Tags: 2020 Elections | Barack Obama | Healthcare Reform | philadelphia | schiff | pelosi | electoral

Time to Give Thanks for Our Fundamental Principles

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Old City Hall and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Erix2005/Dreamstime)

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Wednesday, 27 November 2019 10:16 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, one of the first documents officially inaugurating American self-rule, began with a Declaration of Rights, much like the much more famous Declaration of Independence. The wording chosen by the Pennsylvanians was "That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

This is still what American government ought to be all about.

There is another striking provision of that 1776 document, it provides, "That a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles, and a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality are absolutely necessary to preserve the blessings of liberty, and keep a government free."

This exhortation is less familiar, and, in particular, this notion of adhering to "justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality" lumped altogether sounds strange to the modern American ear.

Yet, during this week in which we enjoy our traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, perhaps it makes sense to contemplate whether there is still some wisdom to be extracted from this Founding-era document, and whether there is a key lesson of interest in our exceptionally partisan times.

The "fundamental principles" to which we ought to have frequent recurrence have to do with the preservation of liberty, with the right of self-government, the preservation of the rule of law, and the restraint of arbitrary political power.

Those, like U.S. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who are promoting the impeachment and removal of President Donald Trump justify that pursuit on the grounds of preserving the fundamental notion that no person in our polity is above the law.

That is undeniably a first principle of American government.

Unfortunately, the charges brought against President Trump have failed to persuade most Republicans and Independents that Mr. Trump’s would-be impeachers are acting in good faith, and, instead, what Mr. Trump’s defenders understand is that the House’s Democratic majority is simply unwilling to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election, and the Electoral College and the constitutional scheme bringing it about.

Mr. Trump’s detractors often assert that his actions are for his personal benefit; that they are not in the best interests of the American people.

Yet, his defenders can point to a vibrant economy, low unemployment, a strengthened military, and outstanding judicial appointments, among other accomplishments — redounding to the benefit of all.

This is not to say that there are not fundamental disagreements which still remain about where we, as a nation, ought to be headed.

Democrats believe we must fundamentally reorder our priorities in order to meet the exigencies of what they understand to be a climate crisis. They also seek to expand the power of the federal government to redistribute resources in order to provide government-funded healthcare, educational opportunities to all — free of cost.

Republicans are, for the most part, unconvinced that the planet is in jeopardy from the use of fossil fuels, and that it is better to reduce the size of government, and to let competition and free enterprise allocate resources while using government simply to ensure that opportunity for economic advancement remains open and available to all.

Democratic rhetoric, and, in particular, their claim that President Trump somehow represents a fundamental danger to the republic is not exactly "moderate" or "temperate,".

Such rhetoric would have alarmed the founding-era Pennsylvanians.

President Trump might also be accused of intemperate outbursts, but when his very legitimacy has been unfairly and unreasonably attacked, a strong reaction cannot be unexpected.

The 2020 election offers us an opportunity, once again, to debate our first principles of governance. We must decide whether, as a nation, we want to return to the fundamental transformation toward Fabian socialism (underway in the Obama years) and to which most, if not all, of the Democrats’ candidates for president wish to return us, or whether our traditional constitutional scheme of separation of powers, federalism, and limited government is still desirable.

The impeachment hearings in the preceding two weeks have not revealed misconduct on the part of the president, but they have underscored that the first principles of American governance have been undermined by a self-important, self-promoting, and self-sustaining bureaucracy, and also by a political establishment, one fundamentally threatened by President Donald J. Trump.

It's time, though, to move on from this ill-conceived attempt to overturn the 2016 election, and to decide whether the continued operation of that bureaucracy and that political establishment is in the best interest of Americans.

We can give thanks that this is still the choice that can be made by the American people themselves.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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StephenBPresser
It's time to move on from an ill-conceived attempt to overturn the 2016 election, and to decide whether the continued operation of that bureaucracy and that political establishment is in the best interest of Americans.
philadelphia, schiff, pelosi, electoral
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2019-16-27
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 10:16 AM
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