Monday, January 11, 2021

Constitutional High And Low

A written Constitution. Allegiance pledged to Constitutional Law rather than a monarch. Governance decision-making by a Vote from the governed. Adopted by a new, presumptuous little country strung out along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in a distant and isolated “New World,” these were radical concepts in 1788 with no precedence among world governments. But they became the principal gifts from the United States of America to the advancement of human civilization. All too often, we take these special gifts for granted, as though they always were and always will be. As a result, we fail to protect them by stepping up to our responsibility to engage and exercise these gifts that so many have given so much effort to ensure. Yet what we take for granted – the power of the Vote – was on full display over 48 recent hours. A display that showed the high point, and the low point, of the awesome privilege and responsibility of the right to Vote as guaranteed by our Constitution.

HIGH POINT – TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2021: In a rare convergence of circumstances, the State of Georgia found itself voting for both of its U.S. senators in a special runoff election. To virtually everyone’s surprise, Democratic Party candidates won both seats against the two incumbent Republican senators (albeit by extremely narrow margins) – this in what has been a deeply reliable Republican state. Simply winning these two election races against the odds was significant unto itself. But the significance was magnified by its immediate multiple domino effects:

-the U.S. Senate became equally divided at 50/50 senators from each Party, changing from Republican to Democratic majority control due to the incoming Democratic Vice President having the tie-breaking vote;

- all Senate committees will be now chaired and controlled by Democrats, significantly improving (but not guaranteeing) the prospect for Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, executive branch appointments, and federal court nominees;

-Mitch McConnell, who has heretofore controlled the Senate’s legislative agenda with a proverbial iron fist, will become the Senate Minority Leader, with Chuck Schumer becoming Majority Leader.

Why does all of this constitute a Constitutional “high point”? It is not because the Democrats won, or now take charge. Depending on one’s own personal politics and partisan affiliation, “Democratic control” can be a thrilling prospect or a cause for alarm in anticipating the next two-to-four years of national governance and initiatives. Rather, it is a “high” because it demonstrated the full power of the act of voting. Citizen turnout set a record for a “special election,” and within the slim 1%+/- margin of victory for those two senatorial elections, the national political landscape was transformed. That is the power of the Vote: the power to make a statement and effect a difference. It is why the right to Vote is so powerful and precious.

LOW POINT – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2021: Yet less than 24 hours later, we descended into the low point of our Constitutional governance and heritage. In the November election, the incumbent President lost his bid for reelection. In the two months since, he has claimed on a daily basis that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud and illegal election processes. He has sought to directly (and illegally?) intervene with election officials and state legislators to overturn the results of the vote of the citizens. Thousands of local Boards of Election, and various combinations of 50 state Boards of election, &/or 50 state Secretaries of State, &/or 50 state Governors, &/or 50 state legislatures said there was no fraud, and certified the voting results. Over 60 federal and state lawsuits filed echoing the fraud claim were summarily dismissed – including rulings by federal judges appointed by the President. At no time during these certification and lawsuit steps was one shred of proof of voter fraud offered. Yet the drumbeat from the incumbent loser and his supporters incessantly carried on this “big lie."

The protest of the election result culminated in a call by the President for a public rally in Washington on January 6th (“It is going to be wild”) – the day that the votes of the Electoral College would be ceremonially counted and formally accepted, as specified by the Constitution. Thousands of supporters showed up and listened to several speakers exhort them to march to the Capital building to protest the counting and certification of the true election results. So march to the Capital they did, and we all saw in real time what happened next. It was a scene unmatched in our entire American history. A sitting President personally and publicly convened a mob of insurrectionists, and exhorted them to attack the Capital building of our federal legislature. And so this armed, lawbreaking mob did – forcibly breaking into the building and preventing the duly elected Congress of the United States from conducting their Constitutionally mandated business. They overwhelmed Capital Police charged with protecting the integrity of the building and its occupants. They broke into offices, into legislative chambers, vandalizing and stealing property, putting the safety of its occupants at genuine risk, resulting in deaths and injuries. Only after hours passed and law enforcement reinforcements arrived at the scene were the insurrectionists finally pushed out of the building.

There will be months to come of investigations and hearings into what happened on this day, and how such an extreme security failure happened. It is therefore not the intent of this essay to try to preempt such inquiries. Rather, it is to note why this is a Constitutional Low in our nation’s history. An incumbent President calls for a violent attack by his followers to prevent the ongoing functioning of the Congress of the United States, based on a lie about an election result. Yet in its own way, that is another demonstration and affirmation of the power of the Vote. It is a power to fear if you are on the wrong side of democracy by attempting to overturn that vote. And when you find yourself on that wrong side, you are guilty of the high crime of Insurrection against our government and the democracy it stands for.

©   2021   Randy Bell