Vital Signs

The Revolution in Waco: Torching the Constitution

A hundred years from now historians, if they are still permitted to research and write, will argue about when the United States started down the slippery slope to totalitarianism. Many Southern historians believe it began with the erosion of the U.S. Constitution occasioned by President Lincoln's disregard of that document and by the Reconstruction Era. Some historians point to the massive powers assumed by the federal government during the Progressive Era. Others might date the slide to FDR's "New Deal" or LBJ's "Great Society" programs. A few might even highlight Chief Justice John Marshall and his doctrine of judicial review. In truth, the path returning the United States to constitutional government was visible and could have been taken at any time after these periods, either by a conscientious government or by an American public sufficiently outraged.

But when a government uses massive physical force against its people, illegally and unconstitutionally, the power of the public and the extent of its outrage is tested. It is either found ultimately victorious over tyranny—as after the Boston Massacre and the Alamo—or intimidated, confused, and indifferent, as is rapidly becoming the case in the aftermath of the Waco Massacre. When the latter occurs, the future of a republic becomes predictably tragic.

What are the national and local purveyors of public knowledge doing in what...

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