The nature of the current presidential election represents a sea-change for the relationship between the citizens and government of the United States. This result is not a sudden discontinuity, but rather the visible manifestation of shifting beliefs that have been occurring over decades.
The central question that has been debated over recent decades is are we a nation of laws or men (to use the traditional phrase)? By “a nation of laws” I mean something far beyond the existence of a written legal code. After all, even the most vile totalitarian governments have written laws. Rather, I define “law” to mean a philosophical conviction that there exists a standard of truth that is unchanging and above the shifting opinions of men. Thus the right purpose of law is to discover and then apply this ultimate standard to human affairs. Similarly, “a nation of men” designates an opposing philosophical conviction that mankind is the fundamental standard of truth. In this phylosophy, to tie a nation to ideas that are presumed to be “unchanging and above” men is to pretend the existence of a standard that doesn’t really exist.
Prior to this current election cycle there existed two political parties that, incompletely and imperfectly, but nonetheless clearly, held these opposing views. The Republican Party, for all its compromise and failings, sought to advance the “nation of laws” philosophy. The Democratic Party, for all its compromises and failings, sought to advance the “nation of men” (though they would substitute a new term for “men”) philosophy.
I’m certain that there are many readers who would strenuously object to this partitioning of philosophies between our two main political parties. Democrats might argue that they are no less wedded to “the rule of law” than are Republicans. Certainly, in a party of millions there exists significant variation in political principles. However, what can the dominant position, sustained over generations, that the Constitution must be interpreted as a “living document” mean other than that current human opinion trumps foundational law? Republicans might likewise argue that they are no less wedded to “the rule of law” now than they were in the past. However, I contend that with their current presidential nominee, the Republicans have embraced the “rule of men” in the person of Donald Trump.
This situation could not have occurred independent from the Christian religion. After all, Christianity remains the dominant (by far) claimed faith in the United States. Therefore, we will need to include examination of the shifting Christian landscape to understand how we arrived here.
Thus, this presidential election represents the first time in generations that the two major political parties are philosophically united (though, they remain far apart on how this philosophy should be applied to our current situation). This fact alone is of the gravest consequence. In future posts I will discuss my understanding of the reasons behind this shift, the likely consequences and the possibility for renewal.