The Constitution of the United States is the supreme document that forms the framework of America’s democratic society. Rather than loyalty to a person, a group or ideology it is its words that bind our allegiance.
A major reason that the Constitution has held firm over the 232 years since its ratification is the American belief in working to perfect instruments that express their ideals and practices rather than replace or exchange them for a new way of indicating their thinking. The Supreme Court, one of the three branches of the government, has the responsibility of furthering that concept in its interpretation of the Constitution that relates to new laws, regulatory adaptations or changes in the lives of Americans.
The result has been has been a relatively short list of 27 amendments, 10 (Bill of Rights) of which came with its ratification. At the same time, it is clear that the Constitution as originally adopted, gave little thought to minorities or women other than counting slaves as three fifth of a person for the purpose of political representation by the states in Congress.
The American Civil War produced 3 civil rights amendments and the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 20th Century produced another that gave them the right to vote.
These amendments were only part of a much larger incremental process to secure rights for people that were not the focus of the original document. The civil rights movements of the 20th Century and the #MeToo movement of the 21st Century indicate how difficult and slow it is to achieve justified change.
What happens however, when there is a developing feeling about civil rights being taken away? What happens when voices are getting louder and louder on the part of some about a Constitution that was originally written with them in mind and now is becoming less and less exclusive to them?
These are the kind of questions that are occupying serious observers of our political life and our institutions. An additional question is: is this really about civil rights?
We know that the Constitution is for all Americans. Yet we are increasingly led to feel that it was meant for the founders, their contemporaries and their descendants.
We forget that America has always been a diverse country with an immigrant base and tradition. It is ironic that most of those that claim exclusivity with regard to the Constitution are really themselves descendants of immigrant that came to America to enjoy the rights of a democratic society founded by others.
When insurrectionists invaded the Capitol on January 6th they said, in part, that it was their house and they needed to take it back and set things right. However, their attack on the Constitution, especially Article I (establishment of the legislative branch) was an attack on their own freedom as Americans.
The question remains: Is this about civil rights or about political power and White privilege? This is an important distinction because if the latter is the case, our democratic order is in trouble.
In our political system voting majorities have the privilege of leading within the scope of the constitutional mandate. To deny that privilege because one is Black, Latino, Native American or Asian is to deny the essence of America.
Adolph Hitler in his last moments of losing it all blamed it on the weakness of the German people. To him, they deserve to lose and be devastated.
America is different. Win or lose we still have the protection of the Constitution.