“It is More Important to Tell the Truth” Teddy Roosevelt and the Freedom to Criticize a President

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have seen a lot of people, especially conservative Christians demanding that critics of our soon to be President Trump to stop criticizing him and fully support him. It is actually fascinating to watch and listen to as for the past eight years neither the President Elect or most of his supporters have stopped questioning the legitimacy of President Obama. My God, for the past eight plus years his policies have not only been criticized, but his very person has been defamed by the very people who now say that criticizing or failing to support the President is “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and even “treasonable.” I’ve also seen not so subtle threats made against critics of President-Elect Trump, even before he was elected.

Of course that is bullshit. One of the fundamental rights that all of us have as Americans is the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. It’s called the First Amendment of the Constitution. Our founders were terrified that some nutcase might get the idea to become a tyrant and that the people would let them. That’s why we have all the checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the Federal government, and that is why that freedom of speech has been the cornerstone of the American experiment.

But not anymore. I am not going to say a word about President-Elect Trump or my opinion about him or his possible policies. Instead I am going to note what one of my favorite President’s said about criticizing the President or a Presidential administration. That man was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, if you recall was no Nansy Pansy. The man volunteered for combat and led troops up San Juan Hill in the face of a fusillade of enemy fire, he sent the Great White Fleet around the World, he helped to end child labor, and he created the National Park system. What he wrote in 1918 is important. The United States was at war having joined Britain and France to fight Imperial Germany.

Roosevelt said this when it came to criticizing the President:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” The Kansas City Star, 18 May 1918

That being said criticism must be based on fact. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” So I guess things haven’t changed too much, but I digress…

The point is that criticism of a President should not be considered unpatriotic nor criminal. If we are to believe Theodore Roosevelt; reasoned, respectful, and truthful criticism of our elected officials, up to and including the President is not only necessary, but it is patriotic. Stephen A. Douglas, who later ran against Abraham Lincoln for President destroyed his own chances of becoming President by opposing James A. Buchanan’s deceitful and illegal attempt to make Kansas a Slave state in 1858. Buchanan said that he would destroy him if he opposed the measure. Douglas stood his ground and he told his congressional colleagues: “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

None of us should be regardless of who the President is or what our political beliefs. Principled support, or if need be, opposition, to a President, is both necessary and patriotic. Blind obedience, selling out ones principles, or knuckling under to threats is not. Likewise, those who demand respect, support, and obedience for the person that they voted for without giving it to the other side is not only a hypocrite, but a supporter of tyranny.

This is important, especially when the President-Elect has a long history of lying, cheating small business owners who he contracted with, falsifying, and hiding the truth. His statements in terms of civil liberties, our allies and foreign policy, his questionable relationship with the leader of a hostile foreign power, his manifold conflicts of interest related to his businesses, and his unhinged tirades on social media against any and all critics are all reason to question what he says and does. Those statements are all verifiable, they are not innuendo nor slanderous. They are facts that make a reasonable person question what he says he will do.

Of course, as an American I want President-Elect Trump to do well for all of us and the world. The stakes are too high for me not to care about that. However, to surrender the moral and and Constitutional responsibility to speak out is something that none of us should be prepared to surrender, and those who suggest anyone do should be ashamed of themselves, if they have any sense of shame.

So anyway, until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

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