As I am typing this, I am watching the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America for a second term. Yes, I know that the legal inauguration was yesterday, due to the requirements of the law, and that this is “merely” a reenactment. Yet, it becomes obvious that the people who are watching and participating in the inauguration do not see it merely as a reenactment.
I watched the President and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scolia greeting each other with evident friendliness. And, I was again struck with the resiliency of our democracy and that, at the top, there is more friendliness between various members of government than one would surmise by listening to campaign rhetoric or by reading position statements on various issues. And, perhaps that is what is worth remembering.
Except for one terrible time in the history of our nation, we have managed to remain together, even though we sometimes seem to simply stumble on, through the various arguments that have flowed through our democracy. And, except for that one time, we have managed to solve our problems without nationwide violence.
Today it is worth reflecting on the fact that our Republic was not designed as a perfect republic. Rather, it was designed to be a flexible and open republic that could respond to the various changes that were needed without destroying itself. There are countries whose constitutions are either impossibly large, or have been changed completely several times in their history because of that very lack of flexibility.
No, that flexibility is not anywhere near perfect. The Supreme Court decision permitting the World War II Japanese-American internment camps on USA soil are evidence of that. The Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court in the 19th century is evidence of that. The Roe v. Wade decision in 1972 is evidence of that.
And, yet, the first two decisions that I cited have been overturned with the passage of time. I yet remain hopeful that eventually the third decision will be overturned as well. May it be overturned soon!
Some are worried that our country will be led into tyranny and Marxism. Watching today’s inauguration makes me doubt that. For all the pomp and ceremony, this is the last term of the current President. In less than four years our country will choose the next President of the United States of America, and he or she will be a different one than the current one. The current one will be part of our history. And that is true of all USA presidents. Eventually, their term passes as do the terms of all Senators and Representatives.
Ultimately, we can only drop into a left-wing or right-wing tyranny—for a right-wing tyranny is every bit as much a danger, given some of our frightening right-wing demagogues—if and only if the American people vote it into being. As one of our early Founding Father commented, the proof of the American democracy is in the peaceful transition that began with the first President freely stepping aside to give room for the second President to take office, and so on and so on.
We do not know whether the next President will be a liberal or a conservative or a moderate or a libertarian. What the history of the USA does tell us is that the transition will be peaceful, even if the man or woman taking office in 2017 holds a political philosophy completely opposite to that of President Obama. In fact, the oath of office was administered to President Obama today by a Supreme Court Justice who holds a political philosophy different than his. That is peaceful transition.
We, as a people, may yet destroy our nation, but no single person nor even a small group of people can. We do not know what plans God has for the USA in the future. Scripture tells us that it is he who raises up or takes down nations, and he does not tell us when that might happen. But Saint Paul does give us who are under any government some very important advice:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. … Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.
So, let us commit ourselves today, not to a particular person, or to a particular party, or even to a particular political philosophy or type of government. Let us commit ourselves to pray, “without anger or disputing … for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” That is our most Orthodox duty on this day, and all future days.