Chaos and the Constitution


As an English teacher, I sometimes taught literature written by authors who used a writing technique called stream-of-consciousness. That term refers to the basic idea of allowing a narrator to tell the story without any chronology, structure, or other narrative form.  

Stream-of-consciousness resembles live-streaming events online. It captures whatever happens without any editing. I use the term now because I have existed in a stream-of-consciousness mental state for a couple of weeks. I find myself doubting things I have always believed. I listen to trusted authorities but dismiss what they say as improbable. I look up information to verify its veracity. 

In short, my mind jumps around through all the topics and circumstances that I encounter each day. Stream-of-consciousness mentality unsettles me because it threatens my feelings of security and peace.

My most recent encounter with the fear of losing my life’s narrative structure occurred on January 6, 2021.  As I sat eating lunch at my kitchen table watching television news, I observed journalists reporting the storming of our nation’s capitol by armed marauders. 

The video showed hundreds of wildly excited people dressed and undressed in various costumes to represent their causes. Some wore body paint rather than clothes, but most carried weapons including guns and clubs.

These screaming, ranting people clawed their way through the halls of Congress, invading private offices, breaking and stealing property within those offices, writing threatening notes to Congressional office holders, some shouting “Hang Mike Pence,” and generally threatening any semblance of law and order. 

Dismissing personalities and political ideologies, I sat, mesmerized by what I saw. I witnessed an attempted coup d’état of the United States of America. My mind skimmed through all the crazy emojis I have ever seen, but it couldn’t find one to express the confusion, horror, fear, helplessness, and desperation I felt.

I struggled to understand what has caused the deep rift in our nation’s “united” states. Over two hundred years ago, our leaders wrote a concise, focused, and coherent constitution that has governed our country. This document that has survived all these years seems to incite most of Washington’s conflicts today. I decided a re-reading of the Constitution might aid my understanding of our present social climate.

Although written in archaic language, its meaning seems clear. This young country we claim as Americans once had a clear vision of its purpose, its values, its standards of fairness and justice, and its basic desire for individual freedom and liberty. 

That does not mean that our founders had all the answers. However, in their wisdom, they included the means by which to amend the document to accommodate the needs of a living society. 

These amendments illustrate the progressive expansion of human rights as our citizens became more enlightened to race, gender, age, intellectual and physical abilities, as well as philosophical and religious foundations.  I found the constitution’s introductory paragraph especially enlightening as it helped me understand what our country has morphed into over the past decades. 

The constitution begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure [sic] domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], 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.”

As I examined the words closely, I realized that the people of our new nation had a specific vision for themselves and their relationship to others. Seven articles comprise the document with each article being subdivided into all the rules of governance for that particular article. We now have twenty-seven amendments to the original document, a number small enough to suggest the wisdom of the writers has survived over two hundred years.

Wednesday’s (January 20) peaceful and dignified inauguration of a new administration deeply moved me. I sensed the tremendous burden of responsibility on the new administration to heal a nation that teeters on the brink of revolution. 

As I mull over all the positive and negative events during the past four years of the outgoing administration, I realize that most of the turmoil and anger stems from a personal/individual interpretation rather than a social/holistic interpretation of this constitution that has served this country for two and a half centuries.

I do not pretend to understand politics, but I do have an understanding of people. As I think of the deep divide that caused the January 6th attempt to overthrow our government, I find that the only path to national healing requires a return to the original document that brought us together in the first place. 

Our goals included forming a “more perfect union.” Certainly, today any movement toward unity is a laudable goal. As Americans, we must return to our original goal of a union. Any union requires openness, unselfishness, compromise, and generosity.

Our nation was born from the unions of various nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and philosophies—all immigrants from oppressive countries. These immigrants entered a kind of marriage (partnership) in which the union is more important than the individual. 

Another original goal—to establish justice—has failed after two hundred years. We continue to see rampant injustice in our country as people suffer from racial, gender, socio-economic, and ethnic prejudice. As long as our country harbors systemic disparities we must continue to pursue that original goal of establishing justice.

We also committed ourselves to ensuring domestic tranquility. Ironically, the events of 2020 and early 2021 illustrate that domestic tranquility follows the establishment and practice of justice. Only when we as a people desire true justice can we hope to achieve domestic tranquility as many recent demonstrators illustrated in their signs: “No Justice, No Peace.”

In addition, our predecessors promised “to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” not only for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren. These promises hinge on the previous commitment to establish justice and tranquility.

After re-reading the constitution, I realized that many Americans have strayed far from the concept of “union,” “all,” “public,” and “common.” All too often, we think only of me, myself, and I. A “more perfect union” requires openness, unselfishness, compromise, and generosity. A “more perfect union” may mean I do not win; however, if the union wins, we all win.  

 Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing

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