I had the pleasure of attending the first ever mock presidential debate at the University of Notre Dame, pitting two students, one Republican and one Democrat, against each other to debate some of the most salient issues today. The event was refreshing. No interjections of “wrong,” no mudslinging or accusations, and some actual discussion of policies and issues in a meaningful, positive way.
However, although many of my peers were satisfied at the conclusion of this mock debate, I left the event with a different conclusion. For the first time this election cycle, I was able to listen and judge the policy positions of the respective major parties without distraction. In addition, these policy pronouncements were coming from the minds and hearts of Americans my age, with similar interests, career goals, and life plans, who had been instructed to not merely emulate the positions of the presidential nominees, but to express their own positions, their own plans, in alignment with the principles of their parties. But, just like the real presidential debates, something was missing.
What was missing? A willingness to root arguments and policy points on the principles of our nation, expressed in the Declaration of Independence and embedded in the structure of our government as laid out in the Constitution.
Throughout this election, both of our major party candidates have failed to root any of their arguments on the Founding Principles of our nation. The only air time the Declaration of Independence or Constitution receive is their words printed onto the backgrounds of the debate stages. If they receive more attention than that, it arrives in a superficial package, with no depth or no explanation as to why there is an important principle at stake in the discussion.
For example, take the Second Amendment or abortion. Prominent conservatives, today, insist that the Second Amendment is under siege by the courts and pro-gun control voices, and therefore must be protected. That’s it. Prominent liberals expresses their support for Roe v. Wade because it establishes a Constitutional right for women to make important and personal decisions about their healthcare. That’s it. No discussion about where these rights come from at all.
Imagine: what if the conservative took a few seconds to say, “the Second Amendment is under siege, and I as a conservative will work to protect Second Amendment rights because our Constitution clearly states that ‘… the right to bear arms shall not be infringed…,’ a right valued by the Founding Fathers because they believed that the ownership of firearms by the citizenry was necessary to safeguard those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as declared in the Declaration of Independence?
Isn’t it shocking that the two major party nominees, one of whom on January 20th 2017 will stand before the nation, place their hand on the Bible, and swear to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of [their] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” neither appeal to or explicitly reject the key Constitutional principles of this nation that they will be serving?
Many Americans today bemoan the gridlock in Washington. Many Americans, especially young Americans, have expressed frustration with the government and are overall less confident in the future of this nation.
I propose a solution. It doesn’t suggest more ‘bipartisanship,’ ‘compromise,’ or toned-down rhetoric (although there is a time and a place for all of these things). Rather, I would recommend that our leaders, but also all Americans, seek to understand our Founding principles. You don’t need a degree in political philosophy. All you need is a willingness to discover the words the Founders left us in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to read carefully the words of Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” and to see how the Founders took the Constitution as the opportunity to construct a government capable of preserving and protecting these truths. If we do so, we will rest on a sure foundation, indeed.