Pompeo Should Stop Lying About America's Founding

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

One of the many aggravating ills of the era of Donald Trump is having our intelligence constantly insulted. It is one thing to have spirited debate on divisive issues. It's another to have transparently fraudulent claims thrust upon us by people who are smarter than they pretend to be.

One of these is former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who weighed into the mostly manufactured controversy over "critical race theory" in schools with an ungrammatical tweet: "If we teach that the founding of the United States of America was somehow flawed. It was corrupt. It was racist. That's really dangerous. It strikes at the very foundations of our country."

Pompeo is an evangelical Christian, which makes it odd for him to suggest that what our forebears brought about in 1776, or 1789, achieved perfection. Christianity teaches that all humans are afflicted by original sin, dooming them to fall short in every endeavor. The philosopher Immanuel Kant channeled the Lutheran faith of his upbringing when he wrote, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."?

But you don't have to be a Christian to see the absurdity of Pompeo's position. Of course our founding was flawed, as was our Constitution. Of course it was racist, because neither Black people nor Native Americans were allowed the same rights as whites. Of course it had elements of moral corruption in upholding slavery, the second-class status of women and the dispossession of indigenous people. He might as well deny that the ocean is salty.

Many Americans think the Constitution was a miracle inspired by the Almighty. But you would think that if a miracle brought our founding charter into being, it could have omitted some major defects.

There was the exclusion of nonwhites from the rights granted to others. There was the exclusion of women. There was the outsized political power granted to slave states.

Even if conservatives want to defend these disparities, it's hard to see how they can attribute to God so many features that later had to be corrected.

The system for electing the president was so faulty that it required a constitutional amendment just 15 years later, after it produced an Electoral College tie — not between Thomas Jefferson and his opponent, John Adams, but between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. Some miracle.

That wasn't even the first revision (not counting the Bill of Rights, which makes up the first ten amendments). In 1795, the 11th Amendment was ratified to grant each state sovereign immunity against lawsuits by citizens of other states.

These sorts of repairs are what you would expect in a design produced by mortal creatures who lacked the ability to foresee the future. A design that was — what's the word I'm looking for? — flawed.

That's not to say that Americans should be ashamed of our origins. A rational conservative — or liberal — can argue persuasively that the nation and system of government were the best that could be achieved given the historical circumstances, conflicting interests, and political passions prevailing at the time.

Accepting the existence of slavery was the terrible price of keeping the southern states in the same union as the northern ones. The undemocratic nature of the Senate, ditto. The inferior status of Blacks, Native Americans, and women was too entrenched to be altered.

The same conservative can argue credibly that the durability of the nation and the adaptability of the Constitution to a 21st-century society are proof of their fundamental virtues.

Pompeo is not stupid. He graduated first in his class from West Point and got a law degree from Harvard. One thing he was doubtless taught at both institutions is that to progress at anything, you have to be willing to admit your errors. You can't ace the final if you don't understand why you failed the midterm.

But either he has let religion and ideology erode his reasoning capacity or he has chosen to make baldly preposterous statements to hoodwink the ignorant.

That's a feature of much "conservative" advocacy in our blighted era: It demands the acceptance of obviously false claims simply because they serve political ends. It poisons discourse by elevating prejudice and dogma over facts.

Honestly confronting the bad as well as the good of our history is not dangerous. It does not "strike at the very foundations of our country." The truth is nothing to fear — unless you put your faith in lies.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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