Checks and balances, balances and checks: Just where are the adults?

I wrote this two years ago for publication in the Burlington Times-News on Nov. 8 2016 — the date of the last presidential election. I think most know what happened there. And the folks who don’t know haven’t paid attention to much of anything in a long time anyway — print, TV, online, family, friends, dogs, cats, aardvarks, etc. When this was published I still had another eight days ahead before my long announced departure from the news business. This would be my first and last editorial published on the front page of any newspaper. I wanted to use the forum to remind people ahead of the outcome — at that time in my mind a true tossup but shifting in the direction of the eventual outcome — of what it means to live in America. What it means to be free. How our political processes are supposed to work. Why the Constitution matters.

And then, of course, no one listened.

Today we exist in a world that grows more disturbing each day. We’ve forgotten more about what it means to be Americans than most actually remember from civics class. In a lot of cases, it appears we’ve forgotten it all. Politicians elected to uphold the Constitution don’t even have the vaguest idea about what’s actually in it. And worse, can’t seem to comprehend it when the meaning is pointed out.

At the time I wrote this it was for one of our nieces who was distraught about the election ahead. I told her many of the things I later wrote here — about our system of checks and balances. She said our conversation helped. That’s why I decided to share it.  But checks and balances, I’ve come to learn, only work if adults are actually at the table at the most important times.

Here’s what I wrote two years ago.


Today (Nov. 8, 2016)  is Election Day, and as Americans we are compelled to vote — or not.

That is just one of the beauties of being an American. We are free to cast ballots for the candidate each individual chooses to select. Or, we can avoid the polling places altogether. Not voting is a right every American enjoys, too.

It is the essence of a free society.

As Americans, we are outspoken. We feel strongly about the issues we care about the most. We express our thoughts about those issues without fear of retribution by the government. We can debate each other for hours on social media, in public places and in our homes. Or, we can decide not to debate at all and simply walk away.

It is the essence of a free society.

And in our debate, Americans can disagree. In fact, disagreement is a crucial part of American history. Even the Founding Fathers had squabbles large and small about the compositions of the two documents we hold most dear today — the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They came together to form a union that endures because of debate and compromise.

It is the essence of a free society.

But as Americans, we must also recognize the rights of our fellow Americans to hold differing opinions. We should respect each other enough to disagree without rancor, vitriol or — heaven forbid — violence. Reasonable people can disagree without shouting, obscenities or name-calling.

It is the essence of a free society.

As Americans, we ultimately respect the sanctity of our electoral processes. We understand that if one candidate wins, another does not. Millions will be happy with the result. An almost equal number will not. But when the counting of votes is done, Americans shake hands and move forward.

It is the essence of a free society.

And if one group’s candidate wins, it does not signal the end of the republic as we know it. Americans have elected deeply flawed and damaged candidates to a variety of offices — including president — for years, decades and centuries. The republic survives. It survives because our Founding Fathers instituted a system of checks and balances. Most importantly, though, it survives because as Americans we ultimately understand that nothing is more important than supporting our right to live in a free society.

It is the essence of being an American.


4 thoughts on “Checks and balances, balances and checks: Just where are the adults?

  1. Hello Madison. I subscribed to your blog because I always enjoyed reading your editorials in the Times News. I’m glad that you continue to share your thoughts in a public venue. I appreciate your point of view, your storytelling, and your wit. Keep on keeping on!! Speaking from personal experience, sometimes we need to get it wrong in order to get it right! Thanks again for sharing. Kate Ruble

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Except in the instance of Trump’s Election, they avoided “shaking hands & moving forward”. ( but It’s been that way since Newt Gingrich was Speaker In 1994.” Divided Government is Good.

    On a local issue, what’s your take on Bob Byrd’s loss in the Commission campaign?


    Sent from my iPhone



    • Bob’s defeat is a huge loss overall for the county.. There should be a good mixture of beliefs and thoughts on elected boards so all voices are heard and considered. The county is conservative, that’s a given, but it’s not as conservative as the current board makeup. Only Eddie Boswell could be considered even remotely moderate. I think Bob’s defeat reflects overall turnout, too. This is also seen in the sales tax vote.. People supported the bonds but voted in a horrifying number against their own interests in how to pay for them. But any tax these days gets a knee-jerk reaction from people.


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