Nearly half of the country is going to wake up on Wednesday sorely disappointed by the results of the presidential election, just as they did in 2008. But after four years of having our first Black president, our country is no closer to becoming united states or healing racial wounds than before a President Barack Obama was conceivable.
Just last week, the Associated Press released a poll finding more than half of Americans harbor anti-Black prejudices. This should come as no surprise, considering the vitriol directed at the President ever since 2008 and the complete division of the nation over the tragedy of Trayvon Martin. And as we wait for the election results to come in, we should be acutely aware that the division in this nation isn’t going anywhere, no matter who is elected President. The gridlock in Congress will likely continue, as our Republican-led House of Representatives has been unwilling and unable to work with the Democratic-led Senate to pass much-needed legislation to fix our economy. The reality of present-day American politics is one of crippling partisanship, fear-mongering, ignorance and hate. While this isn’t a new phenomenon — we are a nation founded upon pervasive divisiveness — we must decide if we will allow our political culture to continue to be defined in this light.
Irrespective of the policies and ideologies that divide us, our country has already settled upon a set of common values as Americans through our Constitution. Unfortunately, too many of us do not know or understand what exactly is in our nation’s charter. In recent years, tea partiers and their “constitutional conservative” political allies have claimed the Constitution as their own – wholly misunderstanding or simply ignoring what it says. Meanwhile, progressives and minorities continue to shy away from our founding documents, bruised by the knowledge that our Forefathers intentionally excluded us from their Declaration that “all men are created equal,” while later codifying in the Constitution that value of slaves at 3/5ths of a person.
But what we are forgetting about the story of American democracy is that “We the People” have come together over centuries and amended our Constitution to better reflect the spirit of this great nation and who we are striving to be: a nation that thrives on respect for its citizens as equal human beings, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status. We are a people who came together “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” – that is who our history has shown us we have been in the past and can be again.
Using the Constitution as our road-map, we can look to the very text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and conclude it ought not be controversial to demand that women receive equal pay for equal work or that all citizens have the right to marry whom they choose. We can look to the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments that guaranteed African Americans and women the right to vote– that men and women in this country gave their lives to secure — and decide that it’s unconscionable and un-American to have people in key battleground states waiting up to six hours to exercise their fundamental right to vote as we have seen this past week. We ought to collectively condemn the extreme efforts that GOP legislators across the country went to over the past four years to suppress voters’ rights because these are not our ideals.
Moving forward, we have an opportunity to reclaim the spirit of our Constitution, to recommit ourselves to self-evident truths of equality, decency and respect for every citizen in this country. We can demand with our vote that our elected officials promote the general welfare over partisan politics. And we can stand against the pervasive ignorance and irrational fringe voices that perpetuate division, infiltrate the electorate and threaten the effective functioning of our democracy by changing the station when these voices come through our television, radio or internet connection. But will we do it? We are better than our politics suggest and it’s time we started acting like it and demanding the same of our representatives.
Brooke Obie writes the award-winning blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.