Cooper: Testing the Constitution

Well over 200 years ago, a representative group of men from the 13 colonies formalized the Constitution of the United States of America. I can imagine it was no easy task to design the framework of this new country.

But these men had learned from their colonization that the old system would follow them no matter how far they traveled unless they were clear in their intentions to be separate.

And, as we learned from our classes in history and government, at least those of us who had those classes, that these were people who would not repeat the past and worked with purpose to form a government that protected individual and property rights.

The writings were clear that the power of this country must never be placed in the hands of one individual, especially those of a monarch or tyrant. Given strong roots in independence and high levels of distrust in taxation, they designed a decision-making process around government services and associated taxes that involved an arduous grind through three different branches of government.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned the government of this new country to be a form of democracy in which the people, in this case men who were property owners, voted for and elected representatives to each branch. The separation of powers called upon these representatives to stick to roles within their branch in making decisions.

The three branches of government then served as checks and balances for and against each other. No one branch had all the power; each was compelled to work with the other to get anything done.

The foundation

So says the legend of the birth of our democracy (some say republic). The inspiration of the achievement made amid struggle and sacrifice to ensure freedom from the dictates of an uninvolved ruling monarchy cannot be lost on us these centuries later. Our country has a proud history.

Neither can nor should the historical wealth and privilege of a few occurring at the time be lost on us. The founders, after all, were all men, all white, all rich in land, most owning slaves and by design collectively holding all the power.

The good news is that the Constitution proved to have an inherent strength or foundation based on its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and have the right to pursue happiness.

The bottom line, the inescapable conclusion, is that the constitution of this country shall not let any citizen or person here legally be ruled by and denied rights by tyrants or the government. The strength of our Constitution is evidenced in amendments that reminded the ruling class of the rule of equal rights and justice for all established in the Bill of Rights.

Amendments have included the abolishment of slavery in 1865, granting citizenship to former slaves in 1868, granting these same former slaves the right to vote 1870 and a half a century later in 1920 granting women the right to vote.

If I think about it long enough, I find this list and timing of amendments to be an embarrassment. What took so long? Why didn’t citizenship for former slaves include voting? Why did we need the Civil Rights Act of 1965? Why weren’t women included in the abolishment of servitude? OK, just making a point.

The relevant point is that the documents of our origin do not allow for tyranny and have shown that in the final application, equality prevails. There is no argument unless a person forsakes his or her standing by committing criminal acts. Even then, each person has the right to due process and must be found guilty in a court of law.

However, we must admit that we do not easily accept equality for all; we struggle to be unconditional and we debate for a very long time before we grant equal rights. Our politicians and citizens argue about people taking rights from each other.

Some of us want to return to the past when a high school graduate could get a good paying job, when we could depend on working for the same company in the same place for our entire work life and when people looked and acted pretty much the same.

Of course, our ability to create “the wonderful life” in the age of technology and rapid change is as much a myth as the nostalgic version of the past. But it seems our mythic recall has elected a President and congressional majority that promises to return to the “good old days.”

As part of the unwinding, the ruling majority promises to dismantle a government-supported health insurance that extended benefits to working people otherwise unable to afford health insurance, take government out of Medicare except to provide money without regulation, consider the privatization of Social Security, take the public out of public education, deregulate business and cut corporate taxes to optimize shareholder return. In addition, they deny the impact of our dependence on fossil fuels on the climate and plan to increase production.

The test

Here’s what I wonder about the unwinding of government. If most functions are privatized, where do the guarantees of the Constitution fit in? Will our turn to a government in which all three branches view their primary role as supporting a market-based economy and unburdening businesses from government regulation maintain the promises of the Constitution for all citizens and legal residents of the United States?

Will the well-being of workers be considered in deal-making around profits? When Lockheed-Martin reduces its no doubt inflated price for jets, will it increase robotization, reduce wages and eliminate overtime pay to maintain profits? Probably so since the nominated secretary of labor is on record as supporting all three.

Are the owners and operators of coal mines going to throw out their automation and bring back more expensive human workers?

Will funding for infrastructure result in decent wages through the private company who is taking on the privatization of certain highways as called for in the majority government’s platform?

Will the new President who maintains the guilt of the “Central Park Five” despite solid DNA evidence of their innocence call for another review? Can a man who never admits he is wrong and never apologizes ever assure equal rights under the law as called for in our Constitution? Can a man who uses his wealth to sue others or deals at a level so exorbitant the others can only capitulate assure equal justice?

Will we return to rule by the few who hold all the gold? Can our Constitution survive the tests involved in dismantling governments role in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all? Or, will it be business as usual?

Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

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