Defend the Nation or the Republic?

By Graham Glover

“I…do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

These words are part of the oath that every person takes upon entering or being promoted in the United States military. These are serious words that speak to the importance of the profession and the purpose for which it was created. Although the military does many things, its primary purpose is and will remain the protection and preservation of the United States of America. Or is it the protection and preservation of the United States Constitution?

I pose this question because I think it’s one that all Americans should consider. That is, which is more important: the protection and preservation of our nation or our republic?

Some might argue they are one in the same, that there is no United States without a republic. This argument is not without merit. Our nation was founded as a republic and our constitution attests to this. So, swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States is swearing to support and defend the republic that is our nation.

Still, I wonder. Which do people think more important?

I wonder because it seems to me that an increasingly number of Americans would place the protection and preservation of our nation over that of our republic.

Americans love America. We recently elected a man president whose campaign mantra was and remains: “Make America Great Again”. Except for a few radicals on the ideological extremes, Americans of every political stripe love this nation. We support it. We defend it. Protecting it and preserving it is at the forefront of almost every citizen of this great land.

But what about our republic? Do we feel the same about the form of the government that shapes our nation? What about the protection and preservation of it? Are American citizens really all that concerned with maintaining our unique democratic republic?

Consider how more and more Americans are not as concerned with the protection and preservation of some of the rights enumerated in our Bill of Rights. (We recently had a candidate for the United States Senate that wanted to do away with over half of them!) Chief among those rights is the right to free speech, a right some Americans no longer view as sacrosanct. This right further shapes our collective understanding of what it means to assemble, and more importantly, what it means to have religious beliefs of one’s own choosing and how one can publicly practice those beliefs in our pluralistic nation.

Or what about the separation of powers? You know, the republican idea that there are three equal branches of government. The rising power of the presidency (occurring under administrations of both parties), the activism of the courts, and the gridlock of Congress, make me wonder how our people and our public servants understand this most basic republican principle.

Then there is how Americans view the role of our nation in world affairs. Our Founders had a very distinct understanding of what affairs America ought to be involved in outside of our borders. But our Founders didn’t live in the global world that we do. America was not the lone superpower in the late 18th century that it is today. Still, the question is one Americans should consider, as the role America occupies today across the globe is not at all indicative of sustaining the ideals of a republic that our Founders gave us.

So, which is it? Our nation? Our republic? Or both?

This is an important question that all Americans should consider as our nation and our republic is in the midst of changes it has not seen in over 50 years. How we understand these questions – how we answer them – will shape who and what the American republic is and will become in the decades ahead.