“Think the Constitution will save us? Think again.” That was the message of an August 9 feature by Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara in the New York Times. They wrote that “The American government is structured by an 18th century text that is almost impossible to change.”
Not so. Change is possible and necessary as our interpretations of evolving circumstances over time necessarily adjust to them. And they must. After all, our interpretations are always anticipating an emerging future, not a bygone past. The spirit of the text is the key that links the past to the future. What the text says is the starting point. What the text means is the finishing touch. We need to understand both to succeed.
Change is a people problem. Our living nature is changing every moment. Always has and always will. From the Big Bang, through history, to the Omega Point. The challenge is to see and understand the flow of change. Peter Charles Hoffer, a distinguished legal historian of the Preamble, has observed that it’s principal characteristic is “its capacity for growth over time.”
As America has grown and developed, so have our interpretations of it—from Chief Justice John Marshall on the supremacy of the Supreme Court in federal law, President Abraham Lincoln on the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War, President Franklin Roosevelt in the lead up to World War II, and Chief Justice Earl Warren on desegregating the schools.
In our best intentions, we keep the promises we make. The Preamble is the greatest promise Americans have ever been made. It reads “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.”
These are the first words of the Constitution, the law of the land. Every member of Congress, the President, and each Supreme Court Justice, swear an oath of office to support, protect and defend the Constitution. The American people overwhelmingly support the Constitution.
But, the promise markers of the Preamble are typically absent from public reasoning about policy making. So, they are not present in public thinking about important issues. Nor are they always a significant part of substantive judicial decisions in court cases, or executive actions by the President.
There are ten clauses which hold the promise markers of the Preamble—We the People, the Union, Justice, domestic Tranquility, common defense, general Welfare, Liberty, Posterity, the Constitution, and America.
When we can see these promise markers in sequence, as a deliberate architecture to address the urgent needs of changing times, we may see a bigger picture. That picture opens our eyes to a prime mission, a grand strategy, and a sustaining leadership built into the words of the Preamble.
The Preamble is a moral imperative that has been translated into a set of unifying values that has uplifted America as a uniquely appealing place in the world. Most immediately, though, it sets forth a powerful “formula for American constitutionalism,” in the words of Professor Hoffer, for strengthening America’s future as a singular nation in the face of unfriendly foreign powers. This would be the yet undiscovered “formula” for George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson, among others in the extraordinary group of founding fathers who led the new American nation to navigate the headwinds in which the ship of state was endeavoring to set sail. And it did, overcoming hostile forces both foreign and domestic.
This formula requires an identity to express the creative leadership that became the rising “American Experiment”. This formula would be a then unknown formula of creativity now recognized across the world of science as E=mc2. That is, energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, the embodiment of Einstein’s famous theory of relativity. This formula is now recognized as the universal law of creativity.
But we as humans, are more than physical creatures subsumed in Professor Einstein’s formula. We are self-consciously social creatures as well. In this time of urgency for effective leadership we are in need of a prototype which applies to human relationships. Such a model would help resolve the issues of political polarization that plague our nation today.
This proposition may be understood simply as the impetus of leadership which is equal to the actions of individual people giving rise to the momentum of a unified group, or I=am2. “I am,” then, becomes “We are,” the force multiplier which does not work with one individual’s actions alone. It begins with two or more.
If, indeed, we are able to apply this proposition to the governability of citizens, then it seems entirely appropriate to begin framing it out in the Preamble that leads the Law of the Land beginning with “We the People of the United States.” In any planned situation there is always a mission, a strategy, and leadership to scale the impact outward from the center to increasing levels of complexity.
The scale of the Constitution’s Preamble is nationwide, even worldwide, as it also is applicable to communities of limited size and scope. The founding leaders had significant ideas of government according to the consent of the people, including all Americans, and people everywhere beyond our shores.
The outreach of America’s scale is a function of its leadership. Is there a clear message conveyed with a unity of support across the nation? Is that unity embraced by the people at large? Is it demonstrated in the law and order of the nation? If so, the national strength will be at its greatest scale and our influence in the world will be optimized to its fullest potential.
We will have found the Preamble to change that continues the growth and well-being of the nation. And the Preamble was meant to be a set of “positive commands”, as Professor Hoffer observed, for political leaders to do their duty, and honor the country by supporting the Constitution beginning with the Preamble.