OP-ED: An ominous prelude to the Fourth of July
This year’s celebration of the Fourth of July provides a particularly apt occasion for considering the health of our republic.
Opinions vary. One friend thinks that democracy as we used to know it in America is in extreme peril. Another believes that things are no worse now than they were in the '60s. (I assume he means the 1960s, not the 1860s.)
And a third maintains that America’s commitment to democracy endures and that the institutions originated by the Founders have succeeded in keeping our nation on track.
I hope he is correct, but, at best, it’s a close-run thing. Liberals and conservatives who are still committed to the values we celebrate on the Fourth of July should be concerned.
Some of this concern stems from the remarkable events of the past five years. Normal presidents don’t behave in ways that result in two impeachments in one term. Normal presidents don’t alienate our allies and cozy up to autocrats. Normal presidents don’t prefer the dubious declarations of one of our chief adversaries over the findings of our intelligence agencies. Normal presidents don’t refuse to perform a peaceful transfer of power when they lose an election. And then there’s Jan. 6.
For many Trump supporters, his “abnormality” is part of his appeal. Fair enough. But nearly two-thirds of Republicans still believe that Biden won the presidency only because of voter fraud. There is no evidence of this. But whether you’re from the left or the right, this fact cannot bode well for the health of the republic and the principles we celebrate on the Fourth of July.
We should be equally concerned about the fact that Trump’s false contention that he won the election is piping energy into efforts to implement state laws that make it both harder to vote and easier for state legislatures to overturn the outcomes of legitimate elections. In fact, the Republican leadership of my home state — Texas — has been at the forefront of this effort to quash voter participation and increase its control over elections.
Other concerning states’ rights efforts — that is, anti-federal government — are developing in Texas, as well. Gov. Greg Abbott has announced plans to build a border wall with tax money and private donations. He and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey sent a joint letter to the governors of 48 other states requesting them to send law enforcement staff and resources to protect the border. So far, Nebraska, Florida and Iowa have responded.
This is mostly political theater. But Texas HB 2622 isn’t. As one of a host of other bills expanding gun rights in Texas, it directs police and other state and local entities to refuse to enforce federal gun laws. Abbott signed HB 2622 on June 18. Eight other states have passed similar laws. In Missouri a police agency can be fined $50,000 for enforcing certain federal laws.
This is called “nullification,” the dubious legal theory that states retain the right to ignore any federal law that they believe violates the Constitution.
The most notorious test of this theory occurred in 1832, when South Carolina, led by President Andrew Jackson’s vice president, John C. Calhoun, declared the protective Tariff of 1828 unconstitutional and therefore null and void in that state. South Carolina was preparing to take up arms when the issue was defused through compromise.
But the courts have never looked kindly on nullification, favoring instead the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which says that federal law takes precedence over state law.
So, of course, HB 2622 is political theater, as well. If it’s challenged in court, it’s likely to lose. Still it is ominous and sobering when at least nine states pass legislation that rejects a long-standing constitutional principle essential to our national unity.
I suspect it’s no coincidence that the federal laws they choose to subvert have to do with firearms.
Here’s to the birth of our exceptional republic and its continued well-being! But let’s take notice that a significant portion of our nation’s citizenry is in a divisive, anti-democratic, anti-unionist mood reminiscent of the decades before the Civil War. Happy Fourth of July!
— John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.