Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Quote of the Day (Lord Acton, on Institutions’ ‘History of Deception and Illusions’)

“The history of institutions is often a history of deception and illusions; for their virtue depends on the ideas that produce and on the spirit that preserves them; and the form may remain unaltered when the substance has passed away.” —English historian Lord John Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg) (1834-1902), “The History of Freedom in Antiquity,” delivered to the members of the Bridgnorth Institute, Feb. 26, 1877

I took the accompanying picture of the Capitol dome in Washington on a visit in 2015, when the seat of American government was being restored. Unfortunately, our nation’s lawmakers forgot to take similar time and care in ensuring that American democracy itself would be safeguarded against rot from within and a clever demagogue from within.

Even before Donald Trump executed his startling rise to power in 2016, Congressional government was experiencing arteriosclerosis. The clubby atmosphere that once prevailed, particularly in the Senate, had devolved into ugly partisan posturing and shouting, leaving the people’s business undone.

But each succeeding day of Trump's Presidency--and even every day he's been out of office since--has led the overwhelming majority of the GOP on Capitol Hill to deferring to him at every turn--a prospect they would have once loathed as an incursion on their rights and privileges as lawmakers.

Josh Hawley’s run away from rioters in the halls of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 has made him a laughingstock in many circles. But the U.S. Senator from Missouri is hardly the only lawmaker who gave material aid and comfort to Donald Trump in his attempted coup: 147 Republicans voted that day not to certify not to certify Joe Biden's election

And, if Hawley is not held accountable by the voters in his state, he will only be remembered as inspiration for thousands of memes over a couple-days period, rather than as a partner in infamy.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Americans have heard of many public figures being labeled “institutionalists.” Time and again, we have been disappointed, as they have tended to their future political prospects rather than preserving what Acton called “the ideas that produce and…the spirit that preserves them.”

Let us hope that the “substance” the historian looked to hasn’t melted away for good during this ferocious summer on Capitol Hill.

No comments: