I think Most Americans have a basic understanding of how our political system is structured and how it works. People run for office for one political party or another, one is elected and the other(s) lose. This is a simple, easy to understand system; it has been in place in this country for better than two centuries and it has worked more or less, for that entire time. I say “more or less” because we cannot forget the Civil War, when one segment of the country – the slave-owning South – did not like how things were going (i.e. the demise of slavery) and decided they didn’t want to play anymore with the other states. They picked up their toys and went home. They called their new country the “Confederate States of America.”
Our president at the time, Abraham Lincoln (a Republican) said, “I don’t think so” and the two sides fought. Six hundred thousand dead Americans later, the South lost. The slaves were freed. The Constitution was updated to reflect this fact. That seemed to have settled the issue. Let the record reflect, Lincoln essentially said, that we are one country and that those men did not die in vain:
It is time to reflect on the meaning of the Constitution, and upon Lincoln’s words. Every state has ratified the Constitution. The Constitution says, and we have agreed, that we are one nation, not a confederation of independent nations as under the Articles of Confederation. The Civil War bloodily drove this point home: that we are all in this together, one nation undivided, and that we don’t simply up and quit when things don’t go our way. We don’t get to take our toys home. No, we work to change them democratically, through the Constitution. When necessary, we even make amendments to the Constitution, as the Founding Fathers did when they incorporated the Bill of Rights (actually ten amendments) into that document (1791); as the Lincoln-sponsored Thirteenth Amendment (1865) freed the slaves and the Nineteenth (1920) gave women the right to vote.
Amendments are Constitutional remedies; Secession and armed rebellion are not. They are treason.
Increasingly, right wing politicians and pundits have advocated violent opposition to things they don’t like (i.e. liberal governance). New York Times columnist Frank Rich drew a clear and undeniable connection between FOX News’ Glenn Beck and right-wing extremist Byron Williams. These right-wing demagogues have increasingly and chillingly advocated un-Constitutional remedies if things don’t go their way in the upcoming midterm elections.
The lesson of the Civil War seems to be lost on these men and women. Let’s look at a few examples:
We have all the Tenther talk about “states rights,” a conversation that leads quickly to talk about secession, including Texas governor Rick Perry, who said,
“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”
Another governor, Sarah Palin of Alaska, had ties (through her husband) to Alaska-first secessionists. There is Palin’s infamous March 2010 Tweet,
Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Pls see my Facebook page.
There is a congressional candidate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, who blithely spoke of “Second Amendment remedies” in case of defeat. In an interview with conservative talk-show host Bill Manders, she said,
Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…
Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now.
Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.
We can now add to the list Stephen Broden, a Texas pastor running for Congress, who says that,
“We have a constitutional remedy. And the Framers say if that don’t work, revolution.”
The problem is that the Framers didn’t say that. Revolution is not in any amendment; it is not in the Constitution. Yet Broden insists that if a violent uprising “is not the first option,” it is still “on the table.”
No, it’s not. It cannot be.
This treason narrative is all a part – and a result – of the larger Republican “myth of usurpation,” that since their ’08 defeat in the national elections the GOP is a “government in exile” and that President Obama is a “Kenyan Muslim” usurper.
Republicans have somehow been able to convince themselves that their country has been taken away from them and that they want it back. Never mind that it is our country – ours collectively – and that the country they seem to want to “take back” never existed outside of their imaginations. Two centuries of sometimes diametrically opposed forces working together, through contention and compromise and quid pro quo, have brought about this nation. The American Revolution ended British rule; the Constitution created the United States of America, and that creation did not all happen at once. It was a process; the United States is the result of political compromise and evolution, not violent overthrow.
Compromise, the very thing right-wing politics, married to Old Testament standards of religious purity, refuse to do.
Broden, like the other wannabe Che Guevara’s on the right, seems convinced that he has every legal right to overthrow a legally and constitutionally elected government if he doesn’t like it:
“If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary.”
I would invite Pastor Broden to point to the relevant article in the Constitution to justify that claim.
Broden seems – belatedly – to have realized he went too far, and has backed off a bit in his statements since the incident, but these incidents mark a disturbing trend in right-wing politics.
We can add military personnel to this list of politicians. There is Army Lt. Col. Terry Lakin who refuses to deploy overseas because he won’t accept President Obama as his legitimate commander in chief. And Lakin was not the first. Last year, an Army Reserve major first volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, then, according to MSNBC, “filed suit to keep from being deployed, arguing that Obama was not a natural-born citizen.”
Now we have Stealth bomber pilot Major Brian “Jethro” Neal, who, Bruce Wilson of Talk to Action reports, says
“I’m going to have to separate myself from the service of this nation if it’s required in order to propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not going to disregard my responsibilities. But if there ever comes a time when there is a priority to be made, a decision to be made, it must always rest in the work of the Lord and the Lord’s army. Because that commission is greater than the one I received from the United States Air Force Academy.”
Bruce Wilson reminds us that the oath sworn by Neal as a member of the U.S. armed forces, promises that he would,
“support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
As Wilson points out,
“Neal’s statement seemed imply that his “commission” in the “Lord’s army” superseded his commission, as an Air Force officer, to defend the Constitution and obey the President and the chain of command. As an elected official, Nevada Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle has sworn similar oaths, to defend the American Constitution and, by extension, American Democracy. Like Neal, Angle has made statements that suggest she is less than fully committed to Constitutional democracy.”
It seems that not only do Republican candidates show little awareness of the Constitution and what is in it, but they do not think it applies if it does not give them the results they want. President Bush treated our founding document like a list of suggestions he could ignore at will, and that seems to be the continuing trend on the right. But there are constitutional remedies to the Constitution. It is called democracy. Republicans ought to consider trying it. It has worked for this country for a couple of centuries. And those that don’t wish to play along? We have a remedy for them as well: it’s called federal prison.