Dummy of the Day: Krauthammer thinks the Constitution is “didactic”

Donald Trump is wrong 99.9% of the time.  During that other .1% of the time, he’s calling Charles Krauthammer an idiot.

Krauthammer has penned a piece bemoaning the politically suicidal designs that Republicans have on women, Hispanics, and now Muslims.  In that context, he threw some shade at the personality-Charles-Krauthammerdisordered Ben Carson, who has famously opined that no Muslim should ever be president.

Krauthammer wrote,

[Carson’s] reason is that Islam is incompatible with the Constitution. On the contrary. Carson is incompatible with a Constitution that explicitly commands that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Ever. And it is no defense of Carson to say that he was not calling for legal disqualification of Muslims, just advocating that one should not vote for them. That defense misses the point: The Constitution is not just a legal document. It is a didactic one. It doesn’t just set limits to power; it expresses a national ethos. It doesn’t just tell you what you’re not allowed to do; it also suggests what you shouldn’t want to do. For example, the First Amendment allows you to express whatever opinion you want — even, say, advocating the suppression of free speech in others. But a major purpose of the Constitution is to discourage and delegitimize such authoritarian thinking.

This is tripe.  Krauthammer, unsurprisingly, has confused the Constitution with the Bible.  While the latter is didactic and addressed almost exclusively to individuals with the intent of governing individual conduct, the former is completely silent as to what individuals (rather than their governments) should do, think, say, or learn.

Notice how Krauthammer declares the Constitution a didactic document (one meant to teach) without any citation to authority for that proposition.  Where is his evidence?  In point of fact, the only thing the framers said about individual persons was that the government, in ways both general and specific, should stay away from them.  Generally, the Constitution creates a sphere of life that belongs only to “the people” that is characterized by “liberty” and requires for its prosperity the “equal protection of the laws.”  The Constitution also prohibits the government from doing certain specific things, like searching or seizing you without probable cause to believe that you’ve committed a crime.

How is it that a document designed to keep the government from telling us how to live or what to think or say would itself tell us how to live or what to think or say?  To say that the Constitution is unconcerned with teaching us anything as individuals is to understate rather than misstate its textual, structural, and historical meaning.

Krauthammer says that the constitutional bar against governmental interference in free speech is meant to teach us that we too should believe in free speech.  Does the constitutional bar against the governmental establishment of religion teach us that we should not establish our own?  Does the constitutional bar against governmental interference in individuals’ free exercise of religion mean that evangelists in their own lives should stop proselytizing and interfering in others’ religious beliefs?  Or does the constitutional command against governmental involvement in religion mean that there exists some constitutional preference that we should establish or exercise religion in our own lives?  If so, which one?  It’s preposterous.  The whole point is that we should believe as we choose and in our own discretion.  What is the Constitution’s posture as to what you or I choose to believe?  Quite clearly, it doesn’t have one.

This is Krauthammer’s nod toward the constant bellyaching of conservatives who argue, after they get called out by other private parties for saying things that are grossly stupid or destructive, that those who call them out on their bullshit are “trying to silence” them and taking away their “freedom of speech.”  We are allowed to hold right-wing speech in contempt, and we are even allowed to believe that right-wingers would do best to stop speaking at all.  There is nothing “incompatible with the Constitution” about that.

Ben Carson’s statement about Muslims is not incompatible with the Constitution, because Ben Carson is not the Constitution’s audience; he is not the government.  Let’s stick to the real problem with Ben Carson: his views, which are representative of a vast swath of the Republican Party, are inconsistent with human decency.

by Brendan Beery


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