To say that the US is a conundrum, even to its own citizens, is an understatement. Yet, on the surface, some things seem clear.
The great thing about having a written constitution is that it’s written.
The US Constitution, unlike the British one, for example, is out there in black and white for the world to see. Its preamble is, “We the People of the United States, 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.”
This preamble tells you everything you need to know about Americans, everything that underpins the good, the bad, and the ugly of being an American – the aim is eternally “to form a more perfect Union.”
The work towards achieving that is never finished and part of being an American is that there is always this movie in your head about YOUR America; how YOU make that more perfect Union. Call it The American Dream; a form of insanity; hubris, whatever.
This preamble is the mothership. It is also the reason why Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, QAnon supporter, Trump enabler, and now, some say, insurrectionist, may be in trouble. Because those to the political left of her, in THEIR pursuit to form that more perfect union, may have found a way to get rid of her.
This way could exist in that breadbasket of rights; that cornucopia which allows, among many other things, legal abortion in the US, being fought over right now. It is the mighty and contentious 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments are known as “The Reconstruction Amendments”, aimed at putting the US back together after the Civil War. The Thirteenth abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The Fifteenth prohibits, at the time to males only, protection against discrimination in voting rights, although it took African American males 100 years to enjoy that right.
And then there is a little poison pill directed at the former military officials and civilians involved at the Confederate end of the Civil War. It is Section 3 and reads:
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of president and vice-president, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”
Some 800 people have been charged with “seditious conspiracy” and some of those folks have cited Taylor Greene as their inspiration. She told a radio talk show, “January 6 was just a riot at the Capitol and if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.”
Taylor Greene was one of over 100 Republicans who objected to the 2020 election results in battleground states, and in emails from the time that she sent to Trump’s then chief of staff Mark Meadows she expresses the view that not only was the election stolen, but that those who caused carnage on January 6 were actually “Antifa, dressed like Trump supporters.”
Could Taylor Greene be banned from running for re-election? Madison Cawthorn, another vociferous election-denier and passionate January 6 supporter, declared his intention to run again in North Carolina and was taken to court. But the judge ruled that the 1870s Amnesty Act was not meant to be retroactive, so he was free to run again. Cawthorn’s opponents now vow to appeal.
Greene also tried to stop the action against her, brought by a group based in her state of Georgia. But the judge ruled against her in a 73-page judgement, writing: “This case involves a whirlpool of colliding constitutional interests of public import. The novelty of the factual and historical posture of this case – especially when assessed in the context of a preliminary injunction motion reviewed on a fast track – has made resolution of the complex legal issues at stake here particularly demanding.”
A lawyer for Greene objected because, he argued, the ruling was “fundamentally anti-democratic.” And that it enabled “bureaucrats, judges, lawyers and clever legal arguments.”
On the Great Seal of the United States are the words: “E Pluribus Unum”. “Out of many, one”. So the bubbling cauldron that is the US was always there. Always baked in.
The great logician Kurt Gödel, who fled Nazi Germany for the US, is said to have turned to his close friend at his citizenship ceremony and said in horror that there was a fatal flaw in the US Constitution. That close friend, Albert Einstein, told him to shut up and take the Oath to it.
There is the reality and the contradiction that the document that enabled my ancestors to, at least, have some law to underpin their demands for equal rights, could be the same document that enables a Marjorie Taylor Greene to deny the fact of the death and injury – both physical and psychological – of an entire nation.
Whatever the outcome of this case, one side will appeal. Whatever the outcome of this case, one part of the US will feel the country does not work for them, is not for them. Whatever the outcome of this case, we will still have what a congressperson once called “a nation ruled by law and not men.”
The idea of hereditary rule, no matter how damped-down; the fact of a legislative chamber unelected and in a sense, unaccountable, is anathema to most Americans.
Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez can both sit in the same chamber. Both are the truth and the reality that makes this powerful and complex country.
This column was not meant to be a paean to America and is not one.
But I thought about all of this at the US Embassy recently, there for a cultural function. There, after four years of refusing to be there.
I looked at the big flag and the portraits there of the old guy who is president, who revels in his Irish ancestry; and the woman who is vice president and who is descended from enslaved Africans and would become president if the old guy is debilitated or worse; and the secretary of state who grew up in Paris and who is said to speak French without an accent.
I looked at them, representative of my clamorous, tumultuous and many other things besides native land. And wonder if we will ever find that “more perfect union.