Commentary: Founders articulated our American values
Rarely a day passes that I don’t hear a journalist, senator, or TV commentator use the phrase “our American values” or “what the American people expect.” Hearing little clarification about the values they reference, and deeply troubled by current events, I feel compelled to join in the conversation and begin with:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This statement is the preamble to our national Constitution. I have long understood that with the writing and signing of this vaunted document, the Founding Fathers articulated our American values. It is also my understanding that the people who participate in establishing…, insuring…, providing…, promoting…, and securing the Blessing… are the true and real American patriots.
These values were not defined by politicians. Nowhere are political parties mentioned in the Constitution that follows the preamble; only Congress, executive president and vice president, and judicial officers referenced government – by and for the people.
I think it’s important to remember a few facts regarding the time when the Constitution was adopted. There were only 13 states (can you name them?), slavery existed, and there were no electrical appliances and cordless phones, no nuclear bombs and prosthetic limbs, no email and Kindles, no immigration quotas, no Golden Gate Bridge, etc., etc. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when we look back on the good old days, we generally opine that life was simpler then, but was it?
Was America great or greater at that time? That depends upon how we compare/contrast our times. Constitutional amendments were and are made to act upon/improve/expand the idealized vision of the Founding Fathers, but somewhere along the way, we began to betray that vision. Witness now our divided justice system (Black Lives Matter movement), our failure to promote the general welfare (cutting Medicaid and reducing financial support for public education), the proliferation of guns in private ownership and increasing funds for military buildup (doing little to ensure domestic tranquility and even less for global peace). Do any of these developments move us toward “a more perfect union?”
The Trump slogan “make America great again” inspired less than a majority of our population to elect a president with meager knowledge of or regard for the preamble and the Constitution, but who, definitively, reveals a superiority complex. What is his vision for a great America in this 21st century?
Charlottesville has brought us to our knees in grief and disbelief. We, the people, look like mobs of contentious, individual egos who ignore standards of respect for common sense and rule of law. Where do we go from here?
Faced with an obvious idolatry of heroes and confusion over the meaning of symbols, I think we are required to do the work of reconciliation again and again. We can choose to let go the perceived-as-sacred statues and stop afflicting many of us with painful reminders, or we can keep them in public, prominent places and continue to agitate civil strife. (Maybe the lesson here is to stop building statues that “honor” a person.)
A place to start, allow me to suggest, is to re-read the preamble, ponder, and reflect on what American values you can define and defend as a nation. Continue to pray that the president and congressional leaders be granted the wisdom and courage to represent these values to other nations.
Elizabeth Truesdale is a Strasburg resident.