Law & Principles
Trent England | September 30, 2014
Explaining the Constitution
For at least a century, the Constitution has been under attack by politicians, judges, and academics. President Woodrow Wilson called for a more flexible “Darwinian” interpretation of the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer argues the text should be manipulated to serve his own “democratic” ideals.
For many Americans, none of this is a big deal.
How can that be? Why are some of us dedicated to preserving constitutional government while others just don’t care? Answering this question is essential if we want to win people over, and win our country back. It is also important for parents and teachers who want to pass on an understanding of why the Constitution is worth defending.
The Constitution is a law written by a committee over two centuries ago. That is to say, it is not drama or poetry. Young beatniks do not read the Constitution out loud to each other in coffee houses. Lovers do not whisper constitutional phrases to one another (with the possible exception of some people I know at the Cato Institute).
Explaining the Constitution’s importance requires something more than the document itself. There are two ways to understand why the Constitution matters and thus why it is worth standing up for.
The first is history—the results of the Constitution. There are hundreds of nations in the world today, and many more that have passed out of existence. Among all these, the United States is exceptional. Like any human institution, it is not perfect, but the government established by the Constitution has allowed for greater peace, prosperity, and liberty than any other.
The second way to understand why the Constitution matters is to see how it fits into the multi-millennial battle between freedom and tyranny. From ancient Athens to Rome to London and in many other places, the two sides have struggled. The claim of the tyrants is often that there is simply no other way, that only top-down, command-and-control systems of government are stable.
The first essay of The Federalist explained the importance of the Constitution in just this way, saying the question it would answer is “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.”
The Constitution is not just another form of government. It was, at its creation, a unique form and the culmination of a unique founding. While the results of the Constitution have been very good, seen in this light the results are also profound. The Constitution is a victory in the argument against tyranny.
Those who carry around the Constitution in their pockets know all this. Many Americans know little or none of it, and thus they do not care. Simply thrusting the document into their hands is unlikely to stir their hearts or change their minds.
This is why the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is presenting First Principles programs about “the big ideas” of the Constitution. These programs are focused on why the Constitution matters and on building arguments to persuade other Americans that this is true. The first program, on the twin ideas of constitutionalism and the rule of law, will be presented in October 2014.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.