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Democracy is not at risk, it’s working like the US constitution intends



mcconnell trump ryan
Two of the three branches
of government are sputtering — but it doesn’t mean democracy is

Evan Vucci/AP

  • Democracy
    is not at risk, argues Brooklyn Law School professor and former
    dean, Nicholas Allard.
  • The US Constitution
    was written and designed to outlast misdeeds, and US democracy
    has lasted longer than any other in history.
  • American
    might depend on the three branches of government
    functioning, but there are three other powers that keep it
    alive: the states, constitutionally protected institutions, and
    most importantly, the people.

Is our beloved USA about to
fall like ancient Rome, where the emperor and patricians
distracted the common people from the loss of their rights with
free bread, gladiator fights, and circuses?

No. Thankfully and emphatically, no! What we are observing is our
constitution working as intended, methodically, fairly, and
purposefully — though often slowly.

We can take comfort and pride in our brilliantly engineered
complex legal system founded on the will of the people and their
consent to be governed; not by authoritarian rulers, oligarchs,
or bosses of criminal enterprises — but by the rule of law. All
the bad news is in reality the good news that over the long-term,
our system of equal justice under law protects our people.

Our Constitution is designed to outlast misdeeds and shocks to
the body politic.

It has lasted longer than any democracy in history. It is
designed to outlast us all.

It is counterintuitive, but the steady drumbeat of news about
illegality by powerful influential people is really emblematic of
how effective the Constitution is at providing different ways for
citizens to stand up to power.

The Constitution assures that everyone is subject to the rule of

Every grade school student in the United States learns about the
three separate co-equal branches of government: the Legislative
Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. That is
American Constitutional Law — American Law 101.

However, what we all know about the three co-equal branches of
the federal government is just the beginning of the brilliance of
our constitutional system and separation of powers.

Power also resides in several other reservoirs within the
Constitution in order to hold government accountable, and to
check abuse of power in order to make sure American remains a
government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

At this historic moment, it seems as if two of the three branches
are sputtering, if not completely broken: The White House and

In contrast, the Judiciary, despite ideological differences and
room for improvement, seems to be functioning well. Judges,
lawyers, and juries are doing their part to preserve and protect
equal justice and fairness according to our agreed upon rules of

And these three branches are really but three of at least six
very powerful engines that drive our ship of state. So, there is
plenty of power to keep us moving until the broken branches

When government is
unresponsive to the peoples’ needs, then the people can take back
their inalienable rights

Angerer/Getty Images

What I mean by that is, for starters, the fourth engine is the
states collectively and individually.

We are a federal system with both federal and state governments,
including state executives, legislators, judges, and prosecutors.
The state governments form a very independent and strong power
base that counter-balances the federal government. And, they do
go their own way. Recent examples include issues such as
immigration, environment, e-commerce, privacy, and prosecutions
of violations of state law.

The fifth powerful engine is made up by the constitutionally
protected institutions, which are designed to hold government

The reason for the First Amendment freedom of the press and
religion is not simply to give these interests a protected way to
endure. The press and religious communities have a job to do. The
job for the press is to pursue truth, inform the public, and hold
the government accountable for its policies and actions. Our
religious and spiritual leaders and institutions are protected so
that people can freely adhere to, observe, and express their
personal beliefs. They are the living example of the moral and
ethical path they expect government to follow.

The sixth and the most powerful engine of all is the nuclear
option for effecting change: the people.

Our system of government is supposed to be limited. The people
hand power to the government, only for it to be doing what the
people need to be done that they cannot do for themselves. But
when government is unresponsive to the peoples’ needs, then the
people can take back their inalienable rights. The peoples’ free
speech, association and petition rights, and other rights in the
Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment are their shield and sword to
combat authoritarianism. And yes, protecting the right to vote
and the legitimacy of elections matter.

Our democracy is imperfect and messy, but it is a thing of
beauty. So, in the end, all of us can faithfully execute the role
of United States citizen, and can to the best of our ability,
preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United

Nicholas Allard is a professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School,
where he served as President and Dean from 2012 to 2018.

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