Three massive hammer blows were delivered to the right in the last 48 hours by the US Supreme Court and in reading some conservative reaction to the decisions, you could be forgiven for believing the American experiment was on its last legs. Mike Huckabee says he will not “acquiesce” to the law, while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says that no matter what SCOTUS says, the definition of marriage will never change. George Will says that John Roberts helped “overthrow” the Constitution.
Upholding subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, granting a nationwide right for gay marriage, and ruling that housing policies that have a disparate impact on race are unconstitutional — even if no discrimination is intended — is a triple whammy for conservatives and the rule of law. How can there be limits on government power when the final arbiter of limits doesn’t see any? The decisions seem surreal.
The Supreme Court decisions play out against a backdrop that includes the contretemps over the Confederate flag and the assault on America’s heritage. It seems that all the furies in the world have descended to bedevil the right heading into the 2016 presidential election.
I am not arguing against the validity of most of the points made by conservatives about any of these controversies. But what if the court decisions and flag controversy had come down over a three month period instead of 48 hours? Would the sense of doom and gloom be as pronounced on the right as it is today?
Perhaps it’s time to recall the words of Thomas Paine in his essay “The Crisis,” published December 23, 1776 following a series of unmitigated disasters that befell the Continental Army.
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
We’ve all read those words a million times, usually in a context where it is believed all hope is lost and that we should bow to the inevitable. Paine would have none of it, and chastised some of his fellow countrymen for prematurely throwing in the towel.
But perhaps Paine himself would have despaired if those setbacks experienced by the Continentals would have happened in a few days rather than over 6 months. Conservatives are literally reeling from an avalanche of bad news, compounded by hysteria and blame tossing over the killings in Charleston. Is it any wonder that many on the right have declared the American experiment to be nearly a failure?
Even the low point of the Revolutionary War turned into a reason for optimism. We all know the story of Valley Forge, the worst winter of the war, where thousands perished of the cold, disease and hunger. But in the midst of the suffering, there arrived a somewhat comical Prussian officer named Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who presented himself as a general but really held the rank equal to captain in the Prussian army.
Von Steuben set about training the American army in the European tradition — a deficiency that had prevented the Continental army from engaging in a stand up fight with the redcoats. In this, he was successful beyond anyone’s dreams — including Washington’s. The regulation drill instilled a sense of pride and professionalism in the notoriously individualistic American soldier and was evident at the next big engagement of the war, the Battle of Monmouth. After initial setbacks, the Americans rallied and nearly won the day.
Conservatives certainly don’t need a pep talk from anyone. But recognizing the situation and dealing with the consequences rationally is far better than giving into despair. To believe that constitutional government is lost or the rule of law overthrown isn’t logical. Our Constitution has withstood a lot more than anything that John Roberts and Barack Obama can throw at it. It may be a little tattered and frayed around the edges. It may be disrespected and ignored in some cases. But the structures that the Founders built and that have stood the test of 227 years are still sound and ready to be redeemed.
We wouldn’t be an exceptional country if we weren’t capable of reinventing ourselves as often as we have in the past. The present will become past soon enough and a reordering of history is not out of the question. It may not mean that Obamacare will go away or gay marriage declared illegal again. That is highly unlikely. But it may be more realistic to believe that we can return to the path laid out by our Founders in the Constitution that the Supreme Court has so cavalierly wandered away from.