Americans from across the political spectrum were horrified and saddened watching the video of George Floyd’s death more than a week ago.
And Americans from across the political spectrum are horrified and saddened by the scenes of senseless violence and destruction perpetrated by rioters in our cities.
We don’t have to agree on everything; heck, we don’t have to agree on almost anything. But in order to claim the right to be a patriotic American we do have to agree on a few basics, including the rights proffered under the Constitution.
We may disagree, for example, that white men in masks carrying AK-47s should or should not gather on the steps of a statehouse to protest legal orders aimed at protecting public health. I deeply object to private ownership of assault weapons, and to men brandishing those weapons in public when they don’t like a law or ordinance. But as a patriotic American, my objection simply must be overridden by their rights to assembly, free speech, and bearing arms under the Constitution.
We may disagree that people of color in America continue to experience institutionalized racism, particularly at the hands of a minority of law enforcement who apply two very different standards when dealing with white and non-white people. I think it is an objective fact that despite our efforts, deep-seated racism persists in America. But whether or not you agree with me, as a patriotic American you must agree that the 14th Amendment guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law. That Constitutional protection overrides any personal beliefs, and if we fail to enforce such protections, we fail as Americans.
Last night, in our nation’s capital, on national television, the president ordered armed law enforcement to forcefully attack fellow Americans who were legally and peacefully exercising their Constitutional rights to assembly and free speech. We may disagree about the nature of the protest; and we may disagree about his reasons for clearing the streets at that moment; and we may disagree about a whole raft of other things that this president is for or against. But last night he created a line in the sand, and we all have to choose: do we support the Constitution, or are we willing to let an elected leader flaunt it, for any reason? You just can’t have it both ways. As iconic conservative columnist George Will wrote today in his op-ed column,
In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices.
I call on all educators, who by definition value the future, to reflect deeply, and to take action in their own lives and with their students to address this choice. I call on us to repeatedly find places in our curricula, at many grade levels, to study basic American rights, including the First, Second, and Fourteenth Amendments, and to hold honest discussions about how these rights do, and should, impact our lives.
I know that the COVID-19 crisis has created an extraordinary disruption in our schools, but I know our basic institutions will survive the pandemic; we are already designing solutions to come back stronger than ever. The potential damage to our future if elected leaders are not held accountable for openly and willfully violating the Constitution, is far greater than from the pandemic.
If you believe that such a call by me is wrong, that I am merely pursuing partisan goals, and you choose to not follow my writing, or to not invite me to your school in the future, so be it. I sincerely do not believe this is a question of politics, but I would much rather fall on principle than thrive on expedience, and I hope you would as well. If we fail to hold our elected leaders to the most basic standards, to the oaths they have taken, in order to further a political agenda, then our democracy is doomed and we are the executioners.
God bless America. We really need it right now.