Justice Souter’s old warning finds new life in this election

Video by PBS NewsHour

Surprisingly, over the past few days, excerpts of a public conversation I held four years ago with retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter in Concord, New Hampshire, have been circulating on the internet.

We spoke on September 14, 2012, the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, on a subject dear to Souter’s heart: the meaning of the Constitution today, and the importance of educating young people on how their government works.

A dry topic, perhaps. But his comments sprang to life last Thursday night after Rachel Maddow aired an excerpt of the interview on her MSNBC program. She was reacting to Donald Trump’s refusal in the previous night’s debate to say he would accept the results of the election if he lost.

“Given that shock that has just been administered to this system, this is David Souter,” Maddow said. “He will not make you feel better … but it’s helpful, I think, to know there was a reason to see this whole thing coming.”

Her MaddowBlog headlined its post: “Souter warned of a Trump-like candidate in prescient remarks.” Other websites have called his comments “prophetic.”

Justice Souter said republican government wasn’t threatened by foreign invasion or a military coup, but by civic ignorance.

“What I worry about is, when problems are not addressed and the people do not know who is responsible … some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem,’” he said. “That is how the Roman Republic fell.”

“That is the way democracy dies,” he added.

Watch the 2.5-minute video above to hear what Maddow called Souter’s “crackling intelligence” on the subject.