The U.S. Constitution’s Preamble, the handicraft of the brilliant James Madison, who became our fourth president, is among the most enduring words ever set to pen.
To wit: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America.”
Another reason our politics are so broken today – besides the Big Lie espoused by The Big Liar and his minions – is a profound ignorance about our Constitution and how a republican form of governance is supposed to work.
When I was in high school, Texas schools had a core curriculum, which included a year of Civics. I studied the Constitution, government history, and how elections were conducted, coincidentally during the election year of 1960. We set up two “parties” among our classmates to conduct a faux election; I was a Republican and voted for Nixon. Do not laugh; we lost.
But we learned how to be a good citizen; to be educated in democracy’s guiding principles, how government operated, and how its three branches — Executive, Legislative and Judicial — worked together to provide for a balanced government.
This year, the annual Annenberg survey found that only 59 percent of respondents indicated they took a civics course in high school that focused on the Constitution. Other findings from this survey suggest that many students appear to have been sleeping during the lectures they claim to have received.
Sadly, we have failed to educate several generations who consider themselves to be good patriots, but don’t know a hoot about the Constitution and how republican governments function. Regrettably, this includes too many elected folks in our Federal or state governing bodies.
Alabama’s new U.S. senator, a former football coach, publicly stated that “Our government wasn’t set up for one group to have all three branches of government. … You know, the House, the Senate and the executive.” Be very careful what you voters wish for.
The annual Constitution Day Civics Survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania provides disturbing and frightening insights.
For starters, there is a woeful misunderstanding of the First Amendment’s right of Free Speech. It is a shameful metric, describing the public’s civic illiteracy, when half of the responders believed that the insurrectionists who stormed Congress on January 6 were only exercising their First Amendment rights.
These responders believed those seditious traitors had a constitutional right to invade the heart of our democratic government – Congress. If that is not something to be deeply afraid of, I don’t know what is.
Only 30 percent knew the Constitution guaranteed Americans the right “to assemble peaceably,” 35 percent knew a U.S. senator’s term is six years and 36 percent knew a House of Representatives member’s term is two years. Barely half knew that the Supreme Court has the final responsibility of determining whether an act by the president or Congress is constitutional.
Fortunately for all of us, there is some good news on the horizon, although quite belated in addressing the dysfunctional citizenship illiteracy of too many of our kinsmen/women. A new initiative by the Educating for American Democracy group has crafted a plan for improving the teaching of social studies, and legislation is looming in Congress that is designed to improve civics education.
Generations before Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson wrote about the duties of the citizenry: “I know no safe depositor of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.” That is to say, to EDUCATE them.
Later at Gettysburg, President Lincoln spoke these words honoring all soldiers that sacrificed their lives there, so that “…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The “people” referred to in Lincoln’s sacred words, are you and me. In short, all citizens. To ensure that our democracy “shall not perish” requires a patriotic duty from all of us. This duty is called CITIZENSHIP.
Citizenship’s foundation is possessing an essential comprehension of what a democratic republic form of government requires from each of us. We must practice our Citizenship.
An important duty of good citizenship is that all who can should register to vote, vote your choice, and stand up for that right. If you are unsure how to be a good citizen, consider taking a course in Civics or Government at your local Community College.
Our freedom, our democracy, our republic, our liberty ultimately rests on “We The People” exercising our civic duty. Each of us. Are we up to it?
“Well, all I know is what I read in the newspapers.” – Will Rogers.
David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999 and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate from 2010 to 2015. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.