Spirited, passionate, boisterous debate is nothing new in our politics. Division is part of the fabric and character of the body politic in the United States. Disagreement is a feature, not a flaw, of our great government. Squabbles on the House floor, bickering on cable news, and endless point-counter-point in the opinion section of our newspapers are all part of what, yes, makes America great.
Two centuries ago, our nation’s founders were locked in a divisive policy fight, entrenched in bitter disagreement with stakes that couldn’t be higher. Each side resented the positions of the other, and at times consensus was utterly elusive. They haggled over every word, and every clause, of the document they were drafting. The debates were just as heated as any exchange you might find on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” or “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
It was 230 years ago that our Constitution was written, forged through the hard work of finding consensus amongst a divided body. Between May 25 and September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention met and disagreed constantly. The differences of opinion were so stark, members of the body were uncertain that consensus could ever be reached.
Today, we are often frustrated by our divisions. How similarly frustrated they must’ve felt that 18th century summer. But they ended up creating a document of such profound significance that it changed the world forever. Within this document was an anticipation and even a reliance on division and disagreement to make our country run effectively.
They knew that with any political issue came disagreement. In fact, they devised a system that runs on disagreement. The checks and balances between the branches of power within our Republic depend on division to protect freedom and liberty. The power of one branch is checked only when another branch disagrees and seeks to enact its own ideas.
So it is not political disagreement, even bitter disagreement, that is a new feature of our politics. What’s new is the idea that someone who disagrees with you is your enemy.
The opinions of our enemies don’t count. Our enemies don’t get to vote. We don’t care how any one policy would affect our enemies. Our enemies are part of the problem, not a participant in finding the solution. The enemy is someone else, not “us.” Enemies are to be discarded, not included. We treat our enemies with revenge, not respect.
Our enemies certainly do not qualify for membership within “We the People.”
This new feature of our politics could destroy all that made America great. After all, every American is part of “We the People.” Every American’s vote counts. Every American deserves respect. To be an American is the very opposite of being an enemy of America.
Let’s look again at our founding. The great founding principle of our country is that all men are created equal. Within our republican democracy, everyone has the right to express their opinion, and to participate in the democratic process.
The democratic system our founding fathers gave us is one that values everyone, not just those in the political majority or those that subscribe to a preferred ideology.
Some of our nation’s political leaders recently were the victims of a gruesome and ugly attack that could have been politically motivated. While only the gunman was responsible for his disgusting and reprehensible actions, surely, we can all take this occasion to remind ourselves that what makes our nation work is the respect we have for one another. “We the people” includes us all.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 6/21/17