“Young man, what have you done for America today?” demanded the Congressman while looking at me. I sat nervously at my page desk on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The floor bustled with activity as members of Congress filled the chamber for a roll call vote.
“I rang the bells,” I meekly replied to the Congressman. As a high school page for the U.S. House, one of my responsibilities was operating the bell system that notified members of Congress when to come to the floor to vote. “Without me, no one would have come here to vote today,” I continued. The Congressman’s stern demeanor melted into a broad smile. “Yes, you’re right – you did your duty for our democracy today,” the Congressman said as he walked away to cast his vote.
That years-old memory came flooding back as I watched riotous criminals violate our U.S. Capitol last week. The benches that I sat on as a page were used to barricade the door to the House floor. The same Capitol police who watched over me as a high schooler were violently attacked.
These insurrectionists are not the patriots they claim to be. If you want to learn about real patriotism, I welcome you to tour the In Their Own Words Veterans Museum in Perham, read the names on the Veterans Memorial in Underwood, or walk through the American flags that line Fergus Falls on Memorial Day.
The actions taken on Jan. 6 were also not conservative. A core tenet of conservativism is to conserve, to protect the precious institutions of democracy given to us by previous generations. The Bill of Rights, limited government, checks and balances, and power vested in “We The People” are all part of our inheritance as Americans.
These institutions of democracy do not guarantee us our desired outcomes. In fact, we will often find ourselves on the losing side of political debates; however, no political outcome is worth degrading, disregarding, or demolishing our system of government.
The day prior to the assault on the U.S. Capitol, I took my oath as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives in our gleaming State Capitol. Being your State Representative is a high honor, yet it is a humble position.
With that humble position comes a simple oath that required me to solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and our state Constitution. Supporting the Constitution means safeguarding the institutions outlined in that founding document. I believe we all, as Americans, share this oath to support our Constitution.
My prayer is that we will learn from this ugly moment in our history. If we care about defending our constitutional rights, we need to be the caretakers of the institutions enshrined in our Constitution. From how we engage on social media to actions we take at the Capitol steps, we each face decisions every day that either support or harm our constitutional system.
Politics will always have sharp edges and heated debate but let us engage in our politics in a way that strengthens the institutions that have served us so well. History will judge us on our ability to conserve these critical institutions for future generations.
Let us ask ourselves, “What have I done for America today?”