But the chorus that keeps ringing in my head is: “We the people” from the episode “Preamble.” It is a wonderful 3-minute video that takes the viewer through the idea of the Revolutionary War and focuses on the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. The chorus is essentially the entire text of the Preamble. It starts with the phrase “We the people.”
The unifying impact of those three words solidified the nature of the union of 13 states rather than focusing on the individual needs of the individual states, or the specific needs of individuals within those states.
It was an imperfect document, and an imperfect nation, an idea to which the framers alluded when they claimed to be forming a “more perfect union.” However, the needs of the many over the wants of the few, and the idea that the government existed “for the people” was echoed by Lincoln those scores of years later. As the nation has matured, the promise of equal creation has been extended to African-Americans, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, refugees, undocumented persons and the mentally ill. Whether by the courts, legislation, executive order or constitutional amendment, each move has served to broaden the definition of we to include more individuals.
It is with this notion of a collective American need that some of our greatest advances have come to pass. The Revolutionary War was fought to free ourselves from the tyrannical rule of an individual in King George III. The American army did not fight for the good of any particular individual, but for the good of all colonial citizens. George Washington displayed the hubris required to propose to take on the British Empire in a quest for independence, but he also showed the humility required of a great leader when he left the presidency after just eight years, showing us that even the person who occupies the highest office of our land is just one individual among the masses, and her self-satisfaction should take a back seat to the needs of her fellow citizens.
Lincoln was willing to spill the blood of more than 600,000 soldiers to preserve the union, and for the recognition of freedom for an entire group of individuals either brought to our shores in shackles, or descended from those who were stolen from their homes in Africa to become the enslaved backbone of economic growth and prosperity. This decision put an incredible strain on the young nation, and its eventual outcome was to the detriment of wealthy plantation owners in the south, but the collective good of the enslaved (and the rest of us) was too important to be concerned with the needs of a few.
In less grave circumstances, and without the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the collective national interest was invoked in projects such as the Transcontinental Railroad of the 19th century, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s, and myriad attempts to expand health care and the social safety net from the Social Security Act of 1935 to its amendments of 1965 creating Medicare and Medicaid to the Children’s Health Insurance Act of 1997 to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Although opposition from special interests has been fierce in the enactment of such programs, all have now come to enjoy majority support of individuals, and have collectively served to advance progress toward a more perfect union.
Imagine on a local level that our fire or police departments operated in a way similar to health care. What if when we called 911 they asked for an insurance card before responding? What if we received a bill for services rendered when they saved our house or loved ones? We cannot fathom such a circumstance because it has been accepted that we need the fire and police departments for our greater good.
Just because we do not avail ourselves individually to their services does not make our payment for those same services a waste of personal resources. It is the price of living in an advanced society.
It is with this knowledge in mind that I lament the actions and particularly the chosen verbiage of our current president. In no other case in my memory has a president invoked the singular “I” more frequently than President Trump. On his acceptance of his party’s nomination in 2016, he claimed the system was broken, and “I alone can fix it.” In contrast, Kennedy told us to ”ask what you can do for your country,” imploring that we work together to advance our collective agenda, and the hallmark of the campaign of President Barrack Obama was “Yes we can,” not “Yes I can.”
In the name of selfish personal goals, special interests have bought our elections and bought our government so that members of Congress consistently vote against the interests of the many for the benefit of the few. If we do not reclaim this Republic for “We the People” very soon, a future where all public services are transactional on a person-to-person basis is not far off.
As we strip away all layers of protection in health care, education and the environment, any sense of the common good will become a thing of the past. If we do not demand that the singular “I” has no place in the lexicon of elected officials, we will all suffer the consequences of a system built for the few to the ultimate demise of the many.
— By Dr. Rob Davidson, Tribune community columnist