Seeing Past The Trees To Appreciate The Forest

The run up to Independence Day is a period during which many a pundit turns to American themes.  Here is a very interesting take from Steve Hilton.  Mr. Hilton was born in the UK to recent emmigrants from Hungary.  He subsequently studied at Oxford, and later became an advisor to the UK’s David Cameron.  It is interesting to read his take on America, now that he lives here…

Steve Hilton: I didn’t get the true genius of America’s founders till I moved here. Here’s what worries me now.

By Steve Hilton, Opinion, Fox News

I studied America’s system of government years ago when I was an undergraduate at Oxford University. I mention that not to try and impress you with my intellectual prowess, but for the exact opposite reason. I learned practically nothing about America, despite being forced to read endless books and write endless essays on every aspect of United States governance – from the Federalist Papers to the Warren Burger Supreme Court. Somehow, it all went in one ear and out the other.

It wasn’t until I actually lived in the U.S. that I started to understand the true genius of America’s founders and what they put in place two-and-a-half centuries ago. I saw it in the way that contemporary political debates are conducted with reference to the framers’ intent. I saw it in the huge importance of Supreme Court rulings – reported and debated with a prominence commensurate with the judiciary’s status as a co-equal branch of government – but totally alien to someone familiar with the British system.

I have noted before now that one of the special aspects of the Trans-Atlantic relationship between the U. S. and the U. K., is that we often have insights that our cousins (going either way) find both surprising and revealing.  I have elsewhere described this phenomenon as failing to see the forest on account of all the trees.

…the beautiful idea at the heart of America: liberty under the law, an idea that had never before been expressed and guaranteed by any nation.

From that idea, and from those incomparable founding documents, come all the things that are special about America – things that are so different to (and, frankly, so much better than) what you find where I grew up, in England. And of course vastly better than what my parents experienced where they grew up in Communist Hungary.

Living in the U.S. today, and learning more about America every day, I now see the power of those distinct American virtues, and the vital role they play in politics and government, in a way that all those smart professors somehow never managed to teach me at Oxford University.

Aye.  A nation founded on the notion that “All men are created equal” and “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” and further that “governments are instituted among men to secure these ends.”  A Republic whose Sovereign Power is the People, created by a Constitution which strictly assigned and limited the powers of the government thus created.

The men of the Constitutional Convention and those who ratified the resultant Constitution knew that times and circumstances would change.  They thus made it just hard enough and time consuming enough that changes to the Constitution were neither quick nor trivial.  While that too has failed in at least one case (see the xvii and xxi amendments), that very failure serves as a reminder not to marry in haste, lest we repent at leisure.

Lasting changes under our Constitution are intended to be slow, deliberate, and moderately uncomfortable to execute.  Such changes require the approval of a supermajority (three quarters of the States), not the stroke of a pen nor an opinion of a court.



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