The American experiment is 244 years old this year. The nation, created by uniting 13 very different colonies, was developed our Founding Fathers who borrowed from other governing systems in history—the Magna Carta, the Romans and the Greeks, to cite a few.
After two and a half centuries, America is still a work in progress, and will likely be, forever. That’s the beauty of America: we are not static, we are always changing.
The Founding Fathers believed the U.S. Constitution should not be set in stone, thus the ability to amend it through legislation and then ratification by three quarters of the states. Our Constitution is solid, it has been amended only 27 times; that’s once every 10 years or so.
The debate over whether the Constitution, as written in the 18th century, is open to interpretation by contemporary citizens, goes on. Interpretation of the Constitution lays at the heart of every confirmation by the U.S. Senate for appointees to the federal court system, including the Supreme Court. Debate over the meaning of the Constitution fuels disagreements on the election campaign trail. It is also the source the passions recently incited regarding police actions, race relations and even face masks are rooted in its the country’s founding document.
As Americans, we don’t always agree. That is particularly true these days. Those who say the nation is more divided than ever before are forgetting their history. Some colonists were loyalists to the British crown and opposed independence. The divide over slavery turned brother against brother. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation was not met with universal acclaim. Americans have always had disagreements, even elections don’t settle them. One side wins this cycle, the other side will win an upcoming cycle.
In our republic, political order lies in a body of citizens entitled to vote for officers and representatives beholden to them. To many of the world’s people, the American model of government is the ideal. Change at the ballot box frequently begins with the people taking their ideas into the streets around the country. The Suffragettes, who fought for women’s right to vote, are not that far removed from the Black Lives Matter and police reform protesters across the country.
This amazing melting pot has room in its 3.7 million square miles to help those yearning for a better life. How we do that is in the details of legislation and debate. America is as grand and as messy as its people. We need to ensure that all citizens are included in the opening phrase of the Constitution, “We the people.” We aren’t there yet, but we’re still a work in progress, patriots to a one.
(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)