“Politics?” “Again?” “Why?” “Aren’t you sick of politics, Mosiah?” Those seem to be the reactions I normally get whenever I bring up politics. I always wonder why everyone is so averse to speaking or having a conversation regarding politics. Then I remember people are tired of confrontations with their family and friends. People just want to live their lives and not be impacted negatively by people’s opinions, which is understandable. So why am I going to talk about it again if people are already uncomfortable with the topic of politics? It is essential and we must bring it back. Yes, bring it back. By which I mean that the current environment surrounding politics is poisonous to our country, and the old ways of discussing politics when our nation was born are gone. We need to get rid of this type of environment. What we need is civility.
Benjamin Franklin was rumored to have responded to a question of what kind of government was created as he walked out of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and he said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Our country seems to forget that foreboding thought, our current system of government could be dissolved. The only reason our government hasn’t dissolved and disappeared is because people’s convictions of following ground rules and upholding things like, the Constitution, have held on for so long. In the words of one of my favorite movies, “One weak link can break the chain of a mighty dynasty.” That was from the Prince of Egypt in case anyone was wondering. The point is, a piece of paper like the Constitution is just that. A piece of paper. It is useless when facing a mob willing to overthrow a government. So, what has really held this country together are strong links of committed individuals, collectively honoring the principles of the Constitution and following ground rules.
So does that mean we all need to get along like our Founding Fathers did back when the Constitution was created? Well, no. If you did not know, a lot of our founding fathers disagreed with each other. If that is news, I would recommend signing up for Disney Plus and watching Hamilton. That will give you a sense of the division between two parties at the beginning of our nation. Historically, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson despised each other. They disagreed on basically everything in terms of politics. Hamilton viewed Jefferson as an anarchist who would have no rule of law and Jefferson viewed Hamilton as a monarchist who wanted to become King of the United States. When Jefferson was running for President against a member of his own party, Aaron Burr, Hamilton was able to recognize that Jefferson would hold to certain principles more than Aaron Burr would and Hamilton supported Thomas Jefferson’s candidacy for president. I would not say he was an ardent Jefferson supporter, but at the very least, he understood that Jefferson was a better choice for the country than Aaron Burr. Consequently, Burr felt cheated and shot Hamilton in a duel. A key lesson to learn from that story is that serious consequences follow when people set aside constitutional principles for political gain or when they disregard civility.
Benjamin Franklin was right, we have a republic and not a pure democracy like the Greeks. One of the ancestors of the system of government that we have is the Roman Republic. If anybody thinks that a Republic is infallible, just take note of your world geography and realize that the Roman Republic is now called Italy, and they are not the same thing. The Roman Republic failed. Many people usually look straight at Caesar and say, “Yep! Caesar came in and took over the government and established himself as a dictator overnight.” What people do not know is that Caesar used precedent or prior historical occurrences where people set aside civility and constitutional norms in the Roman Republic as justification for responding to a national emergency or to get political gain. For example there was a rule that no standing army could enter the streets of Rome armed. Well, years before Caesar, a head a consul, (which was like a president), did exactly that and created a precedent for Caesar to do it. And even before that situation occurred, the Senate had a consul murdered in the Senate and nobody did anything. That created the normality of violence occurring every other election for the Roman Republic. You want to talk about election fraud? During the Roman Republic when someone went to vote, mobs would be waiting to beat the voter to death with sticks. It all started with people thinking they could set aside a rule or a principle temporarily to gain political power. All these people ended up getting killed by their enemies anyway because of the consequences of their actions. Why? Because their political adversaries reacted in kind. That was a death spiral for Rome until the republic fell. You might think that could never happen to us.
Well, every political party I have known responds in kind to its competitor and the pendulum continues to swing back and forth with each response becoming more radical than before. In just 4 yrs we have seen more and more violence. White nationalist with tiki torches, then Antifa responding in kind. The democrats chanting not my president in 2016 when Trump became president. Then an attempt by Trump supporters to violently prevent Biden from becoming president. See a trend here? One side does something that goes against principles allowing the survival of our nation and the opposing party makes their reply.
What is the antidote to this cycle of failed government? The answer is civility and honoring principles that were set there for a reason. The principles we must honor, of course, are the ones written down in the Constitution, but also any other federal laws that we have created that have been placed for the purpose of protecting the integrity of our government. There are also many traditions that we have in this country that are not law, but are followed, because they act as a buffer between the sanctity of the rule of law and someone who could start acting in a dangerous political fashion. A wise man once told me that the only people who fall off a cliff are those who got close to the edge. The more buffers we have between us and the edge of the cliff, the safer we are. So what are these Constitutional principles and federal laws and traditions that we should honor?
All the amendments and constitutional principles found within the Constitution. The Constitution is set for a reason and should not be disregarded or treated lightly. In addition, there are traditions that are not law but are important. Some traditions or unwritten rules that we should follow are things like conceding an election after your legal resources to challenge your adversary have failed or political candidates releasing their tax information. All of these traditions convey the message that we have a higher standard for ethical governing. Just because a political candidate released their tax returns does not mean they will be morally incorruptible, but it sends a message that a president, or a political candidate, should not be financially corrupt. Conceding an election does not necessarily mean that that candidate believes that they should have lost. The message that conceding an election conveys is a respect for the system of government that we have where people elect their leaders. It sends a message that the people have spoken. That is what keeps our government running.
How do we get back on track when we have so disastrously been derailed? We start by talking to each other. The Civility Initiative is exactly that, it’s a group of people willing to lay down the groundwork for a better future. As we become more willing to listen to each other and willing to talk out our differences the more we will turn to peaceful means of resolving issues. The more civility we inject into politics the better it will get. The more civil we become the less our politicians will gain by being uncivil. The more our politicians become civil the better the chance our government will be able to fix some problems in our country. Yes, this takes time but that is why we need to start now. If we do not, then we face a grim future. Will we suffer the same consequences as the Roman Republic or will we keep our republic?