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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

Keeping our republic requires civic engagement

PUBLISHED: May 5, 2024 |

The United States Constitution was ordained by “We the People” on Sept. 17, 1787.  Emerging from the signing at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, delegate and statesman Dr. Benjamin Franklin was accosted by intellectual socialite Elizabeth Willing. She inquired with animation, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin retorted, “A republic — if you can keep it.”

Keeping it is hard work. Narcissistic sociopaths gravitate to politics. With rare exceptions to be counted on one hand with fingers left over, politicians are preoccupied with acquiring and retaining power for the sake of power. It provides them with artificial self-esteem to fill philosophically empty souls. Henry Adams observed, “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”

The lust for power is insatiable. It never sleeps. Citizens must exercise eternal vigilance over their government servants to prevent the republic from degenerating into a de facto monarchy crowned with limitless power. James Madison, father of the Constitution, explained in Federalist 51:

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.”

We the People are saddled with a duty to police elected officials not only on polling day but on all days in between. Citizen inertia or indolence is irresponsible.

Under the First Amendment, we enjoy the right to petition government officials for a redress of grievances via mail, email, phone calls, text messages, in-person visits, marches, or demonstrations.  Do not underestimate your influence. I know.  I have served in congressional offices.  Members pay close attention to thoughtful and informed arguments and the actions of engaged constituents.  The landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s were more the handiwork of citizen boycotts and marching in the streets than trailblazing by Members of Congress.  The latter followed the lead of citizens, not vice versa.

Republican government requires politically informed citizens. You must follow what your representatives are doing or saying via newspapers, the internet, C-Span, the Congressional Record or otherwise. In the Digital Age, there is no excuse for citizen cluelessness of their representatives.

You should demand that they explain every vote in committee or on the floor of the House and Senate, and respond to any critique or questions you raise. They work for you, not the other way around.  You should demand town hall meetings to question your representatives in person, with no filters.

You should consider running for office yourself after mastering the Constitution and the office’s duties and prerogatives. At present, the quality of elected officials is appalling. We desperately need candidates without ulterior motives but committed to keeping the republic. You cannot escape politics even if that is your hope. Pericles admonished, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

If all candidates are objectionable, write in an alternative to show that you are politically engaged but are casting a vote of no confidence across the board. It will be a signal to would-be candidates to enter the arena to attract informed citizens.

You should organize teach-ins led by expert speakers on what government is doing right and wrong and what alternate courses of action are available. As Mr. Madison advised, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

But where are we today?  An editorial in the Wall Street Journal titled “James Madison Weeps” (Sept. 19, 2017) recounted the epidemic of First Amendment illiteracy among college students. Among American adults, only a small fraction can identify the three branches of the United States Government. To be honest, at present, speaking to citizens about the Constitution is like reading Shakespeare to cows.

“The government you elect is the government you deserve,” Thomas Jefferson maintained. When it comes to keeping the republic, the buck stops with us. And we are failing. The republic is on life support.

Armstrong Williams (; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”

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Earl Gamble
Earl Gamble
3 days ago

The watchman on the wall.

I am a veteran of Vietnam. When I came home in 1969 I was called a baby killer. I saw children being burn with napon and they was nothing can be done about it, I see children and babies being killed and we as Americans are doing the killing with booms that is killing these children and babies. As this is happening I wonder why white man heart is so hard and evil. Babies are innocent of any crimes so why are we a part of it .Hamas was wrong and so is Israel and so is any country that support the war that killing children and babies. After what I saw in Vietnam I…

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