History teaches us that the true guardians of democracy are not state supreme courts or rogue lawmakers, but the people themselves.
In a landscape where the law and politics intertwine, Colorado and Maine’s decision to bar former President Donald Trump from their primary ballots resonates deeply within the heart of American democracy. This isn’t a mere legal maneuver; it’s a high-stakes dance on the tightrope of American electoral politics, balancing constitutional law and political strategy.
At the heart of these decisions lies the rarely invoked insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment, a relic from the Civil War that now gains newfound significance. Essentially, it prohibits individuals who have actively worked against the Constitution through insurrection from holding any government position.
Ultimately, this issue forces us to ponder how, as a nation, we determine who ascends to the highest echelons of leadership and who does not. It’s a question that doesn’t merely seek an answer; it demands profound introspection and contemplation about the very essence of our self-government.
Much of this boils down to one crucial point: Republican voters and influencers refrained from decisively repudiating Trump after the turbulent events of Jan. 6. As a result, certain Republicans, and an even larger number of Democrats, have resorted to legal measures as a final recourse to address what they see as a failure by the electorate to uphold democratic norms.
History helps us grasp our current situation, back to a time when another great republic grappled with the looming threat of tyranny. The Roman Republic’s struggle, particularly during the era of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, offers a valuable parallel.
After seizing power violently in 83 B.C., Sulla attempted to implement a series of political reforms to prevent others from replicating his actions. He enshrined in law what is often referred to as the “course of offices.” This was a predetermined sequence of offices that Roman politicians would hold before attaining the coveted position of one of the two consulships for a given year. Sulla envisioned a structured system of office-holding, with defined intervals between offices and a rotation among commanders.
Regrettably for Sulla and those who supported republican ideals, there was insufficient political resolve to uphold these laws.
Pompey, Sulla’s most significant officer, openly defied the new regulations, bypassing several intermediate steps to reach the consulship. Subsequently, Caesar and Crassus obtained “extended” commands, which eventually allowed them to replicate Sulla’s power grab. In due course, the Roman Republic succumbed, giving way to the emergence of the Roman Empire, centralized under a single dictator.
Sulla’s laws proved ineffective in preventing this transition. Neither the judges nor the senators fulfilled their duties; instead, they preferred to delegate their responsibilities to military commanders in the hope of salvation. However, the ultimate source of Roman tyranny lay with voters who placed their trust in demagogues. Voters were too reluctant to say “no.”
Repeatedly history offers this lesson: Laws and traditions require more than mere existence; they demand unwavering commitment from both the public and leaders. Regardless of their strength, legal and constitutional frameworks cannot enforce themselves.
The Collective Will of the Citizenry
Today, as we confront our own challenges, the lessons from Rome reverberate with striking relevance. American self-government cannot be single-handedly safeguarded by individuals like Robert Mueller or Jack Smith or Maine’s secretary of state, or even institutions like the Supreme Court. Our republic, much like Rome, depends on the collective will and actions of our citizenry.
When confronting any politician who challenges democratic values or entertains authoritarian rhetoric, it is crucial to recognize that our salvation cannot hinge solely on court rulings. If there is no corresponding political will to uphold them, such rulings hold no more value than the paper they are written on. The duty to safeguard the integrity and principles of our republic lies within us — the citizens — particularly with voters. There exists no savior apart from our own collective effort to vote and to persuade our fellow countrymen.
Moreover, the underlying strategy is destined for failure. Even if the Supreme Court were to uphold Colorado and Maine’s decisions, the outcome would simply be that states would make the call. Trump wouldn’t be removed from all 50 states, and it’s highly improbable that swing states would take such action. So what’s the purpose?
Even if Trump were excluded from state primary contests in blue states, and even if he were to fall short on delegates, the GOP could still nominate him at the convention — precisely what would occur if Republicans sensed an attempt by leftists to manipulate their nomination.
In this high-stakes game, the attempt to bar Trump from ballots is not just futile, but it risks a dangerous backlash. History teaches us that the true guardians of democracy are not the courts or the laws, but the people themselves. Legal maneuvers, like those in Colorado and Maine, might feel like strong moves, but they’re akin to playing chess with checkers pieces in a game that demands deeper strategic thinking.
The lesson from Rome is clear: Laws and court decisions are not panaceas. They didn’t stop Sulla’s successors; they won’t stop modern-day political maneuvering. If Trump is barred from some state ballots, it’s not a knockout punch. It’s a mere jab, one easily countered by a political right hook in the form of a convention nomination. And that would be the ultimate irony — Democrats inadvertently aiding Trump’s re-nomination, playing right into the narrative of a political martyr battling a system rigged against him.
We’re at a critical juncture where reliance on legal tactics to combat perceived threats to democracy might actually weaken it. Barring Trump might satisfy a momentary urge for retribution, but it does nothing to address the deeper issues eroding our democratic foundations. It’s a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
We, the people, are the bedrock of our republic. Our power lies in the ballot box and the marketplace of ideas, not in legal gambits. The path to preserving our democratic ideals isn’t through exclusion but through engagement, education, and the relentless pursuit of truth. In the end, our democracy’s fate lies not in courtrooms or legislatures, but in our hands. It’s time we remember that before it’s too late. Our republic’s future depends not on silencing voices but on strengthening our own.