Have Americans Lost the Privilege of Freedom?

December 3, 2019

(Corrected version.)

This morning, I heard David Rubenstein, philanthropist and businessman and author of the new book “The Story of America,  Conversations with Master Historians,” tell the Morning Joe audience that three-quarters of Americans tested in all fifty states cannot list the three branches of government.   Of all the states, only Vermonters got it mostly right.

Our Constitution mandates that our government be conducted by separate and co-equal parts of our Federal government to ensure that no one can impose tyranny the nation’s citizens.  At the heart of the current impeachment process is a battle between two of these parts, the Executive and the Legislative, one denying that the Legislative has any rights of inquiry, and one party in Congress determined to protect its prerogatives.  Regardless of political preferences, it follows that our democracy, the guarantor of our liberties, is under attack and if three-quarters of the American people do not understand or appreciate or simply don’t care what is at stake, they are ill-equipped to enter the battle.

Rubenstein attributed this blissful ignorance to the failure of our public schools to teach civics and history in any meaningful way that ensures Americans are prepared to defend our freedoms.  In spirit, he is echoing the concerns raised by another great American historian, Jon Meacham, author of “The Soul of America.”  We must include Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of “How Democracies Die,” and Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny” among those who are raising alarms.

The real rub is that immigrants who have to take a citizenship test perform far better than native-born Americans.

Rubenstein’s commentary reminded me of the project undertaken by a bunch of students in Baltimore years ago, who circulated the first ten amendments to the Constitution as a petition and found few who would ascribe to such radical ideas.

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