For all his wit and wisdom, perhaps it was Benjamin Franklin’s famous admonishment that will be his most-enduring guidance for the United States. When asked what kind of government the framers of the Constitution had created, his laconic reply, “A republic, if you can keep it,” was prophetic.
What is a republic? It is a government that is driven by the will of the people, expressed through their elected representatives, and overseen by their elected president. It is the opposite of a monarchy or anarchy. It was a fresh attempt at democracy to refute the absolute and borderline tyrannical rule of King George, and to live in closer accord to the Mayflower Compact of 1620 that established a “single body politic...[with] just and equal laws...for the general good of the colony unto which we promise all due submission.” This was a gift for Americans from the very start.
Certainly our efforts at governing ourselves have been challenged by individuals and groups of individuals for all of our 233 years since the Constitution was created in 1789. With the exception of the Civil War that sought to divide the Union just “four score and seven years” after it was established, we have been able to preserve our domestic tranquility through self-imposed laws and our communal enforcement of those laws.
Of course our domestic tranquility is disturbed on a daily basis by crimes perpetrated by individuals and violent demonstrations involving hundreds if not thousands of individuals. Most recently, as we all know, we have been challenged by events surrounding the election of 2020.
This essay is not about the past, but rather, it looks forward to ensure that the United States continues to be a Republic—if we can keep it. The concept of a single body politic has been unraveling for decades. We didn’t just break, we have been eroding for many administrations, both Democrat and Republican.
Perhaps it began when Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in 2012. Maybe it was the “hanging chads” that sent George W. Bush to the White House instead of Albert Gore. Perhaps it was the NRA’s victory over common sense that allowed military weapons to be sold to the public under the guise of “a well-regulated militia.” Perhaps it was “Occupy Wall Street” and other economic-driven protests. Any group protest from the left and any group protest from the right that demands 100 percent acceptance of everyone else helps to unravel the single body politic.
There are two ways to lead a parade. You can stand up and shout “Follow me,” or you can see where the crowd is going and jump in front of it. It is clear through Congressional votes by elected representatives of the people that they are following the voices of their most strident supporters, whether left or right. Compromise has been lost to party loyalty. Thus we can conclude that the standard bearers of the left and the standard bearers of the right will continue to lead their followers where their followers want to go.
So it is up to the center to ensure that democracy will prevail over tribalism. Who is the center? It is the independent thinker, the independent voter—not necessarily registered as an Independent, but willing to think and vote independently. The American way of life is built at the ballot box. It is built at the precinct level by friends and neighbors who may vote for Town Meeting member, state representative, senator, and president on the same ballot. It is not just a right, it is a civic responsibility to vote for the future you want.
Four hundred years ago we rejected both monarchy and anarchy. And 233 years ago we enshrined “the vote” as the way to govern ourselves. The majority of votes on the left and the right are baked in. It will be up to the independent thinker, the independent voter, to shake off the prescriptions of their party and turn out to vote for the person who has the courage to vote for the best interest of the body politic so that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” will not be lost on our watch.