If You Can Keep It

Benjamin Franklin

At the conclusion of the final session of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a woman approached Ben Franklin and asked, “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin’s response: “A republic — if you can keep it.”

Prescient words. Arguably more so today than at any time in the last 235 years, or at least since the Civil War.

Among the many alarming concerns that beset America today, I find the threat to our democracy and the fraying of our social bonds and long-standing consensus about our country’s role in the world most worrisome.

At the risk of losing friends on both the left and the right, here, in brief, is my analysis (which concludes with some thoughts about the potential for harm that may come if Rep. Kevin McCarthy* should become Speaker of the House).

As I follow the news every day, it’s clear that both of our two major political parties have dropped the ball. They both make me wonder how long we can keep our republic and the principles on which it rests.

The Republicans — both elected officials and a dismaying proportion of GOP voters — have become supporters of a con man who brazenly claims to have won an election to the nation’s highest office despite indisputable evidence that he lost. A man who incited a mob to assault the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the result of that election — an effort that, had it succeeded, would have likely turned our Constitution into a worthless scrap of parchment and transformed this nation into a banana republic.

The Democrats — again both many elected officials and a worrisome proportion of the party’s most-committed voters and activists — have fallen in thrall to a “progressive” (and often “woke”) agenda that is out of touch with the values and principles that the great middle** of the American electorate cherishes. Progressive Democrats have put in place policies that have helped make many of our great cities dangerous, dirty and decayed.

Too many Republicans look the other way in the face of Donald Trump’s assault on our democracy. Too many believe that liberal “elites” look down on them — and respond with anger.

And too many Democrats feel that “Middle America” is a land of yahoos and “deplorables” and do nothing to hide their disdain. Some also look the other way when it comes to violence by Antifa or unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud by one of their own candidates.

Such problems and attitudes threaten to shred America’s social fabric. If our country is to regain the bright future we always used to imagine for our children and grandchildren — and which attracted millions of immigrants like the flame atop the Statue of Liberty’s torch — we need to view ourselves not as Red or Blue partisans, but first of all as Americans.

I could have posted thoughts like these at pretty much any time over the past several years, but today I’m concerned about something new and terribly alarming.

A growing number of Republican politicians and news consumers (i.e., devotees of Tucker Carlson at Fox News) seem to be questioning American support for the people of Ukraine, who are daily being bombarded, murdered, kidnapped and made homeless and destitute by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In just the past few days, Rep. Kevin McCarthy has strongly suggested he’d like to cut U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s fight for freedom. If the GOP wins a majority in the November 8 elections to the House of Representatives, the Republican caucus will almost certainly elect McCarthy Speaker (next in line to the presidency after the vice president).

It is McCarthy’s threat against the beleaguered people of Ukraine that prompts me to write this today. Cutting off aid to a democratic nation under siege by a murderous invader would be no different than if we had abandoned Great Britain to the tender mercies of Adolf Hitler and failed to send them weapons when they stood alone against the Nazis during the Blitz in 1940. Back then, the U.S. was “the arsenal of democracy.”

If we are to retain our self-respect as Americans, we must remain the arsenal of democracy today. To do that, we must first keep McCarthy out of the Speaker’s chair. I hope readers will join me in voting for the Democratic candidate for our respective House districts in this election. I say this as an independent of a somewhat conservative viewpoint, particularly on foreign and defense policy issues, who often votes Republican. There are plenty of issues where I disagree with the Democrats (and plenty where I disagree with the GOP too — on abortion especially), but the McCarthy threat to Ukraine has me terribly upset. I hope readers will use their votes to help keep McCarthy a member of the House minority.


* Just after the Trump mob invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Rep. McCarthy said he would urge Trump to resign. It didn’t take long for him to change his mind. Today, he’s tied his political future to toeing Trump’s line, refusing to call out Trump’s continuing insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. Like Trump, he is a brazen opportunist who puts his own interests above the interests of the country.

** If, like me, you abhor today’s ever-widening political and social polarization and the increasing loss of faith in the values that have made our country a beacon of freedom and democracy, you might wish to learn about a group called NO LABELS, which is working to ensure that the great middle swath of American voters have a moderate to vote for in the 2024 presidential election instead of two polarizing candidates.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks puts it,

What happens if the 2024 election is between Donald Trump and somebody like Bernie Sanders? What happens if the Republicans nominate someone who is morally unacceptable to millions of Americans while the Democrats nominate someone who is ideologically unacceptable? Where do the millions of voters in the middle go? Does Trump end up winning as voters refuse to go that far left?

The group No Labels has been working quietly over the past 10 months to give Americans a third viable option. The group calls its work an insurance policy. If one of the parties nominates a candidate acceptable to the center of the electorate, then the presidential operation will shut down. But if both parties go to the extremes, then there will be a unity ticket appealing to both Democrats and Republicans to combat this period of polarized dysfunction.

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