Fresh Ideas: A more perfect Union
December 5, 2012
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” — Preamble to the United States ConstitutionA bumper sticker on a pickup truck in Washoe Valley caught my eye recently. It asked, “What happened to my country?” Is it just me or does the use of that singular pronoun “my” instead of the plural “our” make his question sound particularly mean and small. Not to mention just a little ignorant.Had the driver know anything about history, perhaps he’d have remembered the slow and sometimes bloody progress our country has made toward the “more perfect Union” promised in our Constitution. Or maybe he’s just angry. Or afraid.From history, I know that almost from the beginning, those in power worried about how to preserve their power. They stirred up fear and focused it on any perceived threat, usually the next batch immigrants. Repeatedly, that establishment, only one or two generations from the old country themselves, questioned the suitability, the morality and even the humanity of these others. They lamented the arrival of the shanty Irish (no Irish need apply) and the Chinese (the yellow peril). They rounded up Japanese Americans and sent them off to remote relocation camps during World War II. Within my lifetime, drinking fountains and bus seats in the South were reserved for whites only.However, for more than 200 years, Americans have taken steps to extend the blessings of Liberty to every American. We spoke. We voted and marched in protest. We went to jail. We died. Eventually, we prevailed.We abolished slavery and preserved the Union. African-Americans and then women were granted full citizenship and the right to vote. We enacted Social Security and Medicare to protect our most vulnerable citizens. We ended school segregation. We passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. More recently, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act guaranteed women equal pay for equal work.Because of those hard-won victories, the powerful can no longer lawfully discriminate against individuals. Employment, housing and education are open to all without regard to gender, race, nationality, religion, disability or sexual orientation.Nevertheless, at every step, we’ve heard frightening tales about the decline of America. And every time those predictions proved false. Why? Because most Americans believe in the fundamental equality and value of every individual, whether they are here by birth, by choice or by chance. Furthermore, we believe that when more people are offered acceptance and opportunity, the closer our country comes to that “more perfect Union” to which our founders aspired. We become stronger.Certainly, there still is room for improvement. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” His words remind us to keep striving and never to surrender to ignorance, fear and hate. Especially when it’s disguised as patriotism and printed on a bumper sticker.• Lorie Schaefer is retired, mostly.