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Guest op-ed: The Constitution is more than an out-of-power buzzword

By Justin Stapley - Special to the Daily Herald | Dec 1, 2021

Courtesy photo

Justin Stapley

It’s become a time-honored tradition in recent American history for the out-of-power concerns to begin talking about the U.S. Constitution, the checks and balances of our Republic and federalism. Often, resurgent forces rally to the idea of constitutional values and fight to take back control of the wheels of government, swearing to reaffirm the ideals of the American republic.

Such was the case when Donald Trump tweeted this in 2015:

“‘@PopularPosters: Our country needs a president that knows how to protect our constitution and a president that leads speaks the truth'”

And such was the case when Bernie Sanders tweeted this during Trump’s administration:

“Maybe I’m old fashioned. But I believe we should have a president who believes in the United States Constitution.”

And a cursory glance at social media today will uncover all the myriad ways that Republicans view the Biden administration as attacking the Constitution, accompanied with their own determinations to “restore norms.”

My point is not to say that any of these accusations of unconstitutional behavior are wrong (in fact, I think there are few presidents, if any, in the last hundred years who have fully respected the mores and values of the constitution). My point is that these values and mores only become the clarion call of one side of the aisle or the other when they are on the outside looking in.

The reality that exists beyond the partisan narratives is that the Constitution is not a malleable buzzword for whoever finds themselves out of power to throw around. The Constitution itself is built on clear political philosophy. It has definitive values and ideals. To those who pay attention to these values and ideals, it is often blatantly clear that many political leaders either do not care about or do not understand the principles the U.S. Constitution was built upon.

Time and time again, the same people who claim to hold up the Constitution as a guiding star betray their duplicity with their explicit vision. Too often, their policies, their rhetoric and sometimes even their foundational views are counter to the Constitutional mores they claim to revere. And, because the American people have become so ignorant of their form of government, they go along with the leaders who draw near to the Constitution with their lips but whose hearts are far from it.

There is a reason why the founders set up education as a pillar of our culture. Unlearned minds are not requisite for the support of a free country. While students today graduate high school having gone through higher levels of math and science than previous generations, the classes where they are instructed in history, civics, rhetoric, law and their government are falling far short of graduating responsible and knowledgeable citizens able to participate functionally in our republic. This generation of Americans is ripe for exploitation.

Americans must work to correct this tragic development. They must turn their minds to learning about and understanding the great nation we live in and its values. They must self-educate themselves. They must create and join institutions and organizations whose goals are a resurgence of understanding and knowledge of our system of government.

Knowledge is power, especially when there are so many voices in today’s world seeking to take advantage of the lack of it.

Justin Stapley is a student at Utah Valley University studying political theory and constitutionalism. He works part time as a research assistant at UVU’s Center for Constitutional Studies.

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