By guest writer Dale Schlundt
Debates, heated arguments and social tension defined the era. People were scared of what they had thought was going to be a thing of the past, too much power in the hands of just a limited few.
We had all witnessed inequality, power exerted
by people who seemed so far removed from us, perhaps distanced by both proximity and, ultimately, ideology. By the time we were finished, we had come to a consensus but it was one that left certain factions feeling dissatisfied.
This description could fit numerous contexts in American history, specifically the revolutionary era, illustrating the point that social and political tension is nothing unique or new.
Essentially, it gives us some solace during times of conflict, as the framers of the US constitution gave us tools to address these circumstances.
The founders were not remotely close to being a united body, yet they all had one thing in common – two fears. They feared mass movements by what they perceived as an uneducated public negatively influencing policy and thus they gave us the electoral college as one of the checks and balances they believed would keep our system in order.
Contrasting that, our nation’s founders feared that an excessively limited democratic structure within the new republic would turn into an authoritarian entity. That was perceived through their lens as being similar to Great Britain in relation to its colonies. So they framed a government structure that distributed power. Recently, that system has been put to use in regard to president Donald Trump’s executive order limiting travel and immigration from certain regions of the Middle East. It featured one independent branch of government interpreting the constitutional validity of another’s policies.
The study of history is based in seeking out change. An aspect of that focus, depending on the area of study, is to conclude whether we are progressing or regressing as a society.
The discussion of concentrated power was nothing new at the time of the Constitutional Convention. Conflicting ideas among the framers about the role of the judicial branch in the new republic has led us to interpreting the results. Consequently, today they alter society to a large degree.
Despite our governmental system’s shortcomings throughout history, we are indeed progressing. For instance, who would have thought the US supreme court would have cited the 14th amendment, a constitutional revision focused on African-American liberties from the latter part of the 19th century, to uphold gay rights in the 21st?
Still, executive orders are typically controversial simply because they can bypass one of those checks, the legislative branch. Let us remember president Abraham Lincoln’s criticized executive orders during the Civil War, orders that he utilized in an effort to silence his political critics in the press.
Executive orders are within the legal powers of the president and are, at times, both necessary and appropriate.
At other times, they are called into question. Thus, the judicial process picks up the slack, if you will.
Most observers argue that the current debate about travel and immigration has the potential to arrive at the supreme court. However, individuals on both sides of the issue should keep in mind the fact that this is part of the American experience. While political tensions rise, it is the debate that promotes growth.
Perhaps more significant is that these experiences are nothing new. Let us allow the framers’ system
to interpret our constitution and applicable legislation, while respecting our fellow Americans regardless of their political affiliation.
Dale Schlundt is an adjunct professor for Palo Alto community college in San Antonio and an occasional contributor to The Post.