The redundancy of the news is reaching new levels. The daily mall, church, office, highway or home mass shootings are becoming indistinguishable, except for the location announced by the teleprompter reader. The latest political vendettas and partisan threats are so unoriginal that many voters are beginning to grasp the meaning and meanness of “party loyalty.” Even the candidates declaring themselves worthy of a bedroom in the White House seem all too familiar.
To add to our sense of déjà vu (yes, it’s French, and it means “I feel like I’ve seen this all before”) is the return of the former President, who insists that elections are so corrupt and rigged that he wants to run for the Presidency again. If he loses, he will insist that democracy is dead. If he wins, his opponents will insist that democracy is dead. Either way, his candidacy will leave nearly half of America’s voters angry and disillusioned. Perhaps a solution to this divisive anger is to select candidates who are not octogenarians, are not burdened with decades of unseemly baggage, and are not beholden to God knows how many domestic and foreign power brokers who have enabled them to become rich or powerful.
What would certainly be helpful in any proposed election would be the requirement that the men and women aspiring to serve and protect us pass a simple test. It can be an open book test, but it would require the candidate to actually read the Constitution. That most voters have never read and will never read the Constitution is unfortunate but unimportant. That most government officials who swear to uphold the Constitution are unfamiliar with the document is disappointing. Office holders who read the Constitution are likely to find it informative and ironically entertaining.
For example, after the Civil War with the deaths of more than 600,000 soldiers and the displacement and economic ruin of millions of civilians, the states passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It guaranteed equal protection under the law to all citizens, including those who had previously been enslaved. More relevant to our current situation is the third section of that amendment which says: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
This amendment was not subtle. It simply stated that if you had taken an oath to support the Constitution and subsequently participated in, incited, or assisted in an “insurrection or rebellion” against offices established by that document, you were disqualified from holding state or Federal office or serving in the military. The horror of the Civil War was fresh in the minds of citizens when this amendment was passed in 1868. What occurred on January 6, 2021, was an insurrection intended to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power in the executive branch of government. We have the videotape. There is no way to redefine what happened on that day. Members of the executive and legislative branches of our government participated in that atrocity. People died. It conformed to what the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment feared might happen (again). Consequently, every government or military official who helped foment or participated in that action is disqualified from running for office. Yes, my friends, that includes the former President.
Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment is clear enough, but no legislator, judge, or other government official has had the audacity to call for its enforcement. The reluctance to enforce this amendment derives from the outrage it will spawn. Tell seventy million voters that their favorite candidate cannot legally be on the ballot, and anarchy will reign supreme. The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and Ku Klux Klan will find their ranks swollen by the disenchanted, and the next attack on the Capitol will be much bloodier and much more horribly successful.
Perhaps the former President will not get his party’s nomination: more likely than not, he will. Perhaps the opposition party will nominate a more popular, charismatic, or younger nominee: that is highly unlikely. And so, we are left with the contest re-emerging with the former President running against the current President. The mud will be slung, and the scandals will materialize as we suffer through two years of mind-numbing electioneering. History tells us the odds favor the current President keeping his title unless he succumbs to age or illness.
The only President to succeed at re-election after being defeated was Grover Cleveland. He was not a stellar candidate, but the President succeeding him was Benjamin Harrison, an even more lackluster politician. The most charismatic President to fail in his return to the White House after he vacated it for his own protégé was Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy became President when William McKinley was assassinated. He served out McKinley’s term and got re-elected for another four years. Believing his hand-picked successor, the obese but affable William Howard Taft, would steer the ship of state in the direction Roosevelt favored, Teddy stepped aside and handed over the Presidency to Taft.
Like superstars of future years (e.g., Tom Brady), Roosevelt tired of retirement and found Taft’s performance disappointing. The incumbent President Taft was deemed entitled by the kingmakers in the Republican Party to get the nomination, and Teddy was forced to look for political backers elsewhere. He re-emerged as the Presidential candidate for the Bull Moose (a.k.a. Progressive) Party and split the votes for the Republican Party, denying Taft a second term and allowing Woodrow Wilson to win the election of 1912.
Perhaps the former President will have a similar fate and split the Republican vote once again. As Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) cynically noted, “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” After two years of inane commercials, robocalls, shouting matches, uninformative debates, and predictions that the end of the world is imminent, we shall learn if the former President’s legacy rhymes with Grover or Teddy.
Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.