Different words describe a sudden shift in public confidence – away from the federal government, toward foreboding, a fear that we are – to borrow from the late Robert Bork, “slouching toward Gomorrah.” Simply put, we are losing our way, and we know it.
Look around and you see the tide of cynicism rising, a proliferation of smallminded leaders, many unable to explain why they hold a view, preoccupied with power, self-admiring, focused on their station.
Weak on history, science, math, medicine, even jurisprudence, they can no sooner define the Norman Conquest or Magna Carta than say what the Federalist Papers or Treaty of Paris mean. Those in power barely know the Constitution, let alone its amendments – and why should they if truth does not matter?
But even this is not the point. What we are missing is a sense of things bigger than ourselves, the reason humility is due, knowledge that rights come from God not government, sovereignty is the People’s.
Missing is basic honor, and the recall of basic warnings from our Founders. If we drift from our moral pilings, this Republic will as soon as any government, crash on the rocks of despotism. Put differently, if we do not keep our leaders accountable, we will lose our individual rights – and the Republic.
Who said that? Why are such warnings relevant? They are relevant because we all know, we can feel in our bones, government is getting unaccountable, debt too high, regulations too many, arrogance too common, governance no longer consensual or bipartisan, let alone a matter of honor.
We see national “leaders” practicing soft autocracy, a desire to do as they please because they can, because they have power. They boast of using “a phone and pen” to remake America, do what they wish, and then – most recently – imagine those with whom they disagree are evil, “enemies.” That it not right.
Powerholders – justifying disdain for “the other” – seem inclined, if not content, to forget our sacred past and solemn future, living high on the hog, their first, second, and third defense – lies.
Now comes a national poll affirming what we know. Whether from arrogance, ideology, or moral relativism, trust in our leaders is plummeting. Power corrupts – and that power is growing.
Says the Pew poll: Only a third of the country has faith in the President or Congress, half think government can no longer solve problems, and three-quarters doubt the wisdom of their fellow citizens, a precursor of violence and despotism.
So, who warned us about this? Who told us what to look for, when and where we would find it, how unchecked power, willful ignorance, and lack of moral compass defeats a Republic? Who carefully set out the roadmap, identified habits to avoid, told us how to keep our compass, avoid corrupting despotism?
Who told us why humble and accountable leaders matter more quick victories, money, or glory?
Here are a few who warned us to stop, think, and avoid stepping off the trail, sliding into tyranny. George Washington, man of few words, wrote in his Farwell Address: “It is important…that…those entrusted … confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department any encroachment upon another” Why? “The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all in one, and thus create…despotism.”
In other words, watch out for those who wish to grow and consolidate federal power, disrespect separation of powers, constitutional balance, and limited government. Know your history – how despotism begins to grow, and how to stop it.
Nor was Washington alone. Ben Franklin, told us to beware of the time “when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.”
Our second president, John Adams, was more blunt: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people…It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Taking these warnings to heart, what ails us? Why are we uneasy, distrusting? Could it be we have allowed – for low political ends – federal government to “encroach, even on itself?
Are we getting “so corrupted as to need despotic government…incapable of any other?” Have we forgotten a house needs the foundation, and our “Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people?” Forgotten that without that foundation, we collapse?
Take others, who warned us – plainly. Wrote James Madison, we should fear the day when “Congress can employ money indefinitely.” Others echoed him. Then hear Abraham Lincoln.
Wrote Lincoln: “There is even now something of ill omen amongst us. I mean that increasing disregard for law which pervades the country – the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice. The disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours…it would be a violation of truth to deny it.”
And so, once again, we find ourselves here. Some seem happy to be cognitively dissonant, willfully ignorant of what they should know, quick to undermine the legitimacy of our Constitution and institutions, Supreme Court, law enforcement, military, and laws vital for the Republic’s survival.
Yes, we do need to trust our leaders and limited government again, but that will only happen when we get leaders worthy of trust, not before. In the meantime, credit to the late Robert Bork’s timeless turn of phrase – no fan of Mr. Biden – we are “slouching toward Gomorrah.” If we want to save the Republic, we have to believe it is worth saving, and get leaders who do.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.