Hitting the books
To the editor:
In America, we don’t understand our own very recent history, let alone the long story of English and European democracy. If we did, we could and would reach consensus very quickly on hugely pressing problems.
For example, today when a popular president wants to make policy on his own, legislators often remind him that the Congress and the president are co-equal branches of government. Where did Republicans and Democrats get that idea? Even a strong, and relatively recent, president like Franklin Roosevelt knew without doubt that the U.S. Congress has always been by law the one supreme policy-making branch of government, co-equal with none other.
Today, we think that public officials cannot be held accountable for putting out misinformation. Going back in our English heritage to the time of Henry II, we learn that a high-level official was prosecuted for spreading false information in the course of his public employment. He was convicted, deprived of his estate and sent to a monastery to learn how to tell the truth.
In very recent memory, politicians in Congress convinced themselves that a president could not be tried for impeachment after leaving office. However, in historical democracies with relatively short terms of executive office like Rome’s (and ours), impeachment trials after leaving office were virtually the norm.
Finally, Roman history teaches us that a burgeoning wealth gap must be dealt with by some form of rebalancing, or the fabric of democracy will tear irreparably. Early in their democracy, before letting the rich run roughshod over the poor, Romans gave their common folk chunks of land and property taken from enemies threatening their city. In America, we allow some unemployment and other cash benefits to come in the front door, while we take it all back out the back door by allowing triple-digit interest rates to be charged against the working poor.
We have forgotten that republican nations for two millennia always took care to keep legal interest rates down to single digits or very low double digits, as we did before 1980. None ever allowed the legal financial rapine occasioned by high double and low triple-digit rates as we do today. That is a new low in the history of democracy and an embarrassment to everyone but us.
That’s what history teaches us, if we care to notice.
Woods Cross, Utah