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America at a crossroads

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"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, 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 Constitution, 1787

In Mrs. Schlesinger’s sixth-grade speech class at Francis Scott Key Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we had to memorize and recite, on stage, the preamble. I nailed it, and was pretty proud of myself, but looking at it now, seeing it’s only 52 words, maybe it wasn’t such a feat.

However, I definitely did better than Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show. If you want a good chuckle, go look up Barney Fife Preamble and watch the 4-minute video. Don Knotts, who played Barney, was a genius.

The preamble talks about union, and domestic tranquility, two things our country is struggling with right now. I’ve debated with myself about the “common defense” part. I tend to think it means a world of things besides just military defense. And the “general welfare” -- I don’t think that refers only to economic factors. I like to think it includes what was discussed in the Declaration of Independence, namely “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Our framers were smart enough to realize nothing can guarantee happiness itself, but at least we should be able to try, they reasoned.

Periodically, in the intervening years, I’ll re-read the preamble, as well as different parts of the Constitution. It can be uplifting and encouraging. It can also be frustrating and confusing.

Our Constitution is a bit like the Bible; people interpret it to fit their own purposes and desires. In the case of either document, people who are trained, lifelong scholars of their words will debate to the death on the meaning of those words.

My favorite words are the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I like that it’s Government saying what Government CAN’T do, and what the people CAN do. It seems a lot of governments in America are spending a lot of time deciding what people CAN’T do. Maybe they should go back to the preamble and review “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

My house is about a mile from U.S. Hwy. 70, and even from that distance, I can occasionally hear the whine of diesel engines, as semis groan eastward up the grade toward the San Augustin Pass.

Those bursts, as well as the murmur of other traffic on the highway give me comfort. These highways, to me, are the veins of America, coursing with life. They represent connectivity. They connect commerce. They connect family and friends. They connect education and entertainment. They connect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They occasionally connect death.

In today’s America, we have more and faster ways to connect than ever before. It’s in our basic human instinct to want to connect with other human beings. Unfortunately, it’s also in our basic instinct to divide and create conflict. That instinct is usually driven by our own fears.

It feels like America’s at somewhat of a crossroad in 2023, these 247 years after our great experiment.

Do we want division or do we want connection? That’s for you, that’s for us, to decide.



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