We the People: Why the U.S. Constitution's Preamble Is a Promise We Have Failed to Keep

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<i>We the People</i>: Why the U.S. Constitution's Preamble Is a Promise We Have Failed to Keep

The first three words are “we the people.” They are not, as Erwin Chemerinsky points out in his book of the same name, “we the citizens;” there is no limitation on the U.S. Constitution’s promises. Those promises, laid out explicitly in the preamble, are sweeping: to ensure justice, tranquility, welfare and liberty to every single person who arrives upon on our shores. It is a light in the darkness that the oppressed, the beaten, the frightened, the maligned, the yearning, the dreaming have looked to ever since it was put forth.

It is a promise we have failed miserably to keep.

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we the people book cover-min.png We the People, Chemerinsky’s argument for a progressive interpretation of the Constitution, is a blueprint for resistance and change. It’s an unsexy one to be sure, but it’s crucial as a potential umbrella under which all forms of progressive defiance can actualize a vision of the preamble’s promise.

Chemerinsky’s reading is exhaustive yet wrapped up nicely in one general requisite: that the preamble is a vital and defining aspect of the Constitution. It’s not a mere introduction, to be slapped on tote bags and inscribed on walls; it is the very lodestar of the Constitution itself, the loupe through which all modern interpretations must be made. Its values are bipartisan, if shared by any reasonable and sympathetic soul.

You will have justice. You will have tranquility. Your welfare will be met. Your liberty will be granted and exercised.

The preamble sets the four corners of the Constitution, and its promise must be guaranteed and fought for with all the resources—spiritual, logical, emotional, God forbid martial—that can be brought to bear.

That we as a nation have failed to deliver on this promise since before the ink was dry does not preclude us from fighting; the necrotic wounds of our failings—racism, discrimination, incarceration, violence—are Legion, and need to be cast out as such. Progressivism is the only way to ensure the promise of the preamble and America. We must flatten the current interpretation of the founding document by those in power who abuse it, until every person is looking each other in the eye.

Forget originalism! Forget this foolish idea that the exact wording and intent of the Founders, slavers and pale the lot, should determine how the Constitution is interpreted and acted upon today. Such an idiotic concept is not only untenable to even its most ardent adherents—look how even Justice Scalia, who deserves to be posthumously drug like Hector, could twist their precious originalism to meet their partisan ends—but directly in opposition to the Founders’ open and inviting language with which they set the United States in motion.

Every policy, every action must ensure that the promise of the preamble is delivered to every person. The very future of the nation depends upon this front in the Second War of Ideas being won.

Any promise which does not protect and affect all people equally is no promise at all.


B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, he is a contributing reporter to A Beautiful Perspective and has been seen in The Atlantic, Hazlitt, Jezebel, Chicago, Sports Illustrated, VICE Sports, Creators, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.

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