Darrell Ehrlick

(Daily Montanan) The former leader of the National Republican Party who was also the longtime governor of Montana spoke to a crowd of businesses leaders downtown in Billings on Monday, warning them without a return to common-sense solutions, respect for government institutions, and fidelity to the state and federal constitutions, regardless of political party, the country risks losing its democracy.

Speaking to the Billings Downtown Rotary, Marc Racicot reminded a ballroom full of residents in Northern Hotel that America’s democracy, while old, is still fragile and voluntary.

“Our future has yet to be written yet,” Racicot said.

Without calling out any political leaders by name, Racicot said that he remained silent for too long.

He described being spurred to action when he read that a poll reported 34% of American citizens thought it was fine to take violent action against the government.

“I was stunned when I saw that question,” Racicot said. “It’s never appropriate. Our constitution is a social contract where we agree to abide by the spirit and the terms of the constitution. There is no clause for insurrection.”

Another poll, produced by Ipsos and National Public Radio, showed that 70% of Americans believe the country is at risk of failing.

The former Montana governor referenced a famous story about Benjamin Franklin being asked after the Constitutional Convention whether America was going to be a monarchy or a republic, with Franklin replying, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

“That is the existential question we face now: Can we keep our republic?” Racicot said. “There are ominous and unmistakable signs.”

He said when he was governor deals got done by talking across the table, “reasoning together, working together.” He said previously leaders took for granted that everyone had a common language of values, and keeping a tight grip on power wasn’t as important as accomplishments.

Racicot said the only hope is to return to a system where citizens feel faithfulness to the concepts of the Constitution, even if that means not necessarily winning or keeping political power.

“Faithfulness to the spirit of the law means that we respect the rights and differences of others,” Racicot said. “It’s the exact opposite of political parties, which is a denial of power for its own sake.”

He said that Montana used to be known as a place of “stubborn civility,” but even that has changed.

“We suspected the best of each other until we were proven different,” Racicot said.

He said that the biggest difference in the time between when he was governor till now is the advent of social media and the internet.

“The chances for sitting across the room from each other has been either diminished or eliminated,” Racicot said.

In the place of conversation, the former governor said now there are just “mindless electronic rituals.”

“There’s all this hateful piffle,” Racicot said. “The internet – don’t get me wrong – is a wonderful thing in so many ways, but it’s also pitiful the damage that is done by spreading misinformation that has no basis in fact. I am asking people to bring more self-discipline and integrity to communications and fidelity to the shared belief in our state.”

Part of that challenge, Racicot noted, is that there are 3.5 million tweets on Twitter every second, and what the former Republican governor, who was raised in Libby and Miles City, suggested is more listening.

He said he learned the lesson while he was the leader of the state at an eighth-grade graduation in Biddle, Montana. He said he was struck by a student who told him, “We’re not a groups of different Americans, we’re one group with different Americans in it.”

“We have thought it’s going be OK, but that won’t happen unless we make it OK. You have to demand the rule of law not by banging your shoes but outlining clearly your expectations,” Racicot said. “These Republicans – my party – have not recognized the rule of law. For example, you pay judges for rulings not to fall in line.”

The only other option is a return to dictators or the law of the jungle where the strongest, most powerful impose their will on everyone else, Racicot said.

“The moment we fall asleep, we’re done,” Racicot said.