Amidst this painfully partisan milieu, it’s not necessary to have a partisan perspective to feel concerned about core principles. Indeed, it is likely the least partisan among us who find the most cause for concern, as worried pragmatists see objective reality apparently slipping beneath the surface of our turbulent political tides.
In this issue of Human Rights magazine, Professor Daniel P. Tokaji writes that our unsettling political dysfunction is leading to loss of confidence not just in Democrats or Republicans, but in democracy itself. Fueled by historic American pathogens of economic inequality and partisan polarization, the essential design of democracy—to give everyone equal consideration—is at risk: Voting is “a fundamental political right, because [it is] preservative of all rights.” Professor Tokaji performs an essential excavation of our right to vote, as it has evolved, what it means, what denial of it means, and the invidious forms that denial takes.
The 2016 election reflected voter exasperation with Washington politics. It was the prevailing voters’ perhaps
One of the White House website pages that survived the 2016 election is the “We the People” page, which invites citizens to petition the government to address issues important to them. But, this issue of Human Rights asks: Who really are “we the people”?
Professor Lisa A. Crooms-Robinson shows us how “we” in America have been so clearly and brutally cleaved along racial lines, leaving white folks on the participatory table and people of color cast to the floor as the “they” detritus. “Throughout the narrative of both ‘we’ and ‘they,’ whiteness functions as the norm around which ‘we’ is constructed. . . . We the people continue to be those among us who can lay claim to the justice . . . and liberty the Constitution was intended to establish.”
Ciara Torres-Spelliscy’s article explores further who “we the people” includes, noting that by Supreme Court edict it once expressly did not include black Americans but now does include corporations. “If the logical flaw in Dred Scott was mistaking a person . . . for a piece of property, the blunder in Citizens United was mistaking a piece of property . . . for a person.”
Who are the “we” when so many disparate voices seem to be both raised and at
It feels today as though our government may never be held to account for contravening core principles because among its most visible achievements is deepening
Almost every politician has strayed from the truth. But never have we utterly severed ties with it, let go of even the objective measure of what it is, leaving us adrift in ethical deep space—a place beyond our constitutional atmosphere in which there are only rival claims and seemingly no objective truth.
So, as we drift toward that deep space, it is worth asking again: What are our core principles and values?
Do they include due process, free speech, freedom of the press, equal protection, free exercise of but not
Do these principles also include civility, honesty, empathy, humility, magnanimity, generosity, compassion, courtesy, and kindness? Even the most reviled and least successful of modern politicians, whatever their often egregious failings, have modeled most of these qualities at least in public. If, instead, they disdained or disregarded them, and this disregard
There is an argument to be made that dispensing with political pretense is more authentic and so honorable. But our national conscience is inherently aspirational. Our national ethos was forged on the principle that we aspire to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Our Constitution and its amendments themselves rise from a foundational premise that we can overcome our worst impulses, precisely because we also have qualities of humility, honesty, altruism, and kindness, along with the intelligence to learn and evolve from our bad behavior. If we as a nation jettison adherence to cultural norms of decorum and decency, we inevitably lose sight of our ideological horizon and become like the dinosaurs wallowing in tar pits, doomed to extinction.
Christopher A. Callaway asks: What do we as citizens owe to our government? Democracy requires not just obeying the law; it requires that people actively participate in the political process. Most fundamentally, we participate by voting. But does democracy require educating yourself to cast an informed vote? Professor Callaway suggests a better way to think about citizenship is, in fact, in terms of civic virtue rather than civic obligation. Virtue is about going beyond the necessary minimum. Doing so includes adhering to the cardinal virtues: justice, wisdom, courage, temperance, to which we might add kindness, compassion, and tolerance.
So, we at Human Rights thought it time to revisit some of our core principles, as most notably embodied in the Bill of Rights and the later rights amendments.