The Constitution Fetish

So Justice Scalia thinks the Constitution offers women no protection from gender discrimination. The 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to women, then, Justice Scalia? Weird. But then this is the same guy who couldn’t understand why Jewish war veterans might object to being memorialized by a Christian cross.

Anyway — there’s a good article by Michael Lind discussing how the U.S. Constitution became a sacred totem rather than a charter of government, which nicely follows a blog post I wrote last week. “The U.S. Constitution is not the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments,” he says. Ah HAH!

Lind says that the Constitution cult has its roots in 18th-century neoclassicism and was further nurtured in Christian fundamentalism, which makes sense. And I would take some of his points even further. He writes,

English-speaking democracies tend to be stable and free even when, like Britain, they lack a written constitution. But Latin American republics have been afflicted by dictatorship and civil war for generations in spite of having formal constitutions modeled on that of the United States. The contrast demonstrates that the true security for freedom is a culture of constitutionalism, not a particular constitution, or any written constitution at all. The details of a particular democratic political system — presidential or parliamentary, bicameral or unicameral, unitary or federal — are ultimately less important than the unwillingness of the citizens to resort to violence when they lose an election, unlike the Confederate ancestors of so many of today’s white Southern Republicans, who tried to destroy the country upon losing an election.

One of the interesting parallels between today’s teabaggers and yesterday’s Confederates is that both groups believe(d) themselves to be the true heirs of the Founding Fathers and the true faithful stewards of the Founding Scripture, the Constitution. Many secessionists justified secession by claiming the damnyankees were unfaithful to the Founding Vision and Principles; therefore, true patriots were obligated to make a break with the unfaithful North and retreat into an enclave of political purity in the South. The fact that they had to destroy the nation to do that didn’t seem to factor into their thinking.

Further, I continue to be struck by the degree to which the symbols and scripture of Christianity and the Constitution have all become something like totems — “An animal, plant, or natural object serving among certain tribal or traditional peoples as the emblem of a clan or family and sometimes revered as its founder, ancestor, or guardian.”

Thus there are people who want to erect the Ten Commandments in schools and courthouses who cannot, when put on the spot, recite them all. Likewise, I am convinced that your average Bible thumper would draw a blank if asked to list the major points made in the Sermon on the Mount or explain the parable of the unleavened bread. The Bible has become a totem; merely invoking or displaying it provides some kind of mystical protection for the tribe.

Likewise the Constitution. Every time I hear some teabagger rave on about how liberals are destroying the Constitution I so want to give him a pop quiz to demonstrate the guy has no clue what is actually in the Constitution, and wouldn’t recognize it if it rose up out of the sidewalk and bit his ass.

I just found this on another blog, from last year before the mid-terms —

The Founders’ masterpiece, O’Donnell said, isn’t just a legal document; it’s a “covenant” based on “divine principles.” For decades, she continued, the agents of “anti-Americanism” who dominate “the D.C. cocktail crowd” have disrespected the hallowed document. But now, finally, in the “darker days” of the Obama administration, “the Constitution is making a comeback.” Like the “chosen people of Israel,” who “cycle[d] through periods of blessing and suffering,” the Tea Party has rediscovered America’s version of “the Hebrew Scriptures” and led the country into “a season of constitutional repentance.” Going forward, O’Donnell declared, Republicans must champion the “American values” enshrined in our sacred text. “There are more of us than there are of them,” she concluded.

By now, O’Donnell’s rhetoric should sound familiar. In part that’s because her fellow Tea Party patriots—Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the guy at the rally in the tricorn hat—also refer to the Constitution as if it were a holy instruction manual that was lost, but now, thanks to them, is found. And yet the reverberations go further back than Beck. The last time America elected a new Democratic president, in 1992, the Republican Party’s then-dominant insurgent group used identical language to describe the altogether different document that defined their cause and divided them from the heretics in charge: the Bible. The echoes of the religious right in O’Donnell’s speech—the Christian framework, the resurrection narrative, the “us vs. them” motif, the fixation on “values”—aren’t coincidental.

You’ll remember that Christine O’Donnell didn’t understand what “separation of church and state” means and how it relates to the 1st Amendment. See also “All Patriots ‘Know’ That Moses Wrote the Constitution.”

The Constitution is the Fifth Gospel for these people, I tell you. Of course, they don’t know what the traditional Four Gospels say, either. And, as the Dead Peasant points out, just as fundamentalists are certain only they understand the Bible, teabaggers are certain only they understand the Constitution. Even if they don’t know what’s in it.