A republic, if you can keep it.
This week, we will celebrate the 236th anniversary of our nation's independence from Great Britain. But through all of the smoke from the BBQs, the fireworks and Fox News, we will forget a curious fact: the Fourth of July is not America's real birthday. (And no, I'm not referring to the technicality that the Continental Congress actually voted to dissolve our political bands with the British on July 2, 1776.)
Oddly enough, for over two centuries America has been lying about her age to make herself older than she really is. If she were honest, she would have to admit that her actual birthday fell on September 17, 1787, the day that the Constitutional Convention adopted the Supreme Law of the Land and set out to bring the people of the United States into a more perfect union.
Thanks to last week's blockbuster Supreme Court decisions, there's been a lot of talk -- more screaming, really -- about the Constitution lately, about what's constitutional and what's unconstitutional, about who's read the Constitution and who hasn't, about who's trampling on the Constitution and who's ripping it to shreds, about who's eating the Constitution's liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. (The consensus is that while Article III has the most delicate flavor, the Second Amendment blows everyone away.) And all of this discord has driven me to a deeply depressing conclusion: we're doing a lousy job of keeping our Framers' republic.
Yet it's not the reasons for the yelling that worry me -- we can and should disagree about matters of law and policy -- it's the yelling itself. It's the fact that the word unconstitutional has become a catch-all term for anything we don't like about our government or our society, thereby rendering the most terrifying and powerful adjective in American jurisprudence utterly meaningless. (Personally, I would declare peas, the Yankees and Justin Bieber unconstitutional, if my opinion mattered.)
So what are we to do about this conundrum? Though there are many deep-rooted issues that need to be resolved in this area -- including the constitutionality of string cheese and Rush Limbaugh -- I would start by elevating America's true birthday, September 17, 1787, already declared Constitution Day, from its present red-headed stepchild status as a federal observance to a full-fledged national holiday. And just as Thanksgiving is our national day of gobbling and Christmas is our national day of pretending that Congress makes no laws respecting an establishment of religion, Constitution Day should be our national day of study and civil discourse.
Americans should spend Constitution Day learning, seeking to become better citizens by understanding our civic history, reading books and articles, listening to lectures, sitting in on seminars, participating in debates, watching webcasts, writing essays, engaging in any manner of intellectual exercise worthy of the splendid erudition that led to the document we'd be celebrating. The benefit would be clear: knowledge spawns nuance. I'm not suggesting that every American would suddenly be able to split Solomon's baby like Chief Justice Roberts did in his opinion on the Affordable Care Act. But I do believe that a more subtle appreciation for our Supreme Law might help us quiet down a bit.
Furthermore, maybe it's the nerd in me, but I have a feeling that America would prefer an educated citizenry for its birthday over some red, white, and blue cupcakes. After all, she might not have very many more birthdays left at the rate that we're going. (Plus she's been watching her figure.) She deserves better. We deserve better. Therefore, in order to keep our republic, I propose, not a new Constitutional Convention, but a new convention for Constitution Day, that we dedicate the day to learning ourselves into the more perfect union the Framers imagined 225 years ago. Who would find that unconstitutional?