Irreconcilable Differences: The Supreme Collision of History and Myth

The US has always been at odds with itself. There has always been a one side against the other.  A useful fact to remember in these interesting times. The country, as we know it today, was founded in the pursuit of wealth. The Europeans invaded/settled the land to increase wealth which entailed stealing, enslaving and killing the Native Americans. But, as not to sound egregious or appear as absolute monsters, a narrative promoted the Native Americas as savages. Agriculture was to be the gross domestic product, except, the English settlers had no skill in this area. Solution? Kidnap  and enslave Africans with expertise based on the products (tobacco, cotton, vegetables). To prevent a reputation as cruel, godless, monsters, use the  savage narrative again. As the Europeans were loath to admit ignorance, there was the added necessity to advertise the Africans as not human therefore not intelligent. Perpetuate this lie and ship them as cattle from Africa and selling them like livestock.

But wait, there’s more. England laid claim to the wealth being generated. No taxation without representation was the battle cry. Onto the revolutionary war. A third of the settlers were sympathetic to or in support of Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence in 1776 followed by the constitution in 1787 was developed to create, increase and protect wealth. Mindful of the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of the African Americans, and “all men” in the declaration of independence meant all white men.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

With this, we became mythologized as the land of the free and equal.  But the reality is, the only unity was amongst white men and the only agreement was power. The abolitionist called for the end of slavery as early as 1688. By 1830, most Americans were opposed to slavery in principle, but no idea of what to do with the “slaves.” The words and statements of Abraham Lincoln are confirmed “the all men,” meant white men.

Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

During his famous debates with Sen. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln explained to the crowd: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

The supreme court is to uphold what the framework of the constitution. In technology, there is a term, working as designed. In the case of the United States, the constitution is working as designed. There is another term, continuous improvement; evaluate a system for relevancy, currency and morality. More recent evidence of “all men” to the exclusion of women. The equal rights amendment guaranteeing equal pay for women doing the same work has men has yet to become law. A supreme court decision in 1975 allowed women to have credit cards. A man beating his wife was not a crime before the 1994 violence against women act.

This brings us to the constitution and the supreme court. There are two philosophies on the interpretation of the constitution. Originalism asserts that all statements in the constitution must be interpreted based on the original understanding by the authors. A Living Constitution asserts the Constitution be interpreted based on the context of the current times. Given the intent of the framers of the constitution; create, increase and protect the wealth of men; there is no mystery to the continuing source of discord.  On Friday, we lost Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her legal brilliance and fierceness are evidence in her beliefs in a living constitution.

Scalia rejected Ginsburg’s argument that the Constitution is “living,” contending that to allow our founding document to adapt to the times would render it “subject to whimsical change by five of nine votes on the Supreme Court.” Ginsburg countered that Scalia’s “originalist” approach is not faithful to the idea of “We the people.” The Constitution, she maintained, has to expand to cover more than the “white, property-owning men” who once were “we the people.” 

Ironically, Thomas Jefferson, founding father, aligned in the camp of a living constitution. Engraved on the fourth panel of the Jefferson memorial:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Despite their fierce debate and differences, Scalia and Ginsburg were friends.  In any relationship, there isn’t going to be 100% agreement. However, with honesty,respect and and the desire to remain united, the relationship can work. As a country, we’re now asked to do the same. There is peace when there is equality and fairness for all. Consider what happens as we disengage from a framework to protect the wealth of white men to a living constitution which seeks to provide equality for all?



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