By Mark C. Poloncarz
Today, Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News wrote a column addressing President Trump’s rejection of the opinion of the US intelligence community, including National Intelligence Director Dan Coats (a former conservative Republican Senator), regarding whether Russia interfered in our election and his taking of the word of Vladimir Putin instead. Zremski noted in his column and on his Facebook page, “It’s time to be a patriot, and that means more than supporting the troops and standing for the national anthem. It means that every one of us must focus on what’s happening in Washington, distasteful though it may be, and act as our consciences direct us in response.” It is an excellent column all should read, and you can do so here.
Zremski’s post called on all of us to start doing what our Founding Fathers expected we would do: be an informed and active citizenry. He then noted as examples of our Founding Fathers’ expectations quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams (now more famously known for the beer that carries his name) noting what true patriots must do: act in times of crises to protect our democracy.
There is no doubt our Forefathers expected more from the citizenry than what we generally see today, including being informed on the issues affecting our nation, listening to and considering multiple viewpoints and willing to take action to ensure the viability of the Republic. Zremski’s column though got me thinking about another Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, and one of his most famous quotes.
Today’s events are, in a nutshell, what Franklin meant when he responded to the question what form of government has been created at the Constitutional Convention: “A republic, if you can keep it.” In other words, if an informed citizenry acts to protect the institutions of democracy it shall succeed, if not it shall fail.
I believe we are at one of these “if you can keep it” moments. Our nation is predicated on the notion the people will act to protect the institutions of our nation (the rule of law, the separation of powers, the ideal symbolized by the quote “e pluribus unum”) in order to protect the nation. If institutions are no longer trusted, and the personality of one becomes stronger in the eyes of the people than the concept of the constitutional democratic as a whole, our republic will fail.
That is the moment we are in: a time when we must stand up, regardless of political party, to demand that all the facts of the Russian interference in our 2016 elections be revealed and determine if any Americans were complicit in that interference; to stand up to a president who took the word of an autocratic former KGB officer over our own intelligence community and state our love of country is greater than our love for any one president; and to confirm that the principles of our democracy are worth defending, even if that means rejecting a president who is wildly popular with members of his own party.
During my lifetime our nation has seen some of its best days and one of its worst. Following that worst day, September 11, 2001, our nation rallied together because we were attacked by a foreign enemy. No one was a partisan democrat or republican, was not called a “libtard” or a “deplorable,” but just an American in the days and months following 9-11. However, in 2016 one of our nation’s most sacred institutions, the election of our president, was attacked by a foreign enemy and our president and a significant part of our population just shrug it off. If we as a nation do not stand up to protect this most sacred right – the right to ensure a free and fair election – how can we expect the institution of our democracy to survive.
This is our “A republic, if you can keep it” moment. It’s up to all of us, not as partisan democrats or republicans, but as Americans to ensure the Mueller investigation continues until such time as all questions about Russian interference are answered and then hold those accountable for their actions, regardless of what office they hold or power they have. A country founded under the principle that we the people are greater than any one person can only survive when the people enforce the laws against those that broke it, whether it be one or many. It is that important.
Mark C. Poloncarz is the County Executive of Erie County, New York