In Tuesday’s edition of the Herald there was a reply to a recent letter I had written concerning armed teachers in schools. My initial impulse was to write a rebuttal to that letter. However, upon some reflection I came to realize that part of the current problem in our country — and it is indeed a problem — is our inability to speak to one another and our tendency to make assumptions about those with whom we do not agree.
Yes, I am a liberal. That does not mean that I don’t understand the Constitution or our Founders. In fact, I take great pride in knowing the Constitution and have read a great deal on and from our Founders, including the Federalist Papers. But, just as I believe it is erroneous and dangerous to assume that liberals don’t know, appreciate, or respect the Constitution, it is just as erroneous and dangerous to assume that conservatives do not. The difference is in the interpretation.
Yes, the Constitution is open to interpretation. Define “cruel and unusual” punishment. Define “excessive” bail. Define “promote the general welfare.” These and many other portions of the Constitution can mean different things to different people. It is tempting to envision the Founders as a perfect, unified group. In reality, they had drastically different beliefs and ideals for our Nation and they often fought vehemently for their own positions and interests. Take the simple fact that the two primary authors of the Federalist Papers arguing in favor of the ratification of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, went on to become the “fathers” of the first two political parties. Though they were unified in their support of the Constitution and our Nation, they were diametrically opposed in their other views.
One of the hallmarks of our American history is that we have found ways to come together and move forward despite our differences. From our earliest days following the drafting of the Constitution, when every American experiment set a precedent, to the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, to the Great Depression, to the Civil Rights Era, we have always had differences of opinion on the best way to proceed and it has always been folly to make assumptions about others and jump to the conclusion that those who don’t see what we see must not love this country.
Our inability to respect one another and the ease with which we demonize the “other” is what ultimately leads us to difficulties and endangers us all. I am a liberal Democrat, and I love and respect a great many conservative Republicans. We are all part of this community, this state, this country, this planet. Our greatest moments come when we look past, or even forget about, our differences and focus on our shared values, and there are indeed a lot of them.