By Bob Ferris
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.” Preamble of the US Constitution written by Gouverneur MorrisI cringe too when I watch elected officials taking actions such as gutting or dismissing environmental protections (1,2,3), proposing the selling off of public lands for exploitation (1,2,3), and gleefully creating tax structures and budgets that benefit a few while ripping the guts out the support systems and prospects for the vast majority of citizens they supposedly represent. How through any twisted manipulation can any of these actions pass through the simple and innovative elegance of the Preamble of the US Constitution—the essence of what makes the American experiment exceptional—without bursting into flames? Certainly these elected officials are doing the bidding of their wealthy donors, but they are just as clearly failing in their oath to uphold the document that governs us all.
My blood pressure rises also as I see the too few and the too greedy investing millions to reshape a country they have gained too much from and sacrificed far too little for to grant them the right meddle on this scale. While I suspect it is natural to resent environmental regulations when your wealth and power depends on your ability to externalize the cost of your operations at the expense of your fellow citizens, but this hardly demonstrates virtue or makes you a patriot. Similarly it is likely easy to push elected officials to sell public lands with pen strokes when you and your family did not fight the battles or shed blood in order to bring those lands into the federal estate. And those few, fortunate souls who have climbed to the top of the heap financially should understand that they need to invest in America and Americans to continue to enjoy their prosperity. Their happenstance was not made out of whole cloth but rather because they disproportionately benefited from our shared infrastructure or resources.
Although I am not a fan of Ayn Rand’s, I will admit that laying this all on her doorstep is perhaps an overstatement because the warp and weft of the above cloak of selfishness seems woven from equal parts of irony and hypocrisy rather than from the guiding principles of reason she espoused. How else could the profoundly religious who advocate the above in Ms. Rand’s name ignore that she also did not believe in God? Why that would be kind of like calling yourself a devout Christian while supporting a platform of hatred, intolerance, and selfishness. Right?
These Rand-ites also seem to forget that Ms. Rand was pro-choice, not that fond of Ronald Reagan and that her character Howard Roark played by Gary Cooper in the movie The Fountainhead drew distinctions between the positive nature of achievement and the negative connotations of plundering (see above video clip). She also denigrated those who sought power rather than contributing creativity. But it seems to be the nature of extremists worldwide to take iconic figures such as Ms. Rand, Jesus, Mohamed or the Founding Fathers and use them as excuses to commit atrocities that would never be condoned or endorsed by these cultural touchstones.
I suspect it is human nature to hear what you want to hear so that the words that come through your earhole support your own narrative. But at some juncture—generally at a crisis point—honesty has to prevail and we must look deeply at ourselves, our rhetoric and actions. For Americans the Preamble of the Constitution (see note below) is a wonderful place to start this process, because our exceptionalism springs from that single paragraph in that iconic document that told the world that we were different. (This is a little like looking at your marriage vows when going through relationship counselling.)
Moreover, we should remember that the Founding Fathers were extremely smart and principled people who embraced learning including science. They were also individuals who risked and sacrificed much to establish this mode of governance. And our elected officials should therefore reflect those exemplars and those values.
The examples at the beginning demonstrate that we have drifted far from these founding ideals of governance by individuals who are un-bullied by church, state or financial entities. We have to find our way back or risk becoming once again the very beast we rebelled against (1,2).
(Note: I have always felt a great connection to the Preamble as it was written by my seventh Great Uncle Gouverneur Morris who was half-brother to my sixth Great Grand Father Lewis Morris who signed the Declaration.)