In ancient mythology, the phoenix was a symbol of rebirth. As its former life came to an end in a show of flames and spontaneous combustion, a newer, even better life was born from the ashes of its predecessor.
Today, our country, like the dying phoenix, finds itself afire with extremists from across the political spectrum. Our federal government is wholly dysfunctional, mired in investigations, unable to pass a budget, helpless to fix a broken health care system, and too busy vacationing to address our country’s infrastructure problems. The divided politics of Washington has spewed into the streets of Alexandria, Baltimore, Charleston, Charlottesville, New York, Orlando, San Bernardino and many more places.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” With Washington paralyzed by dysfunction and the people at arms on social media and in the streets, we must ask: Where will this country find the leadership to rise from a society disintegrating into ashes?
The hope lies in Phoenix. On Sept. 12, the states will assemble in Arizona in a historic convention of states to discuss their authority under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to propose amendments to restructure and repair the broken federal government. To be clear, the Phoenix convention has been called by the Arizona State Legislature to plan for a future Article V convention of states to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. But its import goes far beyond that.
There hasn’t been a national convention of states since February 1861. At that tumultuous time, 14 northern and seven southern border states came together to try to stave off a looming civil war. They successfully proposed a solution, but by then, unfortunately, seven Deep South states had seceded and the division was too far advanced to slow its momentum. It would take four years of war and a decade of military occupation of the South before a phoenix would begin to rise from the ashes. But there remains time for this country to avoid another civil war.
The states represent the people, and they are the parents of our federal government, not the other way around. As Washington falters and the public chooses sides for battle, in Phoenix the states can send a message to the people that help and hope are on the way; and to Washington, D.C. that it is accountable to the people, not the perpetuation of its own power or the desires of special interests. In Phoenix, the states will be exercising their authority under our Constitution to birth a new, better country from the ashes of the present one.
It is thus critical the states seize this opportunity to change the course of history. We are aware of some 25 states that are selecting delegates to attend Phoenix. About 10 states are currently discussing the matter, but divided leadership and logistics are creating hurdles. Another 15 left-leaning states are non-committal on attendance. The Phoenix convention is not about a “right” or “left” agenda; it’s about the states re-uniting our republic.
In 1861, the states were able to bring our deeply divided nation together for civil discourse. The convention’s chairman was former President John Tyler. Recognizing the partisan division that lay within, he called upon the delegates to come together with words ever so fitting for today:
“Gentlemen, the eyes of the whole country are turned to this assembly in expectation and hope. Your patriotism will surmount the difficulties, however great, if you will but accomplish but one triumph to advance, and that is, a triumph over party. And what is party when compared to the task of rescuing one’s country from danger? Do that, and one long, loud shout of joy and gladness will resound throughout the land.”
The eyes of the country are indeed upon Phoenix, as a documentary team and national media have already committed to attend. Can leadership within the states place triumph over party? Can Phoenix rebirth this burning country from its smoldering ashes? We will know come Sept. 12, when the first national convention of states in more than 150 years convenes at noon.
• David Guldenschuh is a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute Center for Constitutional Reform and serves as president of the Committee for a Fiscal Responsibility Amendment.
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