Why do you stop at a four way stop sign, even when you are at an open crossroad and can see a mile or more in either direction? Even if it is a rolling stop, a sort of automotive genuflection as you cross the path of the intersecting road, it is recognition that it is required by law.
Why do you send in a tax form when it is due to an over worked bureaucracy, even when you know that between a multi-state move and a change of jobs to one where you work for cash, you can disappear into the underground economy and avoid the complications of tax laws ?
Why do you trudge down to the draft board and register when you can see the road to Canada is wide open and hardly monitored?
Could it be that we are a nation of sheep, afraid of neglecting such matters, or is it because from an early age the concept of obeying, at least in spirit, the written laws of a free nation is bred into us as righteous citizens?
Is it possibly from an ingrained sense of right versus wrong and a deeply ingrained spirit of citizenship?
For whatever reason our laws are self-enforced and most people obey them regardless of whether the law enforcement authorities are looking over our shoulders or not. When did this sense of right, wrong, and personal responsibility develop? It seems to have been embedded in the culture of Great Britain from which the first colonials to arrive belonged. It was enhanced as these brave colonists set out to cross a forbidding ocean to conquer the vast forests of the new world. It was passed on to settlers from other nations who left their homes and joined in with the early colonists to create our own system of self-government.
For over 200 years we have been a nation of laws and free citizens who essentially trusted one another to also participate in our society, our culture and our government, obeying the nation’s just laws and correcting those that were less than perfectly formed. Two hundred and thirty years ago a group of knowledgeable, well known Colonists gathered in Philadelphia during a hot summer and tried to create a functional government. They had three fears of note; one was a fear of the mob, the majority and that the government would follow the mistakes of the ancient Athenian democracy, where the loudest voices, the best speakers, possibly the sleaziest orator in the crowd, could over run what may have been a righteous minority.
Another fear was the tyranny of the elite who might rally behind some leader who would assume the powers and possibly the rights of a monarch.
A third, dark fear was that the growing numbers of an armed slave insurrection might rise up and demand similar or equal rights.
To protect the people from these problems they designed a tripartite system of government, that is; an executive, who would be charged with faithfully carrying out, obeying and protecting the Laws and Constitution, a legislature that would enact the laws of the nation, and a judiciary to settle disputes between parties which within a few years also took on the burden of determining that the laws created by the legislature remained within the parameters of that Constitution.
The legislature was further divided into two segments, a Senate that should represent the states and wealthier class, and a House of Representatives which was planned to protect the interests of the average working citizen. They were supposed to work together and seek a compromise when necessary, but above all things, be fair and just in their dealings with one another.
The Founders created an executive with restricted powers and subject to legislative oversight. The Judiciary also had the power to prevent the Executive from exceeding its assigned powers. This was a fantastic interlocking set of offices and powers. Each being subject to oversight of another and each having some means of preventing excess of one of the other components.
For over two hundred years this system worked pretty well, with few major crises, all of which were resolved by adherence to the laws, customs and court decisions as to the meaning and impact of those court rulings. Just as important, all, including the most humble citizen, were expected to do his, or her, part to preserve and protect the system.
While some political leaders may have contemplated simply ignoring certain laws, with a few exceptions our habit of self-enforcement caused most to eventually comply with them. Not so with the present administration. Laws are being avoided and blatantly ignored, or interpreted by lap-dog advisors who have stretched legalisms to the breaking point, such as the contorted decision that torture was not really torture a few years ago and allowed some activities that have stained the nations honor.
A spirit of modern antinomianism never contemplated by the founders and forty administrations has grown to the point where the legislature is unable to participate in the process of “Checks and Balances” necessary for our participatory self-enforced system to work. I believe one of the bulwarks of our society is the assumption that all members be speaking the truth as they see it and that no one is completely above the law. We have seen multiple examples of the current administration caring not one wit for the law, truth or apparently personal honor. Fighting these people with subpoenas is like going to a knife fight with no belt for your loose britches and a heavy law book in your hip pocket. This begs the question, “Quo vadis populus?”
What will happen if the election is close and Trump decides he has the imperial right to declare a state that chose his opponent’s votes null and void? And he is supported by the toadies who surround him and filter his reality. Opposition of that event might be opposed in the streets by citizens who object to losing the franchise and could result in a national emergency being declared with the military being federalized. That was done before when riots broke out in Detroit, Newark, and other cities in the late sixties. All he would need would be a few high ranking officers who are able to convince themselves that Trump’s orders are valid and necessary. Who will lead the officials who remain faithful to the Constitution? Would a besieged president request the assistance of his bosom Rusky buddy to protect him from justice.
If we allow things to continue we run the distinct risk of losing the democracy that we were brought up to expect to struggle on. The place to stop such a horrendous series of steps is now before things get out of hand.
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