Updated: Jan 24
The words "us" and "them" do not exist in the preamble of the Constitution. In fact, "us" doesn't exist anywhere in the entire Constitution. And that got me to thinking... if there is no "us," then there is no "them." "Them," in other words, always begins with "us." Let me explain.
We don't tend to demonize others until we've glorified ourselves. When we assume we're the exception, or we belong at the top, or we're better than others, then what naturally follows is the subjection and subjugation of others, the eventual demonizing of the "Other." This is what has happened in our country from its inception and, episodically, in fits and starts, till now. It has happened in a more pronounced way in the last twenty to thirty years with the birth of hyper-partisan politics and the aiding and abetting of social media as a channel for its vitriol. Give hate a megaphone and it will shout.
What makes the Constitution such an incredible document is its opening words, "We the People..." It sets the tone for what this country is supposed to be and gives it the foundation for its principles as the world's oldest democracy. The USA is the only country with a continuous democracy more than 200 years old. Given this remarkable fact, we cannot let the first and most important word in the Constitution, "We," devolve into "Us and Them." To the extent that we do, we will be, not the USA but the DSA, no better than the former Soviet Republics who were a single country in name only. We will become a fractious entity of nation-states. A divided republic. In some ways, we are already.
I find it instructive that not only the opening word of our Constitution, but the opening word of the very name of our country, "United," makes clear the fundamental element required of any democracy: unity. Patrick Henry famously used the phrase in his last public speech in 1799 while denouncing The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which would have effectively given individual states power over the federal government. Henry said, "Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs."
But Henry didn't make this up himself. The Synoptic Gospels have three versions of the same essential idea:
Matthew 12:25: "And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.'"
Mark 3:25: "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand."
Luke 11:17: "But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.'"
In other words, we deserve better than we've gotten lately. Much better. We deserve an educated citizenry able to handle disagreement. We deserve the right to exercise the legitimate channels of dissent, otherwise known as the voting booth, and the right to assemble in peaceful protest, and the importance of holding publicly elected officials accountable. We deserve an electorate willing to obey the rule of law, whether they like it or not, and those sworn to uphold the law to be committed to a just and fair execution of such laws. In other words, we deserve a working democracy.
But as any of us knows who has lived long enough, to get what you deserve takes a lot of work, a lot of patience, a lot of restraint, and a lot of others willing to work with a common purpose towards a common goal. And these aren't merely words. They adumbrate the reality of what is required of a democracy, which is a precious and fragile agreement reminiscent of something G.K. Chesterton once said about the truth of human happiness in his magisterial Orthodoxy:
“Strike glass and it will not endure an instant. Simply do not strike it and it will endure a thousand years. Such, it seemed, was the joy of man either in elfland or on earth, that happiness depended on not doing something which you could at any moment do, and which very often it was not obvious why you should not do it.”
We all live in a house of glass called a democracy, called The United States of America, and if any person's ideas of preserving a democracy entails wrecking it first, then their goals, no matter how noble-sounding or revolutionary they may be, are anathema to a healthy and functioning Republic. We have channels for such dissent, and we'd be wise to use them. In the meantime, restraint, people. Restraint.