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Community Voices (Wack): Our country exists because of the Constitution. Will we choose to stand with it?

The time of choosing may soon be upon us. Not the next election, though that will play an important role. The choice I refer to is something much more profound, yet very simple, and every American, sooner or later, will have to make it.

Over the next months and years, we all must choose, in a very black-and-white manner, whether we stand with the Constitution of the United States of America, or something else.

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The something else could be any number of things: your political party of preference, a leader you admire, a news channel you think is the only source of truth, a media pundit you think has all the right answers. And then there’s the Constitution.

The United States only exists because of a shared commitment through centuries to protect and defend, not a particular president, not a particular geographic area, not a particular group of people, but a document.

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Originally a piece of paper, copied and distributed in case it was intercepted and destroyed, that describes a system of government never tried before, one that invests enormous power in the political judgments of common people, expressed through elections. Not all people, at first, but still a significant break from past tradition, subsequently improved and expanded.

That document established, by consensus, a system of government that aspires to allow for the expression and resolution of political disagreements by a system of checks and balances, so no person, party, or branch of government could become all powerful, and drag us backward to monarchy, autocracy, or dictatorship. Conflict is inherent in the system, and remains a central part of our history and politics. Managing the conflict requires rules, and processes to enforce the rules.

Those processes, and the rules they protect, are the most important elements of our democracy and guarantee our liberty, one of the key things that distinguish the U.S. from every other country in history.

With recent actions, the president of the United States is actively damaging the institutions that keep our democracy working. Three out of many, many examples, not necessarily the worst or most discussed, illustrate the problem.

For no apparent reason other than pure political theater, President Trump recently pardoned two convicted war criminals, and a third awaiting trial. These U.S. soldiers murdered civilians and desecrated corpses, were charged, prosecuted, and in the two cases tried, found guilty by a jury of their peers, based on the testimony of fellow American soldiers who witnessed their crimes. The process by which they were convicted is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a body of laws that holds the American military to the highest standards of behavior.

President Trump’s pardons not only undermine the authority of the UCMJ, but also weaken the authority of the chain of command, and explicitly signal that this president is willing to condone war crimes, no matter how heinous. All of that weakens our national security.

The second example is Attorney General William Barr’s attack on the FBI Inspector General report. By questioning the conclusions and professionalism of the report and the process that produced it, this attorney general, who is supposed to protect and enforce the Constitution as the people’s lawyer, shows clearly that he only serves the personal interests of the president. The administration can’t profess to support law enforcement, and in the same breath call members of the FBI, our national law enforcement agency, scum.

The last example is the president and his allies in Congress minimizing or denying the attacks on our country by Russia. Our defense and intelligence communities are unanimous in the assessment that Russian assets and interests have been actively and systematically attacking us since at least 2016, and yet we remain unprepared. Russian disinformation campaigns have been so successful, elected members of Congress parrot Russian propaganda straight from the Kremlin, and no one thinks twice about it.

All of these actions undermine and degrade key protections for our country and democratic institutions: our military, legal system, and intelligence agencies. Whose interests does that serve? We are already at war, and our enemies divide and weaken us, without firing a shot.

We used to have a lot of conservatives running around waving copies of the Constitution, shouting about how they need to take the government back. Those people are oddly silent now. How will they choose when the time comes? Or have they already chosen?

Robert Wack writes from Westminster, and can be reached at Robert.p.wack@gmail.com.

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