Robin Brown: Read, learn and engage in the U.S. political process

Published 10:51 pm Monday, June 12, 2017

My Point of View, By Robin Brown

Late last year I finished reading the Federalist papers, cover to cover, including notes and references. I had wanted to complete the Federalist papers for some time, having been assigned “the important” papers during a college political science class.

I prepared for the task by re-reading the U.S. Constitution, and I kept it at my side as a reference. I also planned the number of pages I would read each day as I was dedicated to finish in a timely manner.

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I fell in love with the language, the depth of thought and the ability to anticipate possibilities that had never been experienced before. I admired the commitment to create a nation that was meant to work for all.

And yet these were not perfect men. They were human, with personal ambition and economic interests. They were men trying to find a balance between ideological beliefs and the pragmatic process of building a sustainable government unlike any other before.

As I read, I was inspired.  As I continue to process what I read, I am haunted. I was inspired by the founders’ ability to predict and plan for flaws in human nature that might bring about the fall of our new nation, “If angels were to govern men…” Federalist No. 51. I am haunted by decisions to postpone action that would have immediately eliminated slavery, “…including a power to prohibit, after the year 1808, the importation of slaves…” Federalist No. 42.

I am amazed by how very relevant the essays, written from 1786-1800, are in the current political climate, and I find myself making those connections on a daily basis.

So instead of satisfying a need to have a deeper understanding of the basis of the founding of our nation, the fire has been fueled to learn even more. I am currently reading, “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” by Joseph J. Ellis and “James Madison, a Life” by Lynne Cheney.

I get caught up in the backgrounds of the molders of our union, the local politics, the personalities and relationships that effected alliances and the debates that followed.

We are fortunate to have the right to a public education where we learn about the founding documents of the United States and the principles our nation was built upon. Students, young and mature, may finance college with grants and loans. Books, newspapers, magazines, radio and internet sources are available to those interested in in-depth coverage of current events. In many ways we have the ability to be as informed as we choose to be.

Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” I embrace that belief as well. I believe it is our civic duty to have an understanding of the principles of democracy (we were introduced to them in elementary school), and to continue our understanding as we grow (beyond high school and into our adult lives). And if we wish to continue living in a representative democracy, where citizens have a voice in the governmental process, we must access our elected officials, give voice to our needs and vote.

With that said, I continue to be haunted by a comment the president said during his campaign. Let me acknowledge first that I understand that statements may be made during a campaign that may be exaggerated to make a point. I get this, but am concerned with how foreshadowing his statement was in the light of current events.

On Feb. 20, 2016, our president said, “I love the poorly educated.” As a teacher, I am offended, as I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that every child in the United States receives a quality public education. As a citizen, I agree with Thomas Jefferson that we must be educated to remain free. As a consumer of political news, I know that the only way to keep our elected officials accountable is to be fully informed so we can ask informed questions.

My hope for our nation and the presidency is that our current president develop a more complete understanding of the Constitution and the principles that guided the creation of this great nation. My further hope is that the press continue to cover the actions of the president with the integrity it has done so to date. And finally, that our friends, families and neighbors continue to read, learn and engage in the political process.  This is our responsibility as free citizens — just ask Thomas Jefferson.

Robin Brown, DFL-Moscow Township, is a  former District 27A representative.