Forget Russia; we're our own worst threat

Forget Russia; we're our own worst threat
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As he was leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government they had created. Always the sage, he replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Franklin was the eternal optimist. Yet he fully understood the challenges facing the new nation. He had warned his fellow delegates about parochial interests, personal prejudices and individual passions.

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A majority of the delegates heeded Franklin’s admonitions. They drafted a Constitution that “with all of its faults” was the best ever written, has withstood the test of time and remains the envy of the world.

 

They created a more perfect union, not a perfect one.

The Founders were keenly aware of the difficulties of keeping a newborn nation together. They all feared disorder and potential destruction of the fragile republic they had created.

“Popular sovereignty,” the principle that governments are sustained by the consent of the people, drove the deliberations that gave us our Constitution. As Franklin himself summarized, “In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors.” It’s basic “democracy.”

Democracy, and our republican form of it, has always faced serious challenges. At the heart of those is how to implement majority rule while protecting the rights and liberties of individuals and the minority.

Democracy always has been fragile. In many respects, ours is a gentleman’s agreement. We are rightly proud of the fact that, here, we have peaceful transitions of power. We don’t roll tanks down Pennsylvania Avenue every inauguration day.

In order to preserve that agreement, there must be basic faith in our institutions and the integrity of our process.

There has been a lot of chatter in the media about whether or not America’s democracy is in trouble. Much of it comes from the left, but there’s more than a little from the right as well.

One thing stands out on the left: the continued inability of many to accept the legitimacy of the 2016 election and the presidency of Donald J. Trump. “Not my president!” was one of their cries at his inauguration. It hasn’t died down since.

Failure to believe that our elections produce valid results may be the single greatest threat to our fragile compact. Without that legitimacy, we run the risk of devolving into the morass in which other nations have sunk. They touted “democratic rule” but failed to develop a culture based on the rule of law and respect for the institutions that administer it.

A group of far-left organizations recently launched an initiative, #FixDemocracyNow. Among their stated goals are reducing the influence of big donors (presumably George Soros, Tom Steyer and the Hollywood crowd), upholding access to the ballot and drawing fair district lines.

There’s more than a hint of hypocrisy in those nobly stated objectives. Are they referring to Soros, Steyer and Hollywood when they complain of disproportionate influence by “big donors”? Which Democrat-controlled gerrymander were they complaining of when calling for “fair districts”?

Yet their quest pales in comparison to those who now advocate for ripping apart our system and replacing it with their version of a socialist utopia, something that hasn’t worked. Ever. Anywhere.

Eternal vigilance, we’ve been told, is the price of liberty. Add democracy.

At a time when the nation is deeply divided, that vigilance is all the more vital. Yet it’s important to remember that we’ve found ourselves far more divided in years past and with far less genteel ways of dealing with our differences.

Today’s constant polarization and politicization of everything didn’t start with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE — or his detractors. Some vigilance will be required to find common ground for moving the nation forward and protecting our republic.

That common ground is more difficult to acquire when those with differing political views see themselves as not only intellectually superior to those with whom they disagree, but also morally exceptional. Too often that has caused competing sides to stop meeting, socializing, talking and breaking bread.

When you confront those with whom you are in conflict, you immediately realize that they are fully human, just as you are. They share the same hopes, dreams, fears and pains. Breaking bread, a primordial human experience, has been a time-honored way to build bridges, mend fences and create common ground.

Heated and passionate debate is essential to a thriving republic. Personal attacks and attempts to destroy the foundations of our government are not.

Daily vigilance is needed to keep faith with our Founders. It’s our Republic. It’s still up to us to keep it.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. He began his career on the campaign staff of Ronald Reagan. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.