For years, I taught the foundations of American democracy that included our rich history of recognizing Constitutional restraints on one faction over another and the need to keep a vibrant yet relatively young democratic-republic alive and relevant. Under the current Trump Administration, we have witnessed first-hand a concerted effort to ignore the Constitutional powers conferred upon Congress and the Courts. Oversight is now considered to be irrelevant when a president and his supporting political faction deem it. Attempts to conduct oversight on previous administrations have always run into some hurtles, but ultimately the Rule of Law was adhered to as subpoenas were eventually complied with and understood to be valid mechanisms to enforce existing Constitutional Checks and Balances.
But what about today when a president asserts “Absolute Immunity” from answering any oversight, let alone otherwise legal demands in the form of subpoenas? How is it that centuries of Supreme Court rulings reinforcing the Constitutional boundaries of each branch’s authority are suddenly “subject to interpretation?”
Now that I am retired, I find myself wondering whether I would even be allowed to teach in today’s classroom. Why? Because I have to believe it has to be increasingly difficult to teach the Constitution without having impressionable students come back at me to tell me “their parents disagree” and “You must be a Socialist/Communist for attacking our beloved president.” How can one teach Marbury v. Madison establishing Judicial Review when the Trump Administration ignores the authority of the Courts (or at least the ones he disagrees)? How can the Judiciary be divided solely by identifying judges by whom they were appointed – “Well that makes sense, he’s an Obama judge” or “Liberals hate America so we have to get real America-loving Conservative judges on the Federal Bench!” Except as Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “There are no Obama Judges or Trump Judges, there are just judges who interpret the law.”
How could I teach and explain the process of Impeachment when the President, the GOP and their supporting hyper-partisan media constantly manipulate supporters with claims that simply defy logic, history and our very Constitution itself? Labeling impeachment a “coup” flies in the face of the Constitution that created the very remedy.
America is facing a very broad education problem, including a total collapse of teaching American History and Civics. Where I live, it is now a local school board rule that no material may be shown or distributed to students that does not first meet their exclusive approval. During my last year, approval meant “not allowing materials that may shed a negative light on the political beliefs (ie., Trump supporters).” Where I once taught, prayer in school is seemingly routine and okay. Promoting the high School’s Republican Club is wonderful and widely supported in the local community, but opposing it is not to be tolerated. Indoctrinating students with an appreciation of American history and the Constitution has rapidly been transformed into showing absolute respect to the president, as if we’re all meant to remain blindly loyal to the person occupying the Oval Office instead of the Constitution. As Theodore Roosevelt once wrote; “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president... is morally treasonable to the American public.”
And while critical thinking skills seemingly have been abandoned along with ethical thinking, we run a serious risk that our society will slide further and further into the abyss of ignorance. America deserves better. So although I miss the daily interaction with my former students, I cannot fathom trying to teach History and/or American Government in this day and age of everyone “knowing” more than the professor because they saw or read a meme on social media. America is in trouble. The only way to really save her is to teach why our nation is great – with all of its bumps and bruises along the way. Until then, I fear for the future of our Democratic-Republic. Being patriotic is not a left or right wing ideal – it’s something we as Americans should all aspire to. Have a great week!