A Message of Hope

The following was taken from a letter that I, along with many others, recently received from Beto O’Rourke. It lays out many of my reactions to recent events as I try valiantly to cling to my faith in America and our government.

I won’t publish the entire letter as it is very long, but I’ll share what I think are the most important parts. And I ask you to read through to the last two paragraphs. They have a great message.

Grab a cup of tea and read on…

When the Constitution was adopted on June 21, 1788, it immediately became the exception to the rule of human history, announcing to the world that we would be governed by laws and not by men. To guard against human tendency to concentrate power and authority — to keep would-be kings, dictators, strongmen and thugs from wresting control of this noble experiment — a system of checks and balances was implemented. There would be separate branches of government, and a division of power and responsibility between them. And in the sole branch of government where power is not shared but held by one person, the executive, there would be a further check: impeachment.

Under the Constitution, there is the aspiration that we will all be treated equally under the law and that each of us will have equal opportunity to guide the affairs of this country through free and fair democratic elections.

Today, two hundred and thirty-three years after its adoption, it has been replaced by something else.

“Functionally a monarch,” is how Presidential historian Jon Meacham described Donald Trump earlier this week, after a feckless Senate majority refused to call witnesses, subpoena documents, or hold anything remotely resembling a fair trial after his impeachment by the House.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters that “Congress had failed”… as though she is a passive spectator of Congress instead of a majority Senator who in fact possesses extraordinary leverage and power to keep it from failing.

Perhaps she should have looked to Mitt Romney, her only colleague in the majority to vote to convict Donald Trump — becoming the first and only Senator in our history to vote to convict a President from his own party.

Romney explained that “the Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it.”

At its core, the President’s trial — our country’s trial — comes down to this question: Will we have the rule of men or the rule of law? Those Senators who accepted the argument that the President can do anything he chooses as long as it helps his re-election, as his defense team argued, support the former. Those who choose to hold him accountable because of, in Mitt Romney’s words, “an appalling abuse of the public trust,” support the latter.

By a 52–48 vote, our country, through our representatives in the Senate, chose the rule of men.

Only some men, to be sure. Those powerful enough, shameless enough, enabled enough, to live above the law.

This past Saturday I saw a photo of white men in camouflage, tactical gear and face masks, armed with military-style assault weapons in the Capitol Building in Frankfort, Kentucky. It was chilling to witness this defilement of democracy by armed thugs who sought to intimidate lawmakers and the citizens they represent.

It wasn’t an aberration. Two weeks ago, similarly heavily armed and masked men paraded through the Virginia capitol in an effort to intimidate lawmakers who had the audacity to introduce bills requiring background checks on firearms purchases. And it wasn’t unconnected to the impunity with which the President acts or the breakdown of the rule of law in our country.

Those men marching up the capitol steps in Kentucky are listening to Donald Trump. They anticipate a tide that is turning, and in the obscenity of their act of masked intimidation presage the beginning of rule by men and not by laws. Just like the white nationalist thugs who marched in Charlottesville in 2017.

We are watching in real time the destruction of the most noble experiment in the whole of human history, a descent, as Adam Schiff put it, into “constitutional madness.” And if we are unable to stop this slide, the victims will number more than just our democracy, our Constitution, and the institutions that have produced the most successful country in the history of the world — they will include any of us not able to purchase power or arm themselves with it.

This was the end of Adam Schiff’s closing argument to the Senate on Monday:

I put my faith in the optimism of the founders. You should too. They gave us the tools to do the job, a remedy as powerful as the evil it was meant to constrain: impeachment. They meant it to be used rarely but they put it in the Constitution for a reason:

For a man who would sell out his country for a political favor. For a man who would threaten the integrity of our elections. For a man who would invite foreign interference in our affairs. For a man who would undermine our national security and that of our allies.

For a man like Donald J. Trump.

They gave you a remedy and they meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath and they meant for you to observe it. We have proven Donald Trump guilty, now do impartial justice and convict him.

Despite the outcome in the Senate and this darkest of moments for our country, my faith is still in the optimism of the founders.

We are tempted to despair, and that is understandable. But we must understand that should despair take hold, it will leave us defenseless against the greatest challenge America has yet faced.

Perhaps the most alarming thing that came out of Iowa this week was not the incompetence of the party and the failed technology that leaves us still in the dark as to the final results of the caucus… what should most concern us is that turnout might have barely kept pace with 2016 levels, and fell well below the historic turnout of 2008. We’re in the middle of a national emergency, and people are staying home.

Discussing this with a friend, he reminded me of how despair spread across Germany in the 1930s — of all the people who were not Nazis, but neither were they simply passive observers of the Nazis of all that transpired… the countless thousands who were completely devastated by what they saw happening to their country, felt utterly powerless to stop it, and, over time, quietly retreated from the world into darkness and despair. And today? How many millions are so heartbroken by what has come to pass in America that they have already retreated from the world?

I refuse to be one of them. I still have faith in this country, faith that we can follow the optimism of our founders, faith that we can follow the example of El Paso… but it will take all we have from all of us who are willing to fight to save this country to make it so. And in this struggle, as Lincoln said at another defining moment in our history, “we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

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