How Not to Defend the American Constitution

How Not to Defend the American Constitution
November 14, 2020 – St. Paul, Minn. — A protester holds up a “Stop The Steal” sign outside the Minnesota Governor’s Residence. Photo by Chad Davis

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How to Defend the American Constitution

It’s easy to throw around ideas like the Republic, the Constitution, and Freedom. Politicians do it all the time. But it’s easy to talk. Our actions say a lot more about our values and beliefs. Many Republicans showed they would defend the American Constitution when it mattered. Brad Raffensperger, Mike Pence, and numerous election officials stood up to the pressure of Donald Trump to fulfill their oaths of office. Still, many others demonstrated they cared little about the Constitution or the Republic. Donald Trump deserves the characterization as an aspiring autocrat. However, the hearings have cast a light on so many Republicans who actively worked to undermine the American Republic.

Still, events like January 6th involve every American citizen in one way or another. Demagogues like Donald Trump can only threaten the Republic when people cheer them on. Indeed, many regular citizens went out of their way to harass and threaten election officials who stood by their convictions. Perhaps Donald Trump manipulated some through his rhetoric. But terms like manipulation take agency away from citizenship. Instead, we must accept many citizens acted on their own initiative to threaten the Constitution.

Autocrats never work alone. They develop real constituencies who help them tear down political institutions. Autocratic states rely on state-mobilized movements to legitimize their authority. Some support an autocrat out of pure self-interest. Others simply want acceptance in a larger group. But many genuinely agree with the aims of their leaders. Moreover, they value political outcomes more than a commitment to the political process. Indeed, many Americans genuinely want a strong leader to cast aside political institutions. This is what makes this historical moment so dangerous. It’s too easy to become complicit. Instead, we must ensure our actions reflect the ideals we claim to defend.

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