Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Foundation of Our American Democracy

The Constitution of the United States of America is viewed as the foundation of our democracy, but it is not.   Those who hold public office or serve in the armed forces take an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” it—“to support and defend” it “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and bear “true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Thurgood Marshall (first African-American to be appointed to the Supreme Court) said the  Constitution our Founding Fathers “devised was defective from the start, requiring several corrective amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today.”  Marshall’s comment reminds me of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again:”
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive or tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above. 
And Hughes’, as a man of color, added this poignant refrain after every verse:  “It never was America to me.”

The Founding Fathers tried, unsuccessfully, “to dream the dream the dreamers dreamed.”  The original Constitution didn’t come close.  It was a compromise, fought over with many bitter differences of opinion.  After it was written, it seemed to those who framed it to be totally unsatisfactory.  Out of the fifty-five men involved, sixteen refused to sign it, and none of the other thirty-nine were wholly satisfied with it! 

How did such a document survive?  First, it survived because it was a great document, but also because it was perceived as a flexible document. Second, it survived because the  American people had enough ethical and spiritual gumption, enough intelligence, conscience, character, and loyalty to change it, sustain it, and make it work.  Without that, the Constitution, as many of the framers expected, would never have survived.

The real foundation of this democracy is not the Constitution, but rather the ethical and spiritual foundations, the intelligence, conscience, and character of the American people.  If that foundation crumbles, so the Constitution crumbles.

The Lighthouse cannot endure if the rock foundation
be swept away by the raging sea.

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