Upon deliberating and formulating in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a mechanism of governance for the ages, Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Stopped on the steps by a well wisher, he was asked about the outcome of the secretive deliberations. “Well Doctor, what have we got? A Republic or a Monarchy?” The circumspect Franklin thoughtfully responded, “A Republic….If you can keep it.”
Benjamin Franklin was fully aware of the fragile tenets upon which self governance, the rarest of human societal structures through history, rested. Having the opportunity to develop a republic from scratch after a providential victory over the strongest military on earth, Franklin was under no illusions as to the longevity of such an undertaking if the baser human emotions took over from the agreed upon foundations of a democratically led governance.
Yet, the republic has indeed stood for 228 years from the day the Constitution became law, and the world’s oldest continuous democracy took root. Its careful balance of the rights of citizens and the limitation of government, protected by an innate understanding as to the role of free speech in the form of civil discourse and the rule of law as represented as blind to bias, linked inextricably to objective truth, has led to the exalted position of the United States as a beacon of freedom and stability so many years from birth.
Now we sit at a time where the hubris about the gift of self rule is equally matched by the ignorance of the role each individual must play in the maintenance of the compact that preserves a healthy, functioning republic. Examples abound. The congress is back to building laws in secret to avoid the difficulties an open forum of discussion provides. The president is back to accomplishing changes by diktat. The deep state leaks to subvert the elected will of the people, to harass and damage those that would upset the applecart. Free speech is considered a weapon that risks upsetting entrenched interests that have re-imagined the American story into one of victim groups and predators. Elections are to be manipulated to make sure the accepted side wins. Justice is imbued with the mission to reorder law through interpretation, not to find justice in the objective truth. The press has become an arm of propaganda, seeing events in the shades of pre-ordained opinions and prejudices, turning facts on edge and subverting measured thought and appropriate rationalizations. Reason has been trampled by emotion, and violence as an acceptable alternative to any compromise.
The events of the past week, where a premeditated attempt to assassinate multiple representatives of congress because of their political philosophy, couldn’t maintain a first page position in any news outlet for more than 24 hours shows how far we have fallen in our understanding of the threat every day to this most fragile of gifts, self governance. We are in danger of losing Franklin’s republic, and the people who are pushing it over the edge are ignorant of what they would have lost, and arrogant in their ignorance of what would transpire if they get their way.
The self righteous senators who convinced themselves that by assassinating Julius Caesar they were preserving their position as the elite representatives of Roman society, found themselves instead to have permanently destroyed the republic that had given them their exalted position. By killing their Caesar, they brought upon themselves a hundred more.
It is proving progressively hard to guard the ramparts of a civilization that has presumed itself unworthy of guarding. Et tu?