In the face of extreme, partisan politics many Americans assume every aspect of political discussion is going to be too partisan, too extreme, and too confrontational. Though I appreciate the bluntness on both sides of the aisle, the decorum of holding high office is fading. A New York Senator recently used harsh language during an interview when describing President Trump’s stance on Healthcare. Not only have actual elected officials lost decorum, but party officials have too. Tom Perez, DNC Chairman, also used vulgar language to describe President Trump’s positions. The loss of class and respect for one another stems down to average Americans. Often videos surface of people physically fighting one another because of a political stances. Many admit that they would physically assault someone who disagrees with them. Twitter is certainly filled with bitter and crude disagreements that can escalate to creating an online firestorm. Though civil discourse is important, decorum needs to be present for it to be successful. Civil discourse also needs to be able to educate. Civic education is EXTREMELY important! Without correctly informed Americans, civil discourse is pointless because people will be arguing about positions that are not factually correct.
Ben Sasse is a freshman Senator from Nebraska. He holds a PhD in history from Yale University as well as a bachelor’s in government from Harvard. Sasse currently serves several committees in the Senate, most notably the Judiciary Committee. Recently the committee was the focus of media spotlight as they confirmed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. During the hearings each Senator that serves on the committee is allotted time to question the nominee. When Senator Sasse able to question Justice Gorsuch he did not open with a partisan stance, but with questions on civic knowledge and morals.
Senator Sasse asked Gorsuch, who teaches ethics at the University of Colorado Law School, how he will know if he has been a “good judge” when he retires from the bench. Gorsuch responded by discussing how he asks his students at the end of each semester to write an obituary for themselves. “What I try to point out is,” said Gorsuch, “it’s not how big your bank account balance is, nobody ever puts that in their draft obituary, or that they billed the most hours, or that they won the most cases. It’s how they treated other people along the way.” Though he admits he will not be remembered, he wants to be remembered as kind, mild father and husband, but firm and dignified in his public life. Gorsuch began, “The great joy in life, Shaw said, is devoting yourself to a cause you deem mighty before you are thrown on the scrap heap. An independent judiciary in this country, I can carry that baton for as long as I can carry it, […] that’ll be good enough for me.” Unlike many of his colleagues, including the President, who have politicized the court, Sasse clearly believes in an independent court that has loyalties only to the Constitution and the American people. It is important that judges do not disclose their bias because it could potentially cause them to rule unfairly due to expectations and serving political interests. I applaud Senator Sasse for respecting the integrity of the bench and not giving into political pressure. He truly respects the intentions of the founding fathers’ plan for an independent judiciary. If it was intended that we know the political views of judges, they would be elected, not appointed.
According to the Newseum Institute, only 19% of Americans can name all five freedoms under the first amendment. Senator Sasse is working towards changing the lack of knowledge about the Constitution and government among Americans. During the confirmation hearing of Justice Gorsuch, he discussed how teachers from his state said that they would be using these hearings in their civic classes. To help educate the students watching, Senator Sasse asked the Justice why the founding fathers added the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) and what difference it would make if the Constitution did not have one. When asking the Justice, Sasse made a point to say that the Constitution is a negative document. A negative document means that we, the people, are limiting the government’s power- not the government giving us freedom. Our inalienable rights, as stated by Jefferson, are what we are born with. No government can give and can not take them because they are what we are born with. Stressing that the Constitution limits the government’s powers shows Sasse’s commitment to protecting our liberties in Washington. Additionally Sasse’s unwavering support of Justice Gorsuch is another great sign; Gorsuch responded to the question just as well as Sasse. He stated that the Constitution is a negative document limiting the government as well as the theory behind the division of powers was to better protect liberty. “If you put too much power into one set of hands you are going to get tyranny,” said the Justice. While the Justice stressed that the division was to guard liberty, they knew it was not enough. “Our founders were very suspicious and very jealous of their liberties, so they added the Bill of Rights… and they enumerated 10 of them, starting with the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, no establishment of religion, [and] the right to bear arms.”
I applaud Senator Sasse for taking the opportunity to use his platform to educate students and other Americans about the Constitution. It shows how deeply he understands how to make sure America carries on that the citizens know the structure of their government. In addition to the structure of government, Sasse understands that Americans must know how precious their liberties are because he asked the Justice to explain where they come from. Through the Justice’s answer, it is clear how important it is that Americans are vigilant of their liberties because they were fought for and so carefully protected. Senator Sasse wants to promote better civic understanding within America because he has clearly demonstrated his desire in Washington. I urge all representatives to follow in the footsteps and passion of Ben Sasse to ensure that the greatness of America carries on.