“An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” – C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man
Throughout our lives we are given opportunities to prove the stuff we’re made of. To prove that we are not, in fact, “men without chests,” to borrow from C.S. Lewis’ analogy of a person that lacks an ability or willingness to grasp absolutes. Yesterday‘s vote on a resolution to end President Donald Trump’s unconstitutional National Emergency declaration provided an opportunity for conservative senators to prove the stuff they were made of.
Unfortunately, the pull of political power has trumped the necessary – and increasingly uncommon – commitment to constitutional conservatism. President Trump’s decision to use the National Emergencies Act (1976) as the vehicle for building a wall on our southern border, thereby circumventing Congress’ ineptitude in handling immigration, is unconstitutional. This is not a denial that something must be done when it comes to border security. For too long Congress has punted this problem. But neither does the problem at the border negate Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
Up until yesterday, many thought Senator Thom Tillis felt this way, too. Paying lip service to constitutional integrity, Tillis eloquently penned the following in a February 25th Washington Post op-ed:
“It is my responsibility to be a steward of the Article I branch, to preserve the separation of powers and to curb the kind of executive overreach that Congress has allowed to fester for the better part of the past century.”
It is clear that populism is taking its toll on Senators Tillis, Sasse (R-NE), and Cruz (R-TX). Populist sentiment has continued to grow in our nation, driving a wedge between right leaning Americans. It pits those that hold tightly to the belief that our republican form of government demands systems that dilute the impact of a fickle direct democracy and those that merely look to each new election as an opportunity to impose their will on the minority. The Left has their own form of populism, too, but this article isn’t about them.
The fact that many Republican voters and politicians have sacrificed conservative principles on the altar of political expediency can be attributed, in part, to this growing populism that has paralyzed the will to safeguard the separation of powers.
If we’re honest, most of us can sympathize with the politically difficult situation Republicans like Tillis, Sasse, and Cruz found themselves in. As one pollster put it, “Voting against the declaration poses a risk of being seen as not taking border security seriously.” This is potentially what Sen. Sasse, known for historically being an independent thinker committed to constitutional conservatism, had in mind when he voted against the resolution. At the outset of his statement following yesterday’s vote, he said, “We have an obvious crisis at the border…”
This quandary can elicit our sympathy, but it shouldn’t garner our support. What good are principles and commitments to important ideals if we cast them aside when they are needed the most?
Essentially, what hills are worth dying on? Clearly we have Sen. Tillis’ answer to this question. Re-election, probably justified in his mind by the belief that he can accomplish great things once he gets past 2020, was worth the buckling.
Soldiers that have gone to war can tell you that their deployment was filled with choices, demanding they make quick, life and death judgment calls. For the infantryman on patrol, perhaps he was forced to choose between saving one lone Iraqi girl today or living to fight another day, in the chance that he might be able to save two Iraqi girls tomorrow.
The question he must ask himself is, “What is my duty to my fellow man right now?” He can’t live in the theoretical world of “what if,” forever punting his decision to stand on principle to some mystical land of maybes. To do so would allow him to excuse every opportunity for courage as merely an unfortunate and untimely occasion that simply wasn’t expedient in light of what tomorrow might bring.
Likewise, our elected officials ought to function with one foot firmly planted in the rich soil of Article I and the other in the reality of their obligation to the American people.
Our character is revealed by what we do in times of testing, not in platitudes eloquently espoused in Washington Post op-eds.