Op-ed: Founders and floundering

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, June 14, 2016 4:33pm
  • Opinion

As I was watching the Tony presentations last night, where the remarkable musical “Hamilton” was showered with honors, I could not shake the feeling that Alexander Hamilton and our nation’s other founders would be worried that this glorious experiment in democracy was being overwhelmed by hatred.

It’s not just the hatred of that maniac who, several hours before the awards telecast, had pretended he was an Islamic warrior as justification to massacre some of those whose alternative views of sex had apparently enraged him. As we all know, he chose a gay nightclub to target. He used a killing-machine assault weapon to spew his bullets and insanity, and slaughtered close to 50 innocents who were just trying to have a night of fun. Going about our lives unmolested is, after all, what those who designed our nation seemed to have in mind.

Now, it’s not unreasonable to worry if the political system they so carefully designed is beginning to crack, that more than two centuries later, too many of the ones we now elect or consider to lead this government are not worthy of the honor.

Obviously, millions of Americans reacted in horror to what happened in Orlando, Florida, feeling overwhelming sadness for the victims. But we cannot overlook those like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who tweeted the biblical admonition “A man reaps what he sows.” This was interpreted as a belief that those who don’t hew to his narrow and straight ways to love invite divine retribution. Patrick took down his message, but he has pandered to homophobia before, confident that a majority of the voters support him. How pathetic is that? How dangerously pathetic.

But then, how wretched is it that one of our two major-party candidates for president, Donald Trump, can’t suppress his narcissism long enough to offer sympathy to the victims in Orlando. He chose instead to tweet: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance.” Then he made things worse by suggesting that President Barack Obama was somehow sympathetic to violent Muslim extremists and even called on the president to resign. At a moment in history that called for calm resolve, he offered a pandering to his followers’ darkest instincts. True to form, he repeated the hard-line anti-Muslim policies that are so appealing to his bigoted followers.

Our founders also might cringe at our obsession with another religion, not the one described in the First Amendment, but that Second Amendment one, which has been interpreted as a guarantee that we can worship at the altar where we place our guns. In spite of slaughter after slaughter — not just at nightspots, but movie houses, even elementary schools — the gun industry’s lobbying henchmen are able to stifle even the mildest tightening of our regulations on their weapons of mass destruction.

So it is that nearly any person, no matter how deranged, legally can purchase the semi-automatic AR-15, which allows a murderer to spray death and fulfill his bloody fantasies. Our founders tried to create a free society, but not one that was without controls. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But we are not all angels. Many, like the Orlando shooter, are consumed by demons.

And so, to a lesser degree, are the politicians whose crimes of being bought off are not crimes at all under a system that has been distorted by legalized corruption and moral bankruptcy.

The framers of our Constitution realized that their democracy was fragile, and we’re witnessing that right now. The deadly violence is unavoidable in a system where hustlers take advantage of our precious liberties, particularly when the politicians utilize their right of free expression to take us down from the lofty, sacred ideals of our founders.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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