From the very beginning, America has struggled with a dark underside of paranoia, fear, insecurity. We were the little cluster of colonies intimidated by the English monarch. We were a ragtag little army threatened by the English military.
Then, against all odds, we established our own government and our sense of being threatened, rather than disappearing, was simply transferred to a fear of our own government. Our first attempt at a constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, gave so little power to the national government that it could barely function after the Revolutionary War.
So the Articles were scrapped and a new Constitution was created. We boast of it so often that we usually forget it is a seriously flawed document. There were three areas of major contention. One was slavery, a moral affront in the north but an economic necessity in the south. The issue was not resolved by the new Constitution and even today we have a serious problem with the residue of slavery: racism.
Tangled up with this issue was that of the relation between the government and the individual on one hand and that between the federal and state governments on the other. The first was addressed fairly well in a series of ten corrections — called the Bill of Rights — while the second was handled by the creation of a system of government marked by a delicate balance of powers, of checks and balances.
The paranoia is still with us and has been smoldering in the dank recesses of talk radio and its great love of conspiracy theories. trump, not caring in the slightest about what is good for America, discovered that he could build a winning campaign on the base of this, the sickest dimension of the American character.
He has also magnified the tendency of our two major parties to destroy the checks and balances by each struggling to dominate the three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
And, as has usually been the case, the argument for increased States’ Rights is just a cover for the evil that dominates many of our states, especially in the south.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, [we]do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. (Mayflower Compact)
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .(Declaration of Independence)
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. (US Constitution)
Those words have never seemed so fragile as they do today. Millions of our citizens, now freshly encouraged by our President-elect, completely reject the idea that America is the land of the free and home of the brave, that we are a nation devoted to liberty and justice for all.
Falling short of ideals is a common habit in the human race. Rejecting those ideals, however, is far more serious. When we reject the lofty ideals by which we are to measure good and bad, we are in a position of severe moral weakness. And that leaves us vulnerable to a thousand ways in which the human spirit can be extinguished.