“We the People” are the very first words in the The Constitution of the United States. “We the People …” — that means you and me. It makes no reference to race, creed, political party or geographic region of the country. It does not mention red states or blue states. Rather those three words minimize our differences and highlight our common bonds.
Contrast that with today’s all-news channels. Today’s news is like a constant loop of angry rhetoric. The anger is palpable in the words chosen to define political opponents. You can even see the vitriol in the faces of these highly paid talking heads. In this toxic political atmosphere we seem to have forgotten that at the end of the day, we are all Americans.
Politicians, lobbyists, wealthy Hollywood celebrities, and some news reporters — specifically political pundits, along with their “expert panels” — are dividing us for their personal profit, power and gain. They have defaced the words “We the People” with the graffiti of hate and division.
The meaning of “We the People” became clear to me in 1994. I sat in a cramped little church in Ukraine, a former state of the Soviet Union. They spoke a different language so I listened through an interpreter. I listened as young and old shared their life stories of how they came to believe in Jesus Christ.
Their stories, other than a few minor details, weren’t all that different from mine. For a week, I lived with a Ukrainian family. In the evenings, families and friends gathered around a 3-by-5-foot table eating, swapping stories, laughing, singing, and sometimes crying.
With the exception of language, and borscht instead of stew, I discovered how much we had in common. They loved their families just like I love mine. Their young people were falling in love. Teenage boys told big stories to prove their virility (only not at the family table). On a hot day they swam in the local swimming hole. People stood along the river banks fishing for dinner. Their city had a parks and recreation department. They had local museums preserving their history.
Just nine years earlier, these people had been part of the USSR. Technically they had been my enemies during the Cold War. That is when I realized “wars are started by governments and politicians, not people.”
Recently, I have thought a lot about our Constitution and the common American bonds it represents. Our Constitution was not perfect in the beginning but it was a great starting place for a new nation. Yes, I know it recognized slavery and only counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. That was a political provision forced by the northern states to limit the political power of the southern states.
Thankfully, less than a hundred years later that flaw was corrected by the 14th Amendment. In 1920, another political foul was corrected by the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Over the years, our Constitution has been refined, not by restricting the rights of some but by extending the same rights to all. It is the Constitution that guarantees us the right of peaceable assembly and the right to speak our minds. (Although there are times we would be better off keeping our mouths shut.) The key word is peaceable. It does not give us the right to riot, loot, burn or destroy private or public property.
The Constitution protects all our privacy from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” If we allow government officials to violate that for one person, we will all lose that protection. It is the Constitution that protects us from a tyrannical government, and from one another.
The Constitution protects all our rights. It protects our freedom of religion and speech. It does not force anyone to believe in God, but it protects the right of every believer to exercise his or her faith. It protects our free speech. But it does not give us the right to slander anyone.
The Constitution protects our right to keep and bear arms, but it does not give anyone the right to use those guns to commit crimes, settle grudges, or to bully, threaten, intimidate, terrorize, wound, maim or kill anyone. In fact, anyone convicted of a felony automatically forfeits their right to keep and bear arms the moment they are convicted. Unfortunately, many felons ignore that.
Our Constitution even spotlights our inability to legislate morality. The 18th Amendment outlawed the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors. My understanding is that the consumption of alcohol in America declined only marginally during probation. In 1933, that amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment, proving you can not legislate morality.
For 200 years, the Constitution has stood guard like the lone sentinel at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” guarding our precious freedoms. So, as we celebrate Independence Day, let us not forget that it is about “We the People,” all of us. It is not about Democrats and Republicans, or whose party is in control. It is about us, “We the People.” The Constitution is not about you and your rights verses me and my rights. It is about us and our rights.
Dr. Jim Lankford lives in Hamlet.