Americans learn from the cradle up that their safety depends on their government “protecting and defending the constitution”. For their part, they are taught to pledge allegiance to the flag. Both groups are signed, sealed and delivered like packages to whatever schemes - and we learn of new ones every day - those in power have decided to pursue.
It occurred to me recently that I know of no other country that is based on these two cultural artifacts. I could be wrong, of course, and would welcome information to the contrary. But while learned books are appearing about how to fix the constitution, I’m not aware of any scholar questioning the appropriateness of having a political class that swears to uphold it, rather than do what is best for their citizens, with no preconditions.
Not that other governments eschew scheming. Not at all. It’s merely a question of context and extent. But citizens who have not been taught mantras are more likely to see through the scheming and, when necessary, take to the streets to stop it. We learn that this is a sign of inferiority, as the possible outcome that a new constitution will be written. But even constitutions eventually outlive their relevance, no matter how long they’ve been in effect (the familiar “it’s served us so well for so long”. But has it? Even to the extent that it has, life is change, and what served in one epoch may be counter-productive at another.
Of course, it’s not altogether surprising that this country should have been set up this way: after all, it was about becoming independent of the major power on earth at the time, which in fact soon found an ally (France) to threaten us via the Indians (we had to ward them off too and they were not in favor of a constitution that did little for them). So that formulation, protect and defend the constitution, was one of the things that ensured our survival as a nation.
But now? We are signed, sealed ad delivered to accept Halliburton, Enron, Blackwater, Cheney and his machinations, religious extremism at home and imperialist adventures abroad.
How can we say no if it’s not in the Constitution? (It IS in the Declaration of Independence, but guess what, that’s not what our leaders promise to defend...)
The latest trick legislation that goes under the sinister title of get this, “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act’, sponsored by none other than the Democrat Jane Harmon, and passed in the house with only seven dissenting votes, is our way of laying the legal groundwork for doing what Musharraf is doing in Pakistan,such as dissolving the supreme court and arresting thousands of lawyers.
This Constitution that our representatives swear to protect, allows that, and explains why we continue to support Musharraf.
Even when it comes to more innocuous bills, legislators spend precious time and our money arguing about whether they would be constitutional. If the legislators cannot agree, then the argument gets kicked upstairs to the supreme court, where it becomes apparent just how much hay you can make with those split hairs.
The Constitution also seasons issues of states versus federal rights with extra salt to rub in the wounds of those who suffer abuse.
And on and on.
With elected officials committed in advance to accepting the constitutional straightjacket over every small matter, however trivial, and citizens taught to stand at attention and gawk at the flag as if it were he Madonna, how can we hope to change anything in this country?
How can we change how elections are held (the electoral college is sacrosanct)?
How can we get rid of lobbyists? They will evoke freedom of speech, as will fascist marchers, (even as we combat “islamo-facism” elsewhere);
How can we elect a congress that will consist of citizen legislators, there for a limited time to fix a particular problem that each one feels strongly about?
How can we transform our foreign policy in such a way that the rest of the world understands we know we’re part of the problem?
When we commit to defending a document that, taken literally, has no relevance in today’s world, we end up betraying the ideals it was intended to serve.
When citizens pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, they don’t question what the piece of cloth represents, whether it be racial discrimination at home or abroad - (which is what our wars are about).
Let’s hear it for politicians who pledge to serve the best interests of their citizens, and citizens who view flags the way ladies in court viewed them in tournaments - as decorative representations of individual valor.