Alan Keyes
Debate no. 3: Both candidates ignore the Founders' understanding
By Alan Keyes
October 25, 2016

Saul of Tarsus, known to us as St. Paul, is often cited as an example of the way the Lord can transform and use, for His good purposes, people who have egregiously sinned against Him. Some self- professed Christian supporters of Donald Trump have cited St. Paul in their efforts to overcome objections to Mr. Trump's candidacy, raised in light of the anti-Christian tenor of his way of life before he began pursuing his political ambitions. Aside from his self-flaunted reputation as a sexual libertine, Mr. Trump stood solidly in support of so-called "abortion rights," just like Hillary Clinton.

He says that he has changed. But unlike St. Paul, since reportedly accepting the Lord, Donald Trump has not overflowed with truth. There is no evidence that the Holy Spirit impels him to bear courageous witness to God's truth. (Indeed, when he is channeling what Newt Gingrich calls "Little Trump" he seems like one possessed by a spirit decidedly unholy.) In order to attract votes, he has repeatedly stated that he is now "pro-life." But the common-sense logic of the pro-life position apparently had nothing to do his conversion, for he makes no effort to share and defend it. This despite the fact that it is the very logic – of God-endowed unalienable right – that the American people must rely on to justify their claim of self-government, and which they must also use to understand and apply the provisions of the U.S. Constitution intended to establish, preserve, and perpetuate it.

This absence of logic was much in evidence during the third and final presidential debate, even when a question was posed that explicitly called for it. When Chris Wallace asked, "What's your view on how the Constitution should be interpreted? Do the founder's words mean what they say, or is it a living document to be applied flexibly to changing circumstances?", Mr. Trump simply reiterated his promise to appoint "pro-life" justices. "I feel that justices that I am going to appoint...will be pro-life," he said. "They will have a conservative bent. They will be protecting the Second Amendment. They are great scholars in all cases.... They will interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted.... It's all about...the Constitution the way it was meant to be."

Because it serves his political purposes, Mr. Trump mentions a couple of hot-button issues, as if there is no doubt about the position "the founders" would have taken with respect to them. But there was disagreement among the founders about the Constitution's bearing on particular issues, including especially the whole meaning and scope of the concept of "judicial review." This is the doctrine that supposedly entails the Supreme Court's power to "overturn laws" and otherwise usurp legislative prerogatives. Moreover, on subjects such as sedition, "nullification," federalism, and, of course, slavery, the founders also disagreed about how the Constitution's provisions affected particular issues.

Given such disagreements, it makes no sense to pretend that the founders would have "agreed" with this or that formulation Trump or Clinton uses on such issues as abortion. But the Constitution itself, in its preamble, its provisions, and its first amendments, reflects the founding generation's agreement on the end or aim of government. Words and phrases such as "natural born," "powers not delegated," and "rights...retained by the people" point to their agreement on certain premises of law and government, such as nature, powers, and rights. These premises then become the elements of the reasoning we use to make judgments about how to apply the Constitution's word to achieve its stated goals.

But the statement that, in principle, summarizes the common-sense agreement of the founders is not the Constitution. It is the Declaration of Independence. That document exemplifies the cause to which they pledged or gave their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. It ought to guide our reasoning as we deal with constitutional issues that are vital to the survival and well-being of the nation, even those involving life and death (as the nation's decision to declare independence from the British monarchy certainly did).

It's telling that neither candidate saw fit to remember or remind present-day Americans of the Declaration's clear and simple exposition of our nation's principles of right and justice. They both tacitly ignored the founders in that regard. But when asked about the direction of the Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton did repeatedly deploy the language of rights ("What kind of rights will Americans have?... A Supreme Court that will stand up on women's rights...the rights of LGBT citizens...the rights of people in the workplace...our rights as Americans").

But the understanding by which the American people claim the right to govern themselves does not derive incidentally from their real or imagined "rights" as members of this or that humanly contrived group. The rights of the American people derive first of all from rights that are inherent in all people on account of their humanity, as endowed by their Creator. Those rights are antecedent to all government, except, of course, God's government of all creation. They reflect the "laws of nature and of Nature's God," which oblige all human beings in their relations with one another, because the substance of our humanity depends on the presence and authority of God.

In answering Chris Wallace's question, Hillary Clinton asserted that "The Supreme Court should represent all of us." But except in terms of our Creator endowed humanity, there is no "all of us." The founders acknowledged this, and that acknowledgment was affirmed by toil, conflict, or onerous sacrifice of blood in every generation until our own. Yet, as Hillary Clinton slyly eviscerated and degraded the meaning of that heritage of God-endowed rights, Donald Trump failed to challenge her abuse.

He pretends to support the appointment of justices who will implement the common understanding of the founders. Yet, he himself failed to rely on, or even mention that common understanding. Like a man who champions the importance of marriage while habitually degrading it in his own affairs, Donald Trump shows his love for the founders' wisdom by neglecting to apply it. He is "as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal," however much he seems, to some, to speak "with the tongues" of pro-life conservatives and constitutional patriots.

As Hillary Clinton and her ilk sap, subvert, and undermine the ground our nation's self-government stands upon, Mr. Trump provides no more substantial opposition than a hologram. The subverting legions pass through his purported position without let or hindrance. So, even if Mr. Trump is elected, it's more likely than not that his beguiled pro-life and conservative constituents will look for the president he promised to be, only to find Mr. Trump standing against those to whom he once adamantly professed to belong.

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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