As I write, on January 6, 2022, I’m reminded that sometimes government doesn’t go right.
Too often, it has been because of oppression — governments only caring about some of the people and riding roughshod over the rest. They paper over the tyranny with the appearance of legality, deepening the oppression by requiring mental and spiritual enslavement to the this caricature as if it were legitimate.
But even well-conceived nations can err. Constitutionalists know that even the best systems of law will miscarry. Juries get it wrong, sometimes wrongly convicting innocent people, sometimes failing to convict real criminals. Rules of evidence, necessary to preserve our freedom, can and do sometimes make it impossible to convict criminals. Basic rights, such as the Fifth Amendment right not to be put in double jeopardy, will sometimes allow a criminal a free pass for the rest of his life. A good system of laws and a great constitution does not translate necessarily into continuous and perfect justice in the society.
We are devoted to the Constitution above all.
This is true not only when the law system is human and conventional, but even when the laws are divine. In the end, it is fallible human beings who execute and adjudicate even divine law, making errors inevitable.
Here’s an example. Around 1,900 years ago, one of the greatest legal minds of the age, Rabbi Yehoshua, disagreed with the head of the supreme court of Jewish law of the day, Rabban Gamaliel the Younger. His disagreement was reasonable, not capricious. He also was known as a kind and humble person, not one to translate personality clashes into legal disputes. There was no doubt that he was making a principled objection.
The dispute was over the calendar. The beginning of each month depended on witnesses testifying to having observed the new moon, and the laws surrounding the procedure are complex. Rabbi Yehoshua believed the decision of the court to have been in error, and he made a stand to have the date corrected.
Rabban Gamaliel, not always a smooth politician, put his foot down. He demanded that Rabbi Yehoshua appear before him on the day that Rabbi Yehoshua calculated would be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, dressed in his weekday clothes and carrying things that are forbidden to carry on the holiday.
Deeply distressed, Rabbi Yehoshua turned to his outstanding student, Rabbi Akiva, who had risen to the highest level of respect for his scholarship and saintly devotion. Rabbi Akiva advised him to comply with the head of the court. He told him it was more than the correctness of the individual decision that was at stake — it was the constitutional authority of all the courts stretching back to Moses.
Rabbi Yehoshua listened to his student and did as Rabban Gamaliel had asked. Rabban Gamaliel embraced him and called him both his teacher, for his selfless devotion to G-d’s law, and his student, for having accepted his ruling.
Today, having witnessed four years of anti-constitutional hijinks aimed at overthrowing a duly elected president by concocting a false story of Russian collusion to steal the 2016 election, having seen the de facto denial of freedom of the press and freedom of speech to Trump in the 2020 campaign, having observed the suppression of relevant and credible evidence of deep corruption in the Biden family reaching all the way to the top — I did not find it a stretch to believe that those same people would go one step further and not hold back from election fraud. Many claims to that effect came from the president and his friends after Election Day 2020 was over.
But as plausible and as likely as this seemed, this was in the end a question of law, demanding not only plausibility but solid proof, robust enough to withstand the most withering cross-examination and still persuade jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.
To this day, that has not come. Yes, those already inclined to that belief believe it. But the laws of the nation and its constitution require something vastly more persuasive to turn the great wheel of justice.
We are devoted to the Constitution above all. In coming together as a nation and in establishing a government in our name, we the people pledged ourselves to the constitutional covenant. We must accept the results of how the law works unless we would deny its authority over anyone who doesn’t care for any result.
We dedicate ourselves instead to the long struggle, to win hearts and minds, to educate, to inspire, to take the everyday steps that change a culture and change the political atmosphere, person by person, painstakingly.
That is what government by consent of the governed requires. It cannot mean that we will always have the power, for the person with a different view is just as much a citizen. But it does mean that our government will never fall into tyranny through a despot taking advantage of internal fragmentation to grab the power all to his gang.
The great despotisms of today, China and Russia, have gained tremendously at our expense. As we have turned from devotion to the Constitution that binds us all together towards making the destruction of our political enemies our main business, we make more and more plausible the tyrants’ argument that after all, we are just like them, and our freedoms are a mere propagandist’s illusion to keep the people docile.
The selfish foolishness of January 6 was never an insurrection in any sober sense. The way that term has been used in the last year has been cynical and odious. (READ MORE: Why So Many Conservatives Blow Off the Left’s January 6 Rhetoric as Kamalarkey)
But the January 6 riot was a surrender to a nihilistic despair that our Constitution could not work after all after it had been trashed without any seeming consequence for the previous four years. Our side blinked, accepting the premise that the Constitution did not really transcend our differences. We had accepted premise of those we had opposed on principle, the premise that we really are two irreconcilable sides rather than one nation.
We hurt ourselves with that. It was unforced. And we are paying for it.
But we can and do learn. We talk it through, figure it out, and rededicate ourselves to the Constitution and the people who ratify it. We conserve and protect that which is most precious and valuable from the past — a working unity that can bring keep us together as we work through and correct mistakes in our quest for a more perfect union.
We have winning principles, so strong that they can survive defeat and return to take the day. That is what we must put to the test of the voters this very year.
The lies of the provocateurs who hold power have lost their thin charm. Let us offer something of enduring worth, not some cheap copy of the worthless. With faith in our Constitution and in our own ability to rededicate ourselves and restore ourselves in the light of the One who asks us to manage our own affairs justly and well, we can lead our country out of this darkness once again.