In little chunks and bigger, the foundations of our democratic republic are being destroyed. Here in Laramie, the latest evidence comes in the form of one citizen refusing to serve as a juror. She told the judge she was too busy to be a genuine citizen of the republic.
The incident highlights the evolving breakdown of norms. It brings to mind the woeful last verse in the biblical book of the Judges. “In those days, there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
At one time, Americans revered the Constitution. As children, we learned jury service was an unwelcomed obligation of citizenship. The Founders thought it of such fundamental import that they included the right to a trial by jury in the Bill of Rights. There it is. The Seventh Amendment.
At the time it was adopted, Alexander Hamilton observed that if the drafters agreed on nothing else, they concurred in the value of “trial by jury or,” he said, “if there is any difference between them it consists of this: the former regard it as a valuable safeguard to liberty, the latter represent it as the very Palladium of free government.”
The word “Palladium” refers to a statue of Pallas, one of the Titans in Greek mythology, whose preservation was believed to ensure the safety of Troy. The American experiment in self government depended not on a statue, but on a piece of paper and apparently too much on the desire of the American people to be free.
It appears we should have relied on a statue instead, as did the Trojans.
The Laramie woman refusing to serve as a juror exposes one more “chink in the armor,” an idiom referring to a weakness rendering an otherwise good plan vulnerable. Don’t be too harsh with her. If the president and Wyoming’s congressional delegation, among others, can ignore their responsibilities, why not her? Certainly, there are the bigger chinks in the republic’s armor.
The Founders were brilliant. Visionary. However, they were unable to imagine the promises of a democratic republic would be broken by people so partisan, so selfish, that they would ignore their oaths and put it all at risk to serve their own narrow ends.
It’s not that they didn’t anticipate fractionalization. They did. They knew it posed an existential threat to the nation. They believed they had inoculated the nation against such a disease with an intricate system of checks and balances.
They saw the distinct possibility that a president could be corrupt, immoral and unfit for the highest executive office. The Founders made it clear that no one was above the law. If necessary, Congress could check presidential misdeeds through oversight and impeachment.
It would not have shocked them if an unpopular president took the nation to war to promote himself, and so they decided that declaring war was Congress’s exclusive prerogative.
They also predicted that one party would attempt to gain advantage over others by gerrymandering and by voter suppression laws. Thus was created a federal judiciary with the power to check those kinds of abuses.
To avoid partisan political pressures on courts, they provided the executive with the power to appoint judges to lifetime tenure on the federal bench, believing that when the executive attempted to appoint unqualified zealots, the legislative branch would do its duty through the confirmation process, and when warranted, the impeachment powers.
They figured, naively, that American self-interest would drive people to elect the best-qualified people to preserve the republic.
Checks and balances. They teach it in junior high school. Teachers taught that without checks and balances, our government would come crashing down. It was beyond the imagination of people like Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton that blinding partisanship would one day “trump” every check and balance necessary to preserve freedom. Politicians like Mike Enzi, John Barrasso and Liz Cheney prove the Founders were shortsighted.
Enjoy this Fourth of July. There may not be many of them left.
Rodger McDaniel lives in Laramie and is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Email: email@example.com.