Holding America to Her Principles
A True US Patriot exercises the right to openly challenge and hold accountable at all times, even and most particularly in times of war, those who do not honor their oaths of office, who purposely mislead the nation, who abdicate responsibility when those in their employ are caught engaging in criminal and unethical activities, and who fail to serve the nation with integrity.Although not directly stated, this Characteristic strongly implies a key responsibility of A True US Patriot: participation. Without the participation and vigilance of the citizenry, liberty cannot long survive. It is the nature of liberty and freedom to require the constant attention of those who claim to partake of them, or they can slip away under the gradual erosion of rights and imposition of unsound laws.
While our founding fathers designed a government based on the separation of powers and provided a formal set of checks and balances to help preserve the underlying structure of government, it is the duty of the citizens to ensure that these checks and balances are upheld. Part and parcel with such responsibility is the duty to hold leaders accountable for their decisions and actions, particularly where those actions could undermine the balance of powers or restrict or obstruct our liberties, rights, and freedoms. General Douglas MacArthur made it plain in his words to the Japanese people in 1948, upon the first anniversary of their Constitution:
"No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation."The average citizen, then, has a direct role in the protection of the nation and the preservation of founding principles upon which it was founded. By exercising the right to free speech, the right to vote, the right to peacefully assemble, and petition for redress of grievances, the citizens are able to make their wishes known. A key element of the success of these methods revolves around two core precepts: first, that the public is properly informed through a free press and independent media; and second, that the leaders are held accountable for their words and actions by their peers, the People, and the media.
The principles of free speech, and the importance of a free and independent media, constitute an additional set of checks and balances outside of those expressly outlined within the Constitution as part of the government’s function. They lay squarely upon the People to enforce. Our Founding Fathers included them as part of the First Amendment, to ensure the preservation of both freedom of speech and of the Press. Freedom of the press is not only another form of free speech, but it is extended to include members of news-gathering organizations and the processes involved in obtaining information for public distribution. Former President Teddy Roosevelt once said:
"Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free."Even former President Richard Nixon, during the height of the Watergate scandal, recognized this when he stated:
"It was the system that brought to light the facts and that will bring those guilty to justice - a system that in this case included a determined grand jury, a courageous judge and a vigorous free press."Recent laws like the Freedom of Information Act and state Sunshine Laws allow access to governmental proceedings and minutes of meetings to help the press keep the government accountable to the People. The Press has an inherent responsibility to provide accurate, timely, and unbiased information to the People so that they may make informed decisions, and to shed the light of day on the actions of our public servants.
But the People must care to look at and review this information, and speak out when wrongdoing is suspected or discovered, in order for those in positions of leadership to be held accountable. Montesquieu noted the responsibilities of the People when he wrote:
"The tyranny of a principal in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy."And Michael Cloud put it even more simply:
"Personal responsibility is the price of liberty.""We the People" are powerful words, used to start off one of our most important national documents. It depicts the People acting as one body in a declaration. Yet those people are also individuals, and without making an individual effort to be part of the voice of the People, there can be no united and strong voice to help us maintain our freedom. Our Constitutional rights to dissent, to free speech, and to a fair and free press gives us the ability to fulfill our role as part of the unofficial system of checks and balances. The "law of the land" has established that no person is above that law, and holds that government officials are accountable for their decisions and actions. It is our duty to remind those who serve us that they - alone or in groups - are never "above the law." We, as individuals, must each make the effort to undertake this responsibility so that, together, we can require the same of our elected and appointed officials.
A True US Patriot "exercises the right to openly challenge and hold accountable" the leaders of the nation. This isn’t a right that awaits the opportunity for use once an election cycle – it is a right and a responsibility existing "at all times, even and most particularly in times of war". It is the expectation to hold leaders accountable, and to censure or expel "those who do not honor their oaths of office, who purposely mislead the nation, who abdicate responsibility when those in their employ are caught engaging in criminal and unethical activities, and who fail to serve the nation with integrity".
Such vigilance cannot occur in a vacuum. An important reason that freedom of speech and the freedom of the press are explicitly protected in our Constitution is to ensure that a medium exists by which our citizens can remain informed, and share their thoughts with others as well as with our representatives.
There are inherent dangers in restricting these two crucial elements of our representative democracy. Through the use of "media manipulation", government and other sources can impose restrictions and control the free flow of information through a variety of methods. Some are outwardly obvious, such as censorship. Some are insidiously hidden, such as the gradual and growing monopolization of the media outlets under the auspices of a very few corporations and individuals. The former leads to a dearth of information and the silencing of dissent. The latter leads to the propagation of propaganda. Media manipulation and the strangulation of the flow of information impedes the ability of A True US Patriot from his or her Constitutional duties of vigilance and dissent. This only leads to frustration and increased apathy.
We have, of late, experienced both within our great nation – much to our detriment and dismay. Journalist Hedrick Smith warned of this many years ago when he noted:
"...this is precisely the purpose of censorship - not only to block unwanted views, but to keep people who are unhappy from knowing how many millions of others share their unhappiness; to keep the dormant opposition from awakening to its own developing strength."
It is through these methods that restrictions are also placed on the capacity to hold the government and its principals accountable for their decisions. The constant "buzz" and redirection of information away from matters of significance to the public effectively serve to hide wrongdoing. Larry Burkett mentions this in his book Business by the Book:
"Perhaps nothing in our society is more needed for those in positions of authority than accountability. Too often those with authority are able (and willing) to surround themselves with people who support their decisions without question."
Fortunately, the advent and virtual explosion of the internet has led to the rise of a new type of information sharing – blogging. The “Voice of the People” continually rises to be heard. Here, too, are those who would seek to control and influence the flow of information, but amidst the competing and often contradictory blogs, it is still possible for citizens to find the truth. By reading blogs, then checking outside of our own media sphere to the rest of the world, it is possible to recognize the spin, who spun it, and what information was left out or misrepresented.
The People can still remain vigilant, and hold those who represent us in government responsible. We can, for example, assemble and speak out to demand any leaders who have been less than forthright in their dealings or their addresses to the People step down or address (and redress) such grievances. We can, if we suspect our vote is being marginalized, demand accountability and a voter-verifiable paper trail.
We can, and should, demand that our media learn to exercise the process of due diligence in the role of information dissemination.
Most important of all, we have the right and responsibility to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. We must, we can, and we shall hold them responsible for their decisions, and demand action where instances of abuse or misuse of powers have led to the weakening of our national resolve and integrity.