Author’s note: A version of this piece entitled, “Who Gives a Shit What The Founders Thought?,” was written and originally posted on The Political Garbage Chute in January of 2013. References have been updated and so have some of the jokes and one-liners, but don’t expect too much. It’s still me, after all.
Liberals have icons like Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Lyndon Johnson, Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln (yes, I meant that, and no, not ironically). Conservatives have icons like Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan.
There is one group though, that both liberals and conservatives bow and scrape to. A group that all parties involved believe they are direct descendants from — The Founding Fathers. But have you ever have asked yourself…
“Who the fuck cares what George Washington would think about cap-and-trade?”
Everyone likes to put themselves in the shoes of Thomas Jefferson or John Adams when contemplating a hot issue of our times. People seem to think a man who lived over two hundred years ago could have the slightest clue how to solve an issue like gun control or climate change. They lived and died so long ago that it seems like a trap to get too caught up in what the Founders would have felt or said in regard to any issue that faces us now.
We can argue about what the Founders intended when they wrote the Second Amendment. But, in the end, does it matter?
Jefferson said himself, “The earth belongs always to the living generation.” He understood the bounds of mortality, if not the bounds of his hypocrisy of allegedly championing liberty and freedom while owning slaves. Many of the men we hold in high regard for establishing this country also happened to participate in its most sinister vice –the trafficking of human beings. Would we love Thomas Jefferson today if he was just a rich, racist, old white dude from Virginia?
Thomas Jefferson got that once he died, it was going to be up to those left behind to do with the country what they pleased.
The existence of an amendment process indicates the Founders at least had an idea that they couldn’t expect everything to stay as it was the day they signed the Constitution. And isn’t that a good thing? There are millions of African-Americans in this country who I’m sure would much prefer the updated Constitution to its original version.
No one can predict the future, not with any real certainty. So why do we insist on shackling ourselves to these dead men who were just as incapable of saying sooth?
Let’s play a little Devil’s Advocate. Pretend the Founders envisioned a future where everyone would have the necessary firepower to wage their own small-scale war.
They’d be wrong.
The Constitution gives us a chance as a society for an “Oh, Duh!” moment. Those are times you realize you’ve been missing something or doing something wrong for a long time, but you’re completely capable of doing it correctly now — like keeping half our populace from voting because they have a vagina , or two adults from marrying because they both don’t have one.
It’s our duty to evaluate and re-evaluate our laws incessantly, because life changes incessantly. Slavery is no longer legal in this country because enough people had finally decided that perhaps owning another human being was not an American value after all. Why can we not have a frank and honest discussion with each other in the same way about guns?
Life is not stationary, it does not stop moving, ever. Deifying the Founders, to the point that we have real trepidation over changing even a single word in a two-hundred year old document is not a healthy way to continue moving society forward.
What is the point of being alive now if we’re not even going to attempt to make life better according to how we know it to be? We can look to the Founders for inspiration, and for lessons, but at the end of our lives, we will be held accountable for what we did, not what they did.
It’s not up to the Founders to figure out how to stop climate change, it’s up to us. It’s not up to the Founders to figure out how to make education our nation’s number one achievement again, it’s up to us to do that too. And it’s not up to the Founders to keep our citizens out of the sights of a gunman, it’s up to us. Those long dead can do nothing to make life better; that’s up to Jefferson’s “living generation.”
That’s us…just in case you couldn’t figure that out by the fact that we’re all, like,living and stuff.
Follow James on Twitter @JamboSchlarmbo.