A Civics Primer for Fifth Graders (and Donald Trump)

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Apr 12, 2016 10:44 AM
A Civics Primer for Fifth Graders (and Donald Trump)

There is much about America and our system of government that every child in our country needs to know. Fifth grade is the year most schools begin teaching "Civics" and American History, but since the majority of public schools do it so poorly, I've prepared a list of 7 basic items that every 10-year-old should know. If anyone sees Donald Trump please share this list with him. I've explained them very simply so that he can understand.

Mr. Trump desperately wants to become “the boss” of America - but it is painfully clear that he doesn’t know how our government works. I'm not even sure that he knows that congressmen, senators and judges are not employees of the president, and that he can't tell them, "You're fired!". If Mr. Trump finds out that the Constitution actually limits the power of the President, maybe he will drop out of the race and try to become the king of some unsuspecting country. Or perhaps he will decide to simply remain a billionaire businessman. (That way, he still gets to order everyone in his empire around and fire his employees! What fun for him!)

1) There are three branches of our federal government: Judicial, Legislative, and Executive. These separate parts are designed as a system of "checks and balances" on each other, which makes certain that one branch doesn't become too powerful. This ingenious system also means that the president—even if it were Mr. Trump—can't tell everyone what to do or sue people who don’t follow his orders.

2) America's foundational document is the United States Constitution. It outlines the very limited powers of the three branches listed above and secures our rights as citizens. Even the president is bound by the Constitution. (So don’t worry, students: Our armed military members can’t operate outside of the law either - not even if Mr. Trump orders them to, like he said he would do if he were president.)

3) America’s system of government is set up so that the states and the people get to decide everything that is not specifically listed as a power of the federal government. This is called "federalism", and you can read about it in the 10th Amendment. (If you see Mr. Trump, be sure to show him the 10th Amendment in your Pocket Constitution and remind him that it’s part of what we call "The Bill of Rights". Better yet, give him your copy of the Constitution and ask him to read it for homework.)

4) America is a republic. Contrary to Mr. Trump's many recent tweets, speeches and statements, America is not a democracy. (If Mr. Trump knows the Pledge of Allegiance, you would think he would know that we are a republic. After all, it says: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.") Our republic is a representative form of government, where voters get to go to the polls and elect the representatives who "represent" them in Washington, D.C. (Maybe some day you - and Mr. Trump - will read The Federalist Papers, which explain why a republic is better than a democracy; namely because "unalienable" rights of individuals are better protected by a republican form of government, versus a pure democracy where rights can easily be destroyed by the whims of a simple majority at any given time.) In the presidential race, we have an 'Electoral College", which is composed of people who get to make the final vote on who is elected president. States appoint their Electoral College members, and each state gets the same number of electors as the combined number of Congressmen and Senators they have. (Article 2 of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment create the structure and the process for the Electoral College. Perhaps Mr. Trump will read them one day too, since he is, you know, running for president.)

5) The political parties hold national conventions in which each selects just one presidential nominee. The process of how the parties operate, and the way they interact and create the rules with the various states are all agreed to in advance. It is a bit complicated, but all presidential candidates agree to follow the rules before they enter the race (they obviously should take the time to find out what the rules are before they decide to run.) The process allows each state to have a lot of say in how their delegates are chosen, rather than some powerful politician or rich man telling them how they have to operate. (The rules in the states can be changed before the next election, but just as a baseball team can't change the rules in the middle of the game if they start losing, a candidate can't change the rules in the middle of the primary season when he starts losing. Nor should he sue states after the primaries or caucuses are over simply because he lost. (Every time Mr. Trump loses a primary or doesn't get the number of delegates he wants, he stomps his feet and screams "Not fair!" just like that spoiled kid on the baseball team who struck out. Here's an extra credit essay challenge: If Mr. Trump had bothered to read the rules before he entered the race, do you think that he would still be having temper tantrums and threatening to sue states when he loses? Or do you think he will always be a poor sport?)

6) Once all the delegates are chosen and go to their conventions, the delegates have the power to change some of the rules that will govern the actual convention. Although committees meet and get to suggest changes, it is the delegates who decide whether or not to adopt those changes. (In other words, Mr. Trump, or the "leader" of the Republican Party, can't stand up at the podium and dictate a bunch of new rules like a king might try to do.) To become the nominee, you have to capture the votes of a majority of the delegates during the convention. For the Republican Party, that number is 1,237. On the first round of voting the delegates are legally bound to vote according to the way their states voted or caucuses decided. If no candidate wins the majority of the delegates on the first ballot, then another vote is taken and some states then allow their delegates to change their votes to another candidate. This process continues (with delegates able to change their votes as their states permit) until a majority of the delegates agree on one candidate. That person then becomes the official party nominee for the President of the United States. All of the delegates know the rules, and they agree to follow the rules before they go to the convention. And the candidates (including Mr. Trump) are supposed to know and follow the rules too.

7) Sadly, Donald Trump is not alone in his ignorance of the Constitution and the way our government in structured. Many current government leaders have been operating outside of the Constitution for years and are trampling our basic rights every day. One such person is our current president. We don't need another power-hungry Obama. Some politicians have created a huge debt that you and your children will have to deal with. Some of them are trying to control nearly everything about your life - from where you go to school, to what you can eat, to the whether or not your mom and dad get to make decisions about you and your family. Our great Constitution that protects your right to say what you want, to think what you want, to choose what religion you will follow, is in danger of being destroyed. It is very important that we do not elect a president who wants to be "the boss" of you, or who thinks they can ignore the Constitution. We need someone who will follow the Constitution, and inspire and lead other politicians to do so too.

Luckily, there is a person running for president who as a child (just like you) took the time to learn about and even memorize the Constitution. He studied very hard to know American History and what makes our country special. As an adult, he took an oath to "uphold and defend" the Constitution of the United States. Ted Cruz follows the rules that people have agreed on, and when he thinks a law is bad or outdated, he works to change them through the methods that the Constitution allows.

Ted Cruz knows and loves that ours is a government, "of the people, by the people, and for the people"; that we have a Constitution that protects the basic rights of all citizens; that we are a nation where every citizen has an equal voice.

The United States of America has the best system of government in the world, and we must understand and protect the Constitution that provides it. Don't you think that someone who wants to be president - like Donald Trump - should understand and protect it too?