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Constitution Day is Our Most Important Forgotten Holiday

Published in Richmond Times-Dispatch

Constitution Day, which falls on September 17, is the national observance holiday that most Americans have never heard of. Yet this year, 2018, it may well be our most important holiday. For the Constitution is threatened more now than at any time since seven Southern states seceded from the Union and Civil War broke out on April 12, 1861.

To understand the present peril, it’s worth going back in time to appreciate how the Constitution was conceived as both the founding and governing instrument for the United States.

The War of Independence lasted five long years, from 1776 to 1781, with the impoverished Colonial army being mostly on the defensive. It was a miracle that this small and rather disorganized American militia could defeat Great Britain — then the most formidable military power in the world.

The second miracle in the formation of the United States was in the drafting of the Constitution six years after the final and decisive military victory over the British at Yorktown in 1781. By contemporary standards, it is inconceivable how delegates from 13 extraordinarily disparate states could muster the forbearance and magnanimity to agree on the terms of a new Constitution after only four months of deliberation.

But even as good as that Constitution was (and still is), it had to be ratified by the states to become the law of the land. And a number of states withheld support out of fear the Constitution did not go far enough to protect citizens and states from the inevitable overreach and corruption of federal government power.

The hold-outs included the large and most influential states of Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts. Patrick Henry, George Mason, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock were among those who played various key roles in influencing each of the three states to ratify the Constitution — on the condition of adding to the legal document 10 amendments called the Bill of Rights, which delineated citizens’ and states’ rights.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, and religion. The Second guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. The Fourth provides for people to be secure in their homes, property, and papers by prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizure by government.

The Fifth and Sixth provide for due process and expedient and fair trials. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments reserve all powers and rights to the states and the people that are not specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

The U.S. government established by the amended Constitution was the most dramatic departure from all prior governmental arrangements in human history.

Taken together with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution was the first political doctrine to contain a clear delineation of citizens’ rights and establish that these rights came from God and not the state. Thus, these rights were sovereign and unalienable. In short, the U.S. Constitution put the people in charge, requiring government to answer to and serve them, and not the other way around.

The genius of the Constitution was that it limited government abuse by creating checks and balances of power between three separate but equal branches of government — the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The Constitution also separated power between the federal and state governing authorities.

Frequent elections established by the Constitution provided yet another important mechanism to limit the extent and duration of government incompetence and corruption. This also meant that the most sacred responsibility of citizenship established by the Constitution was and is the right of the people to vote and decide who shall govern.

This combination of limiting governmental power and maximizing people’s rights makes the U.S. Constitution uniquely revolutionary in all of human history. Compared with European and Asian powers, the U.S. is a young country. But the fact that the United States is the longest-running constitutional democratic republic ever in which the people elect their own government and representatives is a true measure of success.

The unique and specific limits put on government by the Constitution are what empowered Americans to exercise their freedom and ingenuity to create and build — driving the United States from colonial poverty to world economic superpower in just 200 years. Another true measure of extraordinary success.

The Constitution makes it clear that everyone — whether in the public or private sector — is equal before the law. Additionally, every elected federal government officeholder, judicial appointee, and executive branch Cabinet secretary is required to pledge an oath before assuming office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

So it comes as an unprecedented shock to many Americans that a significant number of high-ranking U.S. government officials — most appointed during the Obama administration — betrayed their oaths of office and refused to accept the will of the people manifest in Donald Trump’s 304 Electoral College votes vs. Hillary Clinton’s 227 votes. A new civil war has begun, but it is very different from the one that began 157 years ago.

We know that the facts uncovered and recently reported by the inspector general of the Justice Department, testimonies and documents of subpoenaed government officials, and reams of government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits provide evidence that directors of both the CIA and the FBI, along with a number of high-ranking subordinates, as well as top officials in the Justice Department, made concerted efforts to clandestinely undermine candidate Donald Trump leading up to the November 2016 election.

The FBI and the Justice Department were politically weaponized and FISA courts were repeatedly deceived, in an unprecedented effort to undermine and discredit Trump and throw the election to Clinton.

When that didn’t happen, and Trump was elected, this same cabal continued undeterred in concerted actions to undermine the duly elected president — actions that were tantamount to a coup d’état.

The Constitution was designed and drafted in such a way as to make a coup d’état in the United States unthinkable and impossible. If voting is the sacred right and responsibility of citizenship, elections and vote counting are the only mechanism for establishing the legitimacy of government. Actions to pull off a coup are a betrayal of the Constitution and represent the highest crimes and misdemeanors.

One would assume that critics of the persona and style of Trump would by now be getting somewhat used to him. But the frenzy to destroy the president keeps escalating. Since that’s both irrational and abnormal — given Trump’s significant accomplishments in the first year and a half of his administration, which have greatly improved the economy and restored America’s respect on many fronts of the world stage — there is clearly more going on than disagreement with policy choices and dislike of personality.

In spite of the inscription “Equal Justice Under Law” carved in stone on the front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., no president in recent memory has taken this societal ideal very seriously. That is, until Donald Trump became president in 2017.

Without much fanfare, Trump signed Executive Order 13818 on December 21, 2017, authorizing the blocking or freezing of any property of persons involved in serious human rights abuse or corruption. Two months later on March 1, 2018, he signed Executive Order 13825, entitled “Amendments to the Manual for Courts-Martial,” which prepares the way for military tribunals for U.S. officials and civilians involved in high crimes.

President Trump’s specific strengthening of the law and his frequent invocations to hold corrupt government elites accountable, just as everyday citizens are held accountable before the same laws, explains why Trump is both hated and feared by the deep state.

Trump is vilified by the national media more than any prior president for the simple reason that he unrelentingly exposes the media’s dishonesty, double standards, and bias. Trump’s frequent calling out of media dishonesty and omission has resulted in his coining the descriptive term “fake news,” which is now universally accepted in many circles as a fair description.

Additional accomplishments for which Trump deserves recognition on Constitution Day include his success in appointing a large number of outstanding constitutionalist jurists to the high courts — perhaps his most important contribution to strengthening the Constitution. It also signals that Trump is deepening the bench for judicial tribunals to successfully try a good many people from high places who assumed they were above the law and that their actions would never see the light of day after Hillary Clinton won.

There is reason to take heart this Constitution Day. The frenzy against President Trump is a contrary indicator. The panic of the guilty gets louder and more animated as their cover gets blown and their day of legal reckoning gets closer. Constitution Day is an occasion to remember that equal justice under the law is the standard, that we the people are in charge, and that the federal government should answer to us — and not the other way around.

Also published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, as “Constitution Day, The Most Instructive Holiday of 2018

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.