Wednesday, September 30, 2015
It's not simply that it's the foundation of our system of government, the still-fledgling two-century-and-change republic that we inhabit.
It's that it's really a very functional document. This is not a place one looks for soaring prose about liberty and freedom, though that's in there here and there. Most of the Constitution is as exciting as reading organizational bylaws, because that's what it is. It establishes the structure and framework of our democratic processes.
That, once you've stopped humming the preamble, is exactly what it does. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a rubber-meets-the-road document, one that gets the job done without muss or fuss and hoo-hah, kind of like our just-the-facts-ma'am flag. That's what I like about it, because America at her best is all about just getting it done.
But the simple goodness of that document stands in tension with a peculiar worship that seems to have taken hold among a certain kind of "patriot." The Constitution becomes both Holy and Magic, although it was written intentionally to be neither. It is, as it so pointedly tells us, a document created by human beings for human purposes. It starts out "We The People" for a reason.
That strange idolatry has resulted in an even deeper irony, a cognitive dissonance so deep that it can't be described as anything other than pathological.
The same folks who have turned the Constitution into a totemic fetish distrust anyone who has actually participated in the government the Constitution creates. It is document that is the rule of our national life, that creates the process by which our system of governance works. Meaning, it is the foundation of our political system.
But to participate in our Constitutional system of governance makes you inherently suspect. You're just one of those Washington fat cats, an insider, just another purveyor of politics as usual. The moment of that transition comes the instant you're elected, apparently, which is why having actual experience in Constitutional governance is viewed by so many as a liability.
For those who fetishize the Constitution, it's better to be a talking head. Or, given this political season, an author or celebrity huckster or failed business leader. That view makes souls vulnerable to hearing the voices of those who manipulate and attack the system, the unelectable radical ideologues who'd rather spin out their stories of a bright, cold, faraway imaginary "Constitution" than engage with the reality the authors of the Constitution ordained and established.
Those who treat the Constitution like an idol are, in many ways, the same as the fundamentalists who worship the authority of the Bible. By treating it as something other than a rule for living well together, it makes it far easier to ignore the reality of it, and to subvert the way of life it seeks to shape.