For ten years, I was the Archivist of the United States, and certainly one key responsibility I had was making sure the original Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—were protected, preserved, and as accessible as possible to the public. Early in my tenure, my staff and I concluded that we were not doing enough to adequately educate the public who came through the rotunda on the values of the Charters of Freedom. We made major changes to not only enhance the visit to the Rotunda but added educational space to further promote understanding of the Charters of Freedom, the importance of public records, and their many values to our democracy.
On September 11, 2001, the initial terrorist attacks on the Trade Center quickly led to concerns about attacks on Washington D.C. and the possibility of one target being the National Archives. That potential action could destroy the original documents that undergird our whole system of democracy. Fortunately, that did not happen, but the scenario certainly brought to me a reminder of the special value of the work of the Founders. They put together a system with three equal and powerful branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. For over 200 years, this system has been the bedrock of modern democracy and has become a model for nations around the world.
In late July, as part of this year's Mandela Washington Fellowship six-week Civic Leadership Institute at K-State, I had a very good visit with a young woman from Zimbabwe who ran for public office there and plans to stay involved in public life. She made it clear that folks in her country who want a democracy like ours are now looking at us with real concern and potential doubt. For her and many others, America was the model that many developing nations used to move closer to a real democracy. Her message reminded me that our current crisis may have significant impacts far beyond our borders.
Today our system of governance is being tested daily by an administration that more and more acts if they, the executive branch and particularly the President, can dictate what will be done. Between Executive Orders and other actions that ignore the will of Congress, total disregard for the value of a quality civil service system, using the Presidency for his personal financial gain, stoking the flames of hatred and racism toward immigrants and other minority groups, and appointing Judges whose ideology is extremely far to the right, the Trump Administration is the beginning of potentially demolishing our democracy. Ignoring legislative budget decisions as if President Trump were more like a King and looking to dictators to form close friendships causes not just me but lots of folks great concern.
It is my hope that this September 17th, Constitution Day, many of you will raise these issues of concern. I hope that this year, it will not be just another day but a wake-up call for all Americans to understand just how much impact the 2020 elections will have on our future as a democracy. It can no longer be assumed that our system of government will survive if the current disregard for democratic norms and systems of checks and balances continues.