While it would be neat and tidy if every first draft was the final draft, it never ever works out that way. Hell, I don’t know why we even call it “writing” when all good writing is really “re-writing”. If we had any sense, we’d call it “re-writing” to begin with so everyone understood how writing actually works. Were it not for deadlines, I’d never consider anything truly “done”. America’s founders faced a deadline, too. They didn’t have forever to finish their work. Their deadline forced compromises as deadlines always do. That’s where they went wrong. We’re still dealing with their screw up. America is a great idea – but poorly executed.
The good news? We’re not beyond redemption – provided we’re willing to do the re-write required.
Though inspired by the French Enlightenment, European-ness damned our founders. Europeans had convinced themselves that they were the apex of creation. They were delivering salvation to sub-human inferiors while enriching themselves off the natural resources. They were God’s messengers doing God’s work. Manifest Destiny, anyone?
Alas, when our founders signed off on “all men are created equal”, they didn’t mean it in any truly universal sense. They meant the “men” part universally. They thought men were vastly superior to women. But they didn’t mean the “all” part. At all.
Our founders meant they themselves by “all men”. They meant white, male, Christian, land-owners. Those guys were all (more or less) created equal. I bet the Protestant founders felt “more equal” than the handful of Catholic founders). Imagine if they had been Mormons instead (I know – Mormons didn’t exist yet – but imagine!)
E Pluribus Unum To The Rescue
Ironically, while getting America’s promise wrong in one way, at least one of our founders got us right in another way. James Madison insisted that we make “E Pluribus Unum” our motto. Our theme, if you will. Out of many, one.
Many equals diversity. E Pluribus Unum perfectly describes America’s real super power. Our secret sauce. European ideas didn’t wipe out the Native Americans, European pathogens did. Europeans are no more native to America than African-Americans or Asian Americans or any other American (except Native Americans). Europeans – white people – are merely part of the “Pluribus”.
America – as a whole – we are the “Unum” and it’s the “Unum” that makes us exceptional. We are humanity’s first nation of nations. The only way for such a nation to govern itself is by governing itself! Put a despot in charge and the whole reason for there being an “Unum” disappears.
The Lure Of Hard Work
Nobody comes to America looking for a handout. We don’t have that kind of social safety net for ourselves. The people traveling by foot for weeks or months to get here – they aren’t dreaming of feather beds and lounging attire at journey’s end. They’re hoping to exchange their hard work for a shot at stability in their lives. For safety and a future for their children.
Of all the ideas humans ever imagined, America is one of the greatest. Unfortunately, having a great idea doesn’t mean you’re going to execute it correctly.
Our founders grasped that an idea as big as theirs would always need tweaking. The Constitution would always be a work in progress. So they built in ways for Americans to revise the Constitution as needed. That fact alone turns originalism into utter bullshit.
We forget: not every American colonist wanted to be “American”. A third of Colonial America didn’t want democracy; they liked having a king. They didn’t trust democracy.
They still think that way. And they’ve never trusted democracy.
Nothing scares them like diversity. Like E Pluribus Unum. And, so, America stands at a pivot point. A minority of us want America’s past to be America’s future.
A Work In Progress
The majority of Americans want America to get the idea of America right. We want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. How many rewrites will it take us to get America right?
An infinite number.
In a real sense, America will always be a work in progress. Always shifting and changing as Americans shift and change. Heading backwards isn’t the answer – not even for those who want to head there.
The rising tide of democracy will lift all boats. America remains a great idea poorly executed. But, more than ever, it’s a great idea worth getting right.
That’s regardless of however many drafts and rewrites it takes.