By GENE H. McINTYRE
What is most challenging is to keep our country united when we are so divided. Nevertheless, it’s not at all like this is a modern day phenomenon. Really, our divisions go back to American beginnings as any study of those times past does not reveal an integrated, interdependent and unified America. To believe the contrary is to ignore and misread our history.
What is referenced is the polarization and philosophical and political differences among those various states and regions of this country as there are the red states and blue states, the coastal states and the heartland states, the big states and little ones. Pondering life in our time means to ask the most salient question: Is the American democracy at risk because of the deep divisions and separations throughout the country?
Our nation’s founding had what would become the United States by way of the Articles of Confederation which created a weak form of central government with no power to Congress. This loose condition of togetherness with all its difficulties got our forebearers to the 1787 Continental Convention “to devise such further provisions as shall appear to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the union.”
Those fits and starts were no piece of cake as the convention of 55 delegates from 12 states (opposing it without debate, Rhode Island, sent no one) was convened in Philadelphia in May, 1787 where, after many proposals through September, 39 of the 55 delegates voted to adopt the Constitution. Among its provisions: it restricted Congress from regulating the slave trade for 20 years, counted slaves as three-fifths of a person, but did lastingly decided that representatives would be based on population with two senators from each state.
Getting it adopted in Philadelphia was the easy part as ratification required further compromises and amendments. The most compelling concern, and the biggest bugaboo ever since, was the concern about too much power given to the central government; after all, the American patriots, those who didn’t flee to Canada, had just fought a six-year war to rid themselves of the British and the much-loathed King of England.
Ultimately, what was demanded by those with a voice became the Bill of Rights with, at the time, and to the present day, the Tenth Amendment that reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.”
Other amendments to the U.S. Constitution have what are called pivot points in our history. However, the tensions between states rights and federal rights have determined whether our “united” states have come closer or fallen apart. Some examples of these issues have been the Civil War, the 14th Amendment, Brown v. Board of Education, Civil Right Act of 1964 and Roe v. Wade.
Some among us would argue that states rights has got us to where we are today. Yet, the dysfunctional Congress, ignorant and gullible citizens, political polarization, economic inequality, the changing nature of work in America, culture clashes between society’s segments here, negative attitudes regarding our institutions, globalization of corporations, fear of Muslim immigrants are viewed as more destructive than, for just two examples, whether the disparate populations of Rhode Island and California should each send two senators to D.C. and the Electoral College.
What weighs most heavily on this column writer’s outlook for a viable U.S. future or the end of a great experiment in self rule is the number of legislators and other elected officials in my state, and the other states, so many office holders, and those we send to the nation’s capital. Rather, it’s those who are there due to the money they collect to win elections. Yet, in our entire history as a nation there’s been no time that exceeded ours in what looks most often like a virtual stampede to make money and use it to power one’s way to influence the nation’s direction to new laws and the interpretation of old ones.
No matter what issue is reviewed, among them, corporate and the wealthy tax breaks, medical insurance, Muslim immigration, voting rights, justice equality, Russian meddling in our elections, et cetera, all things come down to who’s got enough money to power his way with promises made to donors and the beholden that result in things getting done or not, too often by those with the most money. When moolah is the main, monopolizing, most important value in our country then we end with a place that’s mainly amoral, unethical and undesirable to those within and outside with far too many having have no stake in its future.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)