A few weeks ago, my friend John welcomed his son home from war in Afghanistan. His tour over, the young soldier flew back to the U.S.A. in a seat, not a box or gurney—a true cause for thanksgiving.
But John and his wife get as much credit as Uncle Sam.
At lunch a while back, John told me the parents’ proverbial tale of life on edge with a soldier at war.
He told me about the anxiety of 3 a.m. phone calls, when you don’t know whether the ringing signals your son checking in or some Pentagon official saying your son has checked out.
He told me about endless weeks when his son was deep in a combat zone and unable to send word of any kind.
He told me about an insect-riddled son who’d slept outside without netting so his buddies might catch some Z’s.
And he told me of buying his son better ammunition, upgraded body armor and additional boots—all because the military issue fell short or wore out.
I was thinking of John’s son, and his parent-provided equipment upgrades, when the so-called congressional Super Committee failed last week. If all goes as legislated, that failure will trigger deep cuts in defense spending—maybe in ammunition, or body armor or boots for our troops. And all because some politicians in Congress are more concerned with drawing lines in the sand than building bridges of compromise.
We hear from various factions about upholding our Constitution, returning to our roots, and limiting government to what our Founding Fathers intended.
In high school civics class, I learned what they intended by memorizing the preamble to that Constitution.
“We the people of the United States,” it says, “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.”
Yet today, in the face of ever-increasing congressional gridlock, we’re failing in these constitutional responsibilities.
Are we providing for the common defense when parents have to supplement their sons’ and daughters’ military equipment?
Are we promoting the general welfare through party-line refusal to compromise on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security—or even consider job-creating measures?
When we see cops using pepper spray on peaceful protesters—and presidential candidates bashing the right of those same protestors to freely assemble—are we establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility?
When we fail to reduce the federal deficit through every means possible—revenue- and budget-cuts alike—are we securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity?
And does anyone on Capitol Hill truly believe the me-first, my-way-or-the-highway approach is the best way to establish a more perfect union?
To all who pine for some nostalgic return-to-the-Constitution panacea, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. Indeed, the dogmatic factionalism and unbending partisanship in Congress are not upholding, but failing, the Constitution.
They’re also destroying the economy, dumbing down our education system, dimming any incentive for entrepreneurship, weakening our international reputation, and shattering the reality (or illusion) of American exceptionalism.
Can the legislative leaders of a great nation truly believe the party line matters more than the unemployment line, the bread line, the graduation line or our lines of defense?
Apparently so, for in the once-exceptional American Congress, the all-for-one-and-one-for-all compromiser is now the rare and shunned exception.
But let’s not blame Congress entirely. For it’s “we the people” who elected them, who fund their campaigns and who lobby them. But increasingly, there is no “we” in the people.
I flip channels on TV and radio. I read tweets and blogs, newspapers and magazines. And I see silos. I see disconnect. I see the Rashomon effect—the same incident viewed by different witnesses in different or even opposite ways. More and more, I also see people dig in and deny that any other perspective is possible.
We do not listen to one another. We choose not to see through one another’s eyes. Even if we see and hear, we do not understand. Even if we understand, we seldom seem to care for anyone but the person in the mirror.
In 1919, poet William Butler Yeats put it this way in “The Second Coming”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand.•
Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.