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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Constitution Day, Corey Lewandowski, and Whistle Blowers: Do Checks and Balances Still Exist?

Not Senator Lewandowski

September 17 is the anniversary of the passage of the document that constitutes the very form of government under which We the People live today. Subsequent to its passage by the Constitutional Convention it was ratified by the states and it has been amended multiple times since. It is easy to overlook the fact that though we are a new political entity we are an ancient nation when it comes to being governed continuously by a constitution. England still does not have one as it is painfully dealing with now and other European countries have had multiple constitutions.

Despite all this, Constitution Day is not a national holiday. There have been some efforts to pay homage to it on this day but such attempts are few and fleeting. Obviously, it is a difficult time during the school year to teach the Constitution. The school year has just begun and it will be months before the class gets up to the 1787. As a result, the day generally passes unnoticed.

By chance, on September 17, I attended a board meeting of the social studies conference covering Westchester County where I live, Putnam County to the north, and Rockland County on the other side of the Hudson River. In the planning for the December conference, there were two civic presentations I want the Board to consider.

1. Mapping Early American Elections, 1788-1825 with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and a professor I know at a Lehman College in New York. I saw a presentation at the annual conference this summer of the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).

2. Voter Education, a fifth grade program offered by the Rockefeller Archive Center for the Tarrytown school district. I learned about the program at a planning session for the American Revolution 250th.

New York State also is getting into the civics promotion business with legislation passed by the Assembly and the Senate to create a Civic education fund. The fund is be jointly managed by the Commissioner of Education and the State Comptroller. Private contributions to the fund are welcomed. According to the bill not (yet) signed by Governor Cuomo:

Monies from the fund shall be expended only for community-based organizations, non-profits and other non-traditional organizations to implement civics education projects including, but not limited to, universities, museums, libraries, and cultural institutions. Such funds may also be expended for civic education projects including, but not limited to, mock trials, debate forums, voter registration activities, and projects that demonstrate an understanding of the connections between federal, state and local politics including issues that may impact the students’ community.

At this point, it is too early to tell how much funding there will be, how one obtains such funding, and whether it will really work or not. In any event, it demonstrates a commitment to civics.

BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE. Then that very same day there was Corey Lewandowski. It was altogether fitting and appropriate that on the anniversary of the passage of the Constitution, that Lewandowski would trash it. All the civic lessons taught in the schools pale in significance to the Constitutional lesson taught by Lewandowski live on national TV. Is there really anything a teacher can do to counter that display of how the Constitution fails to work in the real world?

Think back a few months ago, when checks and balances were all the rage. Remember how the 2018 elections were going to change Washington. Now the Democrats in the majority of the House of Representatives would be able to exercise oversight responsibility. The Democrats would be able to call people to testify. The Democrats would be able to subpoena people to testify when they refused to do. The Democrats would be able to turn to the Courts to enforce the subpoenas.

How has that worked out so far?

After nine months it is safe to say that the Democrats in the House of Representatives have no oversight function. There is no compliance. Even when someone does show up it quickly becomes a joke. For all practical purposes, regardless of the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution, the House of Representatives is a nothingburger. It is easy to see why Nancy Pelosi would be upset with Jerry Nadler. At this rate of investigation hell will freeze over before anything is accomplished. Certainly we will be well into the campaign cycle at which point such inquiries will be rendered moot.

As Corey Lewandowski stated with great enthusiasm and determination, he has no obligation to speak the truth to the American People. He has no obligation to speak the truth to the press. He has no obligation to speak the truth to Congress or under subpoena if the President says not to do so. He considers these affirmations to be a winning ticket for election to the Senate. He recognizes that his word will be worthless in the Senate should he be elected to it. He recognizes that no one n the Senate has to tell him the truth either. This makes life a lot easier for him. Lewandowski will have no campaign promises because who would believe him? Therefore he will break no campaign promises because he has none to keep. And he will never break his word to another Senator because no Senator would be stupid enough to trust him in the first place.

BUT WAIT. THERE IS MORE. Statutory law has no meaning either for the would-be President for Life. Tax returns are to be submitted only if the President wants to comply. Regardless of what the legislation says, the President has the option to determine if the request is for a valid reason and then, and only then, to turn over his taxes. And that applies even if there is a Democratic President.

BUT WAIT. THERE IS MORE. Same with state law. Just as the President is above the federal law, so too he is above the state law. It is right there in Article II. It was hidden so no one noticed for lo these 222 years. In fact, the President cannot even be investigated for a crime while in office yet alone indicted for one. And that applies even if there is a Democratic President.

BUT WAIT. THERE IS MORE. Same for funding. The President is obligated to spend monies in accordance with rules laid down by Congress. If Congress allocates funding for Program X, the President cannot spend them for Program Y…unless he wants to. Forget about Article I and the power of the purse being relegated to Congress. It’s up to the President to decide how money should be spent. And that applies even if there is a Democratic President.

BUT WAIT. NOW THERE IS REALLY MORE!!!!! Same with whistleblowing. It does not matter what the procedures are. It does not matter how clear cut they may be. Just as with the legislation involving tax returns or the subpoenas issued by the House, there is an unwritten rule that trumps everything. No law, no rule, no statue has to be obeyed unless the President chooses to follow it. And that applies even if there is a Democratic President.

I had always intended to write a blog on September 17 about the Constitution…but not this blog. As previously written, one of the reasons nothing sticks is because before you can digest the current scandal it is on to the next one. Remember Greenland? That was years ago. How about Alabama? Wasn’t that months ago? Remember Corey! It is easy to understand why Republicans forced to pose as Trumpicans are throwing in the towel and abandoning ship. Do they really want to defend a President using the power of the Presidency to seek dirt from a foreign country to create his own Steele Dossier? Do they really want to see a President pull the plug on defending Eastern Europe from Russia in the hopes of one day being able to build the Moscow Trump Tower…or is there some other reason he is doing what is doing?

Right now as I am writing this post there still is much that is unknown. In any event, if you are interested in teaching the Constitution, then current events provides all the necessary ingredients. What is the meaning of Article I? What is the meaning of Article II? What is impeachment? Is the President above the law? Is the systems of checks and balances still relevant? Is it true that if he murdered someone on Fifth Avenue that not only wouldn’t he not lose support, but that Rudy Giuliani would defend him? FAKE NEWS!!! That should be enough for at least one 45-minute civics class!

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