A Teachable Moment

"We the people of these United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain this constitution to the United States."

For the last few weeks I have had a civics lesson from my 10-year-old son. Each morning on the way to school he recites the preamble to the constitution. It is part of his civics unit at school. Over and over, I hear "We the People..." Sometimes he mixes things up and has to restart, "We the people..." There is a sweetness to the effort and persistence he takes committing this small piece of writing to memory. It is a serious endeavor.

Because he has this homework I have been inspired to read the preamble myself. It is a thoughtful, aspirational piece of writing. These were not young idealists hoping to start a movement. They fought a revolution. And while plenty of historians have argued that their motivations were not entirely altruistic and the vision of WE was limited to white male landowners, that one sentence is a guide to the intentions of the congress of men who were about to negotiate a document many folks of all political stripes revere.

Well, let me qualify that statement.

I live in Maine. We have a governor. Yes. That governor. What would those founding fathers make of these times when Maine's governor, in his frustration with the constitution, thinks we would be better off with an authoritarian leader like Trump, that we live in anarchy, and that President Obama is a dictator? He has since recanted some of these words, which he always does whenever he gets called out on saying something outrageous. So which are we to believe? What he said yesterday, or what he said today?

Then there is the#repeal19thamendment ugliness. In what America do we live in where a hashtag to repeal women's right to vote is any sort of consideration because women won't vote for a groper? What reality do we live in where folks malign a football player who silently, respectfully protests injustice against African-Americans, but those same folks won't call a racist out on his vile spew? What ever happened to common decency? I am often reminded of one of the Seven Commandments from Animal Farm, "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others." I don't fear ISIS. I don't fear climate change (well, okay, maybe a little). I don't fear my smartphone igniting in my pocket. I fear this hateful twisted rhetoric for the passions it is stirring and the violence it has and will unleash. I fear the unfounded sowing of doubt in our voting system is going to reap chaos.

This whole political season has been sport. Social media keeps us informed with the play-by-play. We have John Oliver, David Brooks, Meghan Kelley to give a breakdown on each team's strategy. We are in the fourth quarter. The opposing team is rallying. He fumbled the ball. His score is dropping. Her's is rising. Blah-di-blah.

The point of my son learning the preamble to the constitution is not lost on me. It is an election year. In fifth grade his world view is expanding. He can see how these classroom lessons are played out in real life. Unfortunately, it just happens to be this election year. We don't have too many discussions about candidates. But it was my hope that this year, when we went into the voting booth together so he could participate in the voting process with me, there would be some interesting dialogues about our state referenda, our neighbor who is running for state representative, the issues that are important to his life. I live in a small town. Voting is a time to see our neighbors, sign a petition, wear our "I voted" stickers proudly. There are several weeks left until the election. I am disgusted. I am going to vote early. Listen to calming music instead of NPR. Take a social media break. Instead, I plan to memorize the preamble to the constitution because in those words are the strength and beauty of the idea of this country: justice, domestic tranquility,and the blessings of liberty.