If we abandon beliefs, we lose war on terrorism.
As a high school government teacher for the past 15 years, I have found that one of the most difficult concepts for a student to understand is how and why attorneys represent clients accused of horrible crimes. The explanation I offer to students is the concept that the lawyer represents the system and citizens must not fall prey to knee-jerk reactions based upon emotion. The institutions and processes of the U.S. Constitution temper the behavior of man even on their worst day.
After the attack of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last weekend, our emotions ran high. We demanded immediate answers and desperately searched for the reasons why the killer made the choices he did. Literally, the bodies in Orlando had not been identified when Americans took their respective sides.
My friends on the left laid the banner of blame on the lack of strict gun laws, while my colleagues on the right took immediate issue with the gun control explanation. They found their villain in the form of what certainly has been an underwhelming response to Islamic State by the Obama administration.
Orlando brought with it intensified emotions, the possibility of mankind making decisions on his worst day and Americans siding with different factions in the debate.
The U.S. Senate voted Monday on legislation that would have tightened the rules on the purchase of so-called assault weapons. Whether the law is one that would be “good” or “bad” does not matter. It is the process that led to consideration of the law that should lead to concern. The reaction to the attacks was emotional and came from a populist and grass-roots point of view.
What does a populist reaction look like? Basically, it simplifies difficult and complex problems, identifies a source of those problems and then provides an unsophisticated response. Yes, everyone wants to avoid the next Pulse nightclub. But, what are the costs to the process? Our way of life? What are the trade-offs?
Alexander Hamilton warned us that at times of “heat and violence” people will “gratify momentary passions, by letting into the government, principles and precedents which afterward prove fatal to themselves,” and that no man would ever be “able to predict when he may be the innocent victim of a prevailing faction.” In other words, the lifeblood of a faction is passion. That passion often originates in populist responses.
Unwittingly, what the Orlando terrorist created were factions. Despite the fact that he was born in the United States, the killer created factions over the immigration debate. He created factions based upon religion and ethnicity. And, he created factions over the issue of gun control that immediately made their way on to the floor of Congress.
By reactively responding to the attacks through the rhetoric of populism and in a way to “find blame” while reactively examining policies that concern guns, restricting immigration or the investigation of mosques, we are feeding the things that divide us.
Ultimately, that same populist rhetoric and factions it creates has the ability to undermine our liberty. In asking the government to find an immediate answer, we essentially break the bonds that limit the power of the government. In essence, we change the meaning of the Constitution.
When we abandon our beliefs to assuage our emotional pain, we have lost the war on terrorism.
When Robert Kennedy informed an Indianapolis crowd of the slaying of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he counseled that what the United States needed was “wisdom.”
As we respond to and debate Orlando – or the next attack or the attack after that – let us remember RFK’s call for wisdom and not pursue emotional and populist reactions.
If we react in such a way, we are violating the beliefs of our founders in maintaining a limited government. We cannot let Orlando divide us.
As Americans, we must work together to solve problems and remember that we are, in fact, one nation.Tags: constitution Fear government dependence populist Terrorism wisdom