A comparison of the French Revolution with the American Revolution reveals our true strength. The French embraced the values of our republic, particularly the principles of liberty and equality, yet they proceeded down a path of anarchy and violence. Our symbol of liberty was the Liberty Bell and the American Eagle. For the French it became the guillotine.
Many historians no longer call our founding a revolution but a ‘war for independence’. In many ways it resembled a civil war more than a revolution. The American colonists fought to secure British rights they felt they were being denied, but they retained most of the English institutions of government.
The French overthrew all of the institutions of the French monarchy; killed the king and queen, confiscated church property, and even began a new calendar. Edmund Burke and John Adams recognized the dangerous path they were taking, differing greatly from the view of Thomas Jefferson that the French were just following American ideals. The different views on the French were behind the establishment of our first political parties, the Federalists of John Adams and the Democratic Republicans of Jefferson.
While the Americans did not have the entrenched aristocracy of the French, they did retain a respect for the institutions that moderated the extremities of democracy. The further we traveled from the founding principles, both chronologically and intellectually, the weaker those institutions have become. We have become obsessed with our differences on issues and lost the unity of how we resolve these issues.
The hearings on the IRS use of its authority to delay the approval of the tax status of conservative organizations was a dangerous step towards undermining an important government institution. We expect the IRS and the FBI to be far beyond politics and not subject to political whims and opportunism.
We may tolerate the bias of the large media, but we used to expect enough journalistic integrity to not act as active agents for one party or the other. We do not expect social media moguls to moderate what is and is not acceptable political speech.
But most importantly we used to expect fair elections and undermining this institution may be far more dangerous than we realize. This does not mean that the electoral process is beyond question, but it does mean that such inquiry should be subject to due process, fundamental facts, and the whole story. Claims without basis and conspiracy theories have no place in this process. Legitimate claims should be pursued and heavily prosecuted if proven to be true; wild claims and unsubstantiated theories should be soundly and quickly rejected.
Leveling numerous claims and then contending that with so many possibilities some must be true is a dishonest but common trick. I would prefer a few honest possibilities than dozens of reckless speculations.
The media fed this speculative bonanza before the election because they have learned to monetize outrage. Democrats were complicit when they rejected the outcomes of 2016 and 2018 (Stacey Abrams still has not conceded her loss) and threatened to reject the outcome of this one. This does not excuse the reckless accusations of Donald Trump which only serves to make this problem much worse.
The media, regardless of their descent, should not be our scapegoat. We are too willing to accept wild haired conspiracies rather than our own shortcomings and faults, and we are more eager and willing to demonize an opposing view than even pretend to understand it. Each side denies their complicity; and both are guilty, but that does not make it acceptable. The media is selling outrage, but we are willing buyers.
It takes a long time to develop these institutions and unfortunately a very short time to destroy them. We are playing with fire.