My Fellow Citizens,
I bet you know the name Marcus Aurelius. You might even be familiar with the Roman emporer’s quote:
“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
As the commentary stacked up this week (or four) about how fragile democratic government is, I kept thinking about this quote and the work of constitution-makers. James Madison knew there were no limits to the horrors partisan-thinking could bring down upon us.
He knew the news we're watching today would come even if we feel a little surprised by it. We have been lucky enough to live through a long period of stability, but today it sounds like the whole system might crumble around us.
What did James Madison do?
He used these weaknesses to build a resillient constitutional system. To fortify the system against our vulnerabilities, he required multiple majorities across the voting public, between two chambers of Congress and across time when our representatives seek re-election. Madison showed us how to make the “obstacle” work FOR the system instead of against it.
Contemporary author Ryan Holiday picked up Marcus Aurelius’s wisdom in his book, “The Obstacle is the Way.” He explains that moving through, around, over or above an apparent obstcale, requires a particular kind of logic.
“It’s not just: How can I think this is not so bad? No, it is how to will yourself to see that this must be good—an opportunity to gain a new foothold, move forward, or go in a better direction. Not to ‘be positive’ but learn to be ceaselessly creative and opportunistic.”
Perhaps this explains a Texas congressman picking up the charge to fight against “the wall.” Or a would-be Senator using Facebook Live to show a walk to dinner through the safe streets of El Paso. And maybe we have more Americans today who know more about life at our southern border than they did last year.
That’s the work of politics, right? Let’s all be ceaselessly creative and keep asking how we can make this good.
Let's think together soon,