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Is the American Covenant broken?



Tomorrow a new book will appear in bookstores and become available for online sale, that purports to address the level of disunity and incivility in America today. This book (American Covenant: How the Constitution Unified Our Nation—and Could Again), as the title implies, discussed the American Covenant. Which, as the author apparently describes it, is the treaty that holds disparate people together under one government. The author – and at least one reviewer – recognize that the American people have split into to opposing factions. One of the two major Parties represents each, which has probably held since before the War Between the States. Now that division has sharpened to a level not seen since that War. Obviously the author, and reviewer, do not want that War to break out afresh. But the solution this book offers might be too little, too late.

What is the American Covenant?

A covenant, of any kind, is the most solemn kind of treaty any two individuals, groups, nations (here in the literal meaning of ethnic groups, from the Greek ethnos), and nation-states (which the ancients called kingdoms) can make. To seal and demonstrate the deal, the two parties (or their representatives) literally cut two animals in sagittal section. (That is to say, split them down the middle into left and right halves.) They then walked between them, so that each signified to the other that he would submit to just that sort of execution if he violated the treaty.

The expression to make a covenant, in the Holy or Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), literally translates as to cut a covenant. To this day, to cut a deal is English speaker’s slang for making an agreement of any kind.

The American Covenant, as author Yuval Levin presumably means by that expression, is the agreement holding together disparate groups of people, each with their own interest, under the general category of citizen of the United States. (Lawful residents are guests of the body of citizens and thus, strictly speaking, are not parties to the American Covenant.) The Constitution of the United States is the instrument of the American Covenant. But as many serious thinkers have already observed, an element has taken root in this country, pretending to abide by the American Covenant, with a view to breaking it. They wish to introduce, not a new covenant, but an absolute rulership by themselves.

Evidence for the breach of the American Covenant

Peter Berkowitz, in his review of Yuval Levin’s book, shows a decent understanding that one side has breached the covenant. He correctly observes that Democrats rejoice in the conviction of Donald Trump on a charge few among them can define. (That holds, in part, because a consistent Democrat does not proceed from logic at all, but from emotion – usually spite.) Republicans, for their part, have rallied to support their standard bearer, to the tune of $53 million in the 24 hours after the reading of the Fearverdict. (That two-thirds of that sum came from small donors bodes even better for Trump – because it represents many more votes.) Berkowitz also lays out these damning facts:

  1. District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the prosecutor, ran for office promising to prosecute Trump. (So did Letitia “Tish” James, the New York State Attorney General.)
  2. Matthew Colangelo seconded himself from the Justice Department to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to help prosecute the case.
  3. Judge Juan Merchan has a record of making Democratic campaign donations. Furthermore, his daughter is profiting directly from this case, because she has top Democrats as clients.

Fear of retribution

Berkowitz then observes that adherents of each Party assume those of the other Party are crazy. True enough: Democrats express fear that Donald Trump will take an awesome revenge against them. In fact, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told an interviewer that she was afraid of going to prison if he wins.

From New York magazine:

I take him at his word when he says that he’s going to round up people. I take him at his word when he threatens journalists. I take him at his word. I feel like what we saw in his first presidency was an amuse-bouche to what his intentions are. He has learned from his mistakes of appointing professionals, and he will not make that mistake next time.

Trump does absolutely have a chance to win. That is why I have thrown my support behind Biden early and I support it vociferously. It is unequivocal that if Donald Trump wins, we are looking at the potential dissolution of democracy in the United States of America and the question about what would happen to me or the Democratic Party is a joke compared to the question of what is going to happen to our country.

But Berkowitz neglects to mention the plans certain Democratic Party officeholders and candidates have articulated – plans they have for Republicans. They demonstrably include establishing a network of “re-education camps” for anyone who supports Donald Trump in any way. But they could also include availing themselves of new techniques in the re-establishment of brain plasticity, to reshape people’s brains in an effort to turn them “progressive forever.”

Berkowitz does observe that when people on either or both sides believe the worse of their adversaries, civil strife – or worse – can result. But he doesn’t go far enough in observing that one side really does threaten, not democratic government but republican government. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for dinner. Republicanism is:

  1. Multi-level government, with each level responsible to the level above and for the level below, and
  2. Immutable laws forbidding the government even to contemplate certain kinds of tax, criminal, or other laws.

“Representative government” does not a republic make, nor guarantee. To make or guarantee a republic requires Bills of Rights, and the appointment of representatives in a way that respects the boundaries of and between levels.

Further evidence for breach of covenant

Berkowitz does quote, or paraphrase, Levin in this discussion of how the Progressives subverted the American Covenant.

Today, the Constitution accelerates disunity. A prime cause, argues Levin, are ideas about the function and purpose of democratic government that progressive elites began to import into politics and public discourse in the late 19th century. These ideas explicitly repudiate the Constitution’s spirit of conciliation and intentionally disrupt the intricately organized relations between the legislative, executive, and judicial powers.

Progressivism aimed to overcome the constitutional separation of powers within the federal government and between the federal and state governments so that a disinterested and unconstrained technocratic elite based in Washington could manage American affairs by directly imposing on the nation its moral views and political preferences. By concentrating power in Washington and expanding the administrative state, progressive elites would replace the messy give and take contrived by the Constitution. No more would representatives of competing constituencies, compelled by their various institutional roles and facilitated by the prerogatives the Constitution attaches to their offices, hammer out agreements that perfectly pleased nobody but satisfied both sides adequately. Instead, well-credentialed experts – equating the progressive view with the complete truth – would decide what is best for the people. The results are in: a nation bitterly divided into self-satisfied experts and resentful ordinary citizens.

And there you have it! Neither Berkowitz nor Levin say what those “ideas about the function and purpose of democratic government” were. But anyone of good heart and diligent intellect, can guess. Progressives believed – and still believe – that the “function and purpose” were somehow making “the human condition” better. And of course they proposed to do this without God. That is why men like Roger Baldwin campaigned to drive religion from the public square. Madalyn Murray O’Hair would do the same with her “American Atheists” organization. (Actually, American Atheists began as the O’Hair family scam enterprise. Eventually their bookkeeper scammed the O’Hairs – and worse, kidnapped, extorted the money from, and finally murdered them. After that, American Atheists remade itself as a for-real non-profit – or anti-profit – like Roger Baldwin’s American Civil Liberties Union.)


Even long before then, these same cold-hearted revolutionaries took over the Democratic Party in 1972, by nominating George McGovern. Today McGovern would stand in awe of what the Democratic Party has now become. (Though he might gasp to see their current standard-bearer, who doesn’t even know what’s appropriate or inappropriate on State occasions.)

So how to solve the problem

Thus we can all agree: the American Covenant is in breach. So what do the people do about it? Berkowitz, again quoting Levin, offers a solution: a return to proper civics education. This education would be about more than how our government works. It would be about how it should work, and what it means to be a responsible and engaged citizen.

But that’s not going to happen right away in our divided society. The best that can happen is that those of good heart, build the kind of educational system that emphasizes a liberal education – what Thomas Pangle, Ph.D. in 1980 called an education that liberates. Sadly the vituperative and inveterate Progressives will never accept it. They will cling to their ideas, and we must assume they are prepared to kill to perpetuate them. How else can we interpret an actual call for sending all their opponents to re-education camps? This from the same kind of people who fear that we will send them to prison.

What should happen

Without a doubt, many of the current Democratic officeholders should go to trial – and, if convicted, go to prison. At a minimum, several judges rate removal from the bench on impeachment for, and conviction of, infidelity to the Constitution. This goes double for any judge whom we trust to try the cases of those other officeholders.

If this sounds like the same “otherization” of which the Democrats are guilty, so be it. They made themselves “other than Americans,” not we. More to the point, they broke the American Covenant. They did it by setting up colleges and universities as re-education camps with permanent, rather than temporary, buildings. This has been going on since the latter half of the twentieth century, if not earlier. They also did it by placing judges who sought not to obey the Constitution, but to supplant it with a body of case law the Constitution would never support. As Justice Samuel A. Alito so tartly observed in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.


So they should consider themselves fortunate that we, the aggrieved parties, do not demand the maximum ancient penalty. (Not, that is, except in self-defense.) If Yuval Levin’s book has one flaw, it is that, having acknowledged that one particular party to the American Covenant breached it, he failed to articulate any good reason why the aggrieved party should ever trust them again.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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