those who cower do so out of fear or confusion. Is it so bad if this thing of value is destroyed? Is it worth the risk to save it? And, by the way, how exactly does one destroy it?
How do they destroy the Constitution? Like everything else in this action flick: it's easy. To destroy the Constitution, deny and defy it.
"Who gives Nancy Pelosi the right to impeach a president of the United States?" The executive demands.
The answer, like everything else in this plot, is simple, "The Constitution."
Dividing power among the three branches of government protects the people because it prevents what the founders feared the most — autocracy. They knew what British historian Lord Acton knew, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". They knew the people win when power is divided, and the people lose when it is concentrated.
The Executive can propose something and establish it by executive order. The Judiciary can determine if the order is lawful and quash it if not. The Legislature can give or withhold the money to implement it. The Executive can veto something the Legislature passed; the Legislature can impeach the executive.
In 2019 we learned something: The Constitution has no teeth. Our Founding Fathers were clever, but they assumed something that did not remain true. They assumed elected officials would be gentlemen, and the people would demand that.
Simply put: Our form of government is a gentleman's agreement. It relies on truth, logic and decency. It relies upon the people demanding with their vote that which protects them.
What happens if the Executive refuses to disseminate the money allotted by the Legislature? Nothing. Unless the House of Representatives begins an investigation that can lead to impeachment. What happens if the Senate will not properly try the case brought by the House? Nothing. What happens if the Senate colludes in enhancing the power of the executive branch? Nothing. What happens if one branch defies the power of the other? Nothing. Nothing, that is, unless the people, unconfused and unafraid, demand it.
Divide the people permanently; confuse the people hopelessly, and the Constitution has no teeth. It was no joke, no mere turn of phrase, no play on words: it was in fact a government conceived to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.
How do the people defend this valuable thing? Respect and obey the Constitution. Demand that others do. Read it and know when someone is flouting our Constitution, and then, if you see something, say something. If a legislator says he knows in advance of the trial how he will vote: object. If the executive flouts a subpoena from the Legislature: object. If a Department of Justice attorney says someone, anyone, for any reason, is above the law: object. Write a letter, make a call, tweet, and vote.
Is it worth the fight? Some may be confused about what happens if it is destroyed. Anything that upsets the balance; anything that tilts the power from even division to concentration destroys the underpinnings of our government. Tilting power to one man — the Executive — is autocracy. Tilting power to a small group, whether the wealthy or 100 legislators, is oligarchy. If one person or a small group holds all the reins of power, the people have none.
It's a simple plot. Who will fight? Who will win?
Carole Owens is a Berkshire writer and historian.
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