When our last civil war was finally over, President Abraham Lincoln, in his most famous Gettysburg address, expressed the hope “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The nation did rise slowly from ashes and bloodshed to find new unity as a nation that relied on principles guaranteeing rule by the people.
In our current civil war, rule by the people is again threatened. When our founders created a system of government in which no ruler or branch of government had absolute power, their intent was to thwart despotic kings, or people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Putin, Xi Jin-ping and Maduro—rulers who care nothing for the people. They did not foresee that the branches (legislative, executive and judicial) would fight each other as they are now doing. Desires of the people are forgotten. We no longer think we have any say. We can only watch in dismay.
We are supposed to express our voice through elections. In 2016, we had one. Donald Trump, the man who came out on top, was obnoxious in speech, had a less than commendable sexual history and began shaking up the entrenched power structure of D. C. (which is what many of us wanted him to do). Rival powers learned that Russia had been meddling in our political affairs and suspected that the Trump campaign had conspired with them, which would make the election illegitimate. From the outset, judging Trump an unfit president, they promoted an investigation into a conspiracy with the hope of getting rid of him.
Special investigator Mueller finally concluded that Trump’s campaign had not colluded with Russia, but he left the charge of obstruction of justice for a Democratic Congress to decide — an opening to continue efforts toward impeachment. This may go on another two years.
I confided to a friend that I’m weighing the coarsening of discourse in our country, for which Trump is somewhat responsible, against the good he has managed to accomplish despite everything, freeing our economy to grow. President Trump continues to ignore pleas that he be “more presidential.”
For her, his behavior is too much. For me, I picture all those families gaining breadwinners enjoying the respect and stability of income a job confers. Also, if the GDP of our country increases (greater production, greater income), that will improve our debt picture. We need reduced expenditure as well to really deal with the problem.
Ah Congress, in charge of spending! If our president has been a problem, I think Congress has been more so, not only because its members arrange foolish spending in their districts to gain votes, but because they’re not doing their job. They’ve long avoided negotiating difficult issues that cry out for solution because the tough medicine needed is likely to be unpalatable to voters. As Congress lacks the courage to make us face reality, we all live in denial. Then we wonder why everything is such a mess: immigration, health care, gun control, environmental issues and the national debt.
As we watch politicians fight for power, many of us despair of ever changing our national government. What can we do? A group is pushing for Convention of States Action under Article V of the Constitution to limit congressional power. Term limits would help, as would trimming unwise spending. But beyond stopping abuse, we must prod them into action. It occurred to me I’d never tried one way to be heard, these pesky invitations to a “telephone town hall.”
Yesterday, Senator Cornyn offered one. I was pleasantly surprised — not stupid ranting but intelligent questions to which he gave reasoned answers. He and a Democratic senator drafted a proposal on immigration. When my turn came, I expressed frustration that the House refuses to even consider proposals. He admitted the focus is avoiding anything helpful to the other party: “We just keep trying.”
When Congressional leadership prevents issues even from being debated, that’s not democracy. Nor is it democracy when all three branches of government engage in an all-out fight. Think how much better this last two years could have been if they had worked together. This indeed is a perilous time for a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Let’s pray it will not perish from the earth.
Verna Benham is a Kerrville resident. She is a former employee of the U.S. Foreign Service whose career took her across the globe, including to Argentina, Taiwan and Chile.