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The right to write: thoughts on our constitution

Betty Firth
Posted 8/30/23

What is it that makes people write? Many writers say that they can’t not write. Some people have to sing, some people have to dance, some people have to take apart cars. I am driven to …

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The right to write: thoughts on our constitution


What is it that makes people write? Many writers say that they can’t not write. Some people have to sing, some people have to dance, some people have to take apart cars. I am driven to write– to process my life, to vent, to laugh, to create. So, it’s a good thing I get to write this column, which kicks me in the motivational behind to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Short of vulgarity, attacks on people in town who have annoyed me, and personal plots of insurrection, I can let my imagination roam and write. I can pontificate about how the world is not living up to my expectations or how it is amusing me. I can let you know what I think you ought to be paying attention to and how you ought to be behaving. Regardless of whether you’re even reading my column, I can imagine you all nodding, and smiling: “Good point, Betty, how wise.”
So, speaking of insurrection, is anyone else just plain tired of Trump? Really, it’s just time for him to go away, preferably to jail. If he were reading the Timberjay, he might finally gain some enlightenment, but I don’t believe he has a subscription, and I’m too cheap to send him one.
Here’s the incredible beauty of that paragraph. I can say things like that, even in writing about an ex-president, and because I live in America with a constitution that protects my freedom of speech, I can be confident that there will not be men breaking down my door, dragging me out of my house to be questioned, tortured, or left in heap on the front steps of the Timberjay office to teach the other writers a lesson.
In the movie “The American President”, which was the pilot for “West Wing”, President Andrew Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas,) lambasted his opponent saying, “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” The symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
So, Trump and his supporters have given me a tuition-free course in advanced citizenship. The unelected hoi polloi, of which we are all part, have a protected right to spout off about our beliefs, regardless of whether we actually have taken the time to garner any substantiating facts. We won’t go to jail for that. We have the privilege of free public education, unlike many countries, but we retain the right to remain uninformed and uneducated, boring everyone within earshot with our baseless opinions. Many have made my blood boil, and I may have made someone’s blood boil, too.
BUT, the President of the United States does not have the right to ignore the Constitution, which s/he has taken an oath to protect. President George W. Bush, also a personal blood-boiler, was another one with an inflated sense of his own authority who did not understand his responsibilities, didn’t read, and could barely put a spoken sentence together. He said the Constitution was “just a piece of paper.” A written memo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that “he (the president) had a right to order Federal officials to violate Federal law.” Shades of Richard Nixon in the 28 hours of interviews with British journalist David Frost broadcast in 1977. Nixon defended the Huston Plan, which included illegal efforts to monitor anti-war and countercultural activists. (Some of us were on the other end of that!) Frost asked Nixon whether “the president could do something illegal in certain situations, such as against antiwar groups and others, if he decides it’s in the best interests of the nation or something.” Nixon replied: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Where do they find these guys? And why, or why, have we elected them?
I had the privilege of hearing Rep. Jamie Raskin speak when he was in Ely two weeks ago. He took some of his vacation time to speak to the Tuesday Group, which consistently presents good information on a wide variety of current topics. He chose to speak about one of the most polarizing issues in our country, gun control. (Marshall Helmberger and Catie Clark wrote excellent articles about his presentation in the last two issues of the Timberjay, so please refer to those for more details.) As a professor of constitutional law, Rep. Raskin is quite a bit better-informed than the afore-mentioned presidents, the current iteration of the NRA (National Rifle Association), and its members/supporters.
The NRA used to champion gun safety and reasonable gun control, but it was co-opted by the right wingers for political reasons and now claims the 2nd Amendment supports an insurrectionist theory, the right of citizens to overthrow the government. Rep. Raskin is passionate about democracy and the importance of understanding and protecting the Constitution.
The short version of his argument is that there is only one crime specifically defined in the Constitution, that of treason. In Article III, Section 3, it reads: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason.” The Second Amendment has just 27 words: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That’s it.
A well regulated militia means it is an agency of the government, not an unruly mob threatening to kill Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi while trying to overturn a valid, multiply-certified election because they didn’t like the results. It doesn’t mean individuals have the right to own assault weapons and stockpile weapons to overthrow the government. Rep. Raskin’s stream of logic makes it obvious: that the creators of the Constitution would not give or imply the rights in an amendment to commit a crime clearly defined as treason in its body. He said that some of his colleagues have accused him of wanting to get rid of the 2nd Amendment. He responded, “I don’t want them to get rid of it. I want them to read it!”
So, there you go. If you’ve read my columns, you know I’m a great advocate of reading, libraries, lifelong learning, and taking a break from screens. Give your eyes a break and bask in the beauty of the printed word. And here’s where I get to tell you what I think you could/should do: How about pouring yourself a libation, sink into your favorite chair, and tuck into the Constitution? It seems the reasonable thing to do if you are going to try to defend it or destroy it.