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Ralph Peters: Blind loyalty is un-American

Ralph Peters

Ensnared by party politics, we are forgetting our country.  Instead of devoting our loyalties to the Constitution—that sturdy enabler of human aspirations—Republicans and Democrats alike close their eyes to lawlessness, excusing even outright criminality if one of their party’s leaders stands accused.

Buoyed by a strong economy, Democrats brushed off President Clinton’s degradation of the presidency.  Republicans ignored the waste and fraud that ravaged the foreign endeavors of the second President Bush.  Democrats cheered the imperious use of executive orders by President Obama and resolutely shut their eyes to Hillary Clinton’s murderous duplicity (have we all forgotten Benghazi?)

Now Republicans, who long claimed to be the Constitution’s defenders and champions of national security, shrug off Russian penetration of our political system and justify the reckless use (following Obama’s precedent) of executive orders by their president—whose behavior would excite outrage if the fingers on the keypad  belonged to a Democrat.

And a flatulent Congress cringes and points at the other guy.

Both parties have failed us. We have not had a serious, competent president since George H. W. Bush left office.  That’s a quarter-century of mediocrity, intermittent malfeasance, diminished security, destructive pandering to interest groups and resultant social calamity.

It’s fine to take strong positions and to rally to politicians who promise to pursue the legislation and policies we think best. But it’s fatal to place any single man or woman above the Constitution.

Yet, we have survived. The instruments of government bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers have proven so robust and well-considered, so far-sighted and attuned to human foibles, that our system has outlasted countless charlatans, demagogues, ideologues, thieves-in-office, pestiferous lobbyists and the legions of other Washington parasites who—unlike the hardworking bureaucrats they condemn—feed off our government while contributing nothing.

The men who met in Philadelphia in 1776 got it amazingly right.  Now, almost two-and-a-half centuries later, we seem determined to get it wrong.

The core of our national being is the Constitution and the rule of law.  As a child of the 1960s, it took me a little time to appreciate the transcendent beauty of the law, a beauty so profound it can survive acid-hurling lawyers.  We take it for granted that our property cannot be seized by a better-connected neighbor; that our persons cannot be violated with impunity; and that should worse come to worst we’re entitled to our day in court, to be judged by a transparently selected jury of our peers.  No man is above—or below—the law.

We do not grasp how revolutionary these fundamentals are in the bloody, unjust pageant of humankind’s history.

Now the laws that protect us from barbarity are being undermined by party politics, left and right.  The Obama administration embraced lawlessness when convenient (and subterfuge as a means of governance).  Now the Trump administration replicates the Nixon administration’s effort to evade potentially embarrassing revelations and possible legal consequences.  (President Trump’s euphoric grip-and-grin with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador immediately after firing the FBI director should have troubled even his staunchest defenders.)

The difference today is that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have turned their backs on our country in favor of shabby party politics in which a brief tactical advantage is more important than the long-term strategic well-being of our nation.

It’s fine to take strong positions and to rally to politicians who promise to pursue the legislation and policies we think best. But it’s fatal to place any single man or woman above the Constitution.

Democrats, for their part, need to stop brushing off the duplicity and criminality of Hillary Clinton. She’s gone and good riddance.  But Republicans, with their penchant for parading their patriotism, damned well ought to be leading the effort to uncover the full extent of Russian involvement in our last election and Vladimir Putin’s influence today. To do otherwise is not only hypocritical, but complicit.

Presidents are not idols to be worshipped. We should praise them when they do well and criticize them when they err. To reflexively defend egregious behaviors and abuses of power because the transgressor is “our guy” is un-American: Refusing to think for ourselves and act with integrity ignores our essential right and duty as citizens.

The safest, wisest course that we, the People, can follow in these shabby times is to adhere to the oath taken by our military officers—who pledge loyalty not to an individual, office or party, but to the Constitution of the United States. If in toxic Washington today we cannot fulfill Lincoln’s vision of “malice toward none,” we still must demand “justice for all.” And that justice must be rigorous.

Even when it pursues those for whom we voted. Even when it calls to account those who embody our hopes and give voice to our dreams. Even when it applies to a president.

Fox News Strategic Analyst Ralph Peters is a retired U.S. Army officer and former enlisted man. He is the author of prize-winning fiction and non-fiction books on the Civil War and the military. His latest is "The Damned of Petersburg: A Novel" (Forge Books, June 28, 2016).