By Robin Lehman
The preamble to the Constitution goes like this:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.”
This was a radical document for its day: devolving power from inherited wealth to the wealth and health of “the people.” Many of the men who wrote and signed it owned slaves. But we must remember that there were also those opposed to slavery. This is the notion that Critical Race Theory (CRT) provides us: To effect any change, one must change the systems that maintain the inequalities. So, for the founders, the systems they wanted to change were those that maintained the inherited nature of government and social power. They had no interest in changing the systems that supported white male power. But that was 250 years ago. We have to change that paradigm and the systems that promote and maintain it to bring ourselves to “establish a more perfect union.”
The Republican party (and many individual Democrats) would like to disavow that the systems need to change. They use Americans’ reverence of the Constitution and the white men who wrote it to denounce anything that would also include the majority of Americans who were not included in that establishing document: Black and Brown people, women, BIPOC, and, of course the people who we stole this land from, the Native Americans.
EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN
One of the most powerful systems that need to be changed is education. We have to educate our children and ourselves to the reality that our history is complex and nuanced. The notion of “good and bad” historically has to be examined. To hate or love the founders is ridiculous. Likewise, the notion of the Constitution being a sacred document is silly and childish. Republicans talk about how including racism in our curriculum will separate us and cause divisions in our communities. This is a cynical tactic designed to separate us. Denying the complexity of the founding and early history of our country will separate us far more than including the racism and sexism of the construction of this country.
We must get rid of the notion of “heroes” or “great men.” “Heroes” leads to a destructive dumbing down of the complexities of governing a large and diverse polity. All of us have been heroic and cowardly. All of us have good and bad things about us. Even the notion of “good and bad” is probably different from one individual to the next. This is what CRT teaches us: that the underlying systems are what need to be changed so that we can “form a more perfect union.” The founders were not heroes and I believe they themselves would agree. The preamble is about systems: the common defense, general welfare, terms that show we are a people and reliant on each other. This occurred even as they only allowed white men to vote and a significant minority wanted only landowners to vote. This, almost, schizophrenic tendency has to be acknowledged. Ideologically, they wanted a better more democratic system but in the physical world they cut out more than half of the population.
THE HERO THING
The Republicans want to do the hero thing, history as a solid line to the present caused by individuals: the heroic George Washington and his brilliant handling of the revolution, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin et al. being as individuals not a group of fallible men trying to make a better union. Each of them deserves his accolades but we must confront the systems of oppression that they instigated. It’s not about each founding father; it’s about how the group of them formed what is now the U.S. and all the cultural assumptions that have accrued since then. Republicans can’t do a complex history because it would destroy their support of QAnon, the religiosity of the Second Amendment and abortion rights and, of course, Donald Trump. And worst of all they would have to admit the strong racist tendencies of white America. They would have to admit to the genocide of the Indigenous peoples and the displacement and legalized killing of Black and Brown people by white people. And we have to remember: It’s not about you or me as individuals. It’s about the systems of culture, economics and politics that the founders put in place that need to be changed. In admitting to a real history, the Republicans would have to do something about the present-day dissolution of our country and they hate that responsibility. CRT is a unifying force, as it doesn’t blame any one person or group. It acknowledges that we, as a people, like the founders, as a group have to change our systems of governing to form a more perfect union.
Lehman lives in Warren.