America's constitutional bedrock

Last week was spent vacationing in South Dakota with my family. One of our stops was Mt. Rushmore. Like all the hundreds of tourists there, we gazed up at the towering faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

In the small museum that's a highlight of the visitor center, I learned some interesting facts about this impressive monument. First is that the four faces symbolize:

• the nation's founding — our first president, Washington, being considered the "father of his country";

• the Westward expansion — Jefferson having vastly enlarged our national territory with the Louisiana Purchase;

• securing permanent unity — through Lincoln's leadership and victory in the Civil War; and

• emergence into global prominence — made possible largely by Roosevelt's construction of the Panama Canal.

As large portions of rock were exposed in the sculpting process, Borglum found it necessary to adapt to the inherent characteristics and flaws he encountered in the cliff face.  Thus, what we see today reflects the structural material provided by eons of geologic force.  In a sense, it's a statement about the nature of God's creation.

It struck me that there's an analogy in this with our country.  America has changed over time, adapted to conditions as we've found them, made adjustments in our political, economic, and social functioning, as inherent characteristics and flaws have been revealed.

Our progress has been determined by the nature of the rock — that being, in this case, the Constitution on which the nation is founded.

We've pressed pretty hard on the Constitution over the years.  Successive Supreme Courts have pushed and tugged at that hallowed document, to the point of distortion, in order to accommodate all kinds of innovations demanded at various times.

But we've continued to recognize the Constitution as the standard by which adaptations are measured.  And it still serves to provide certain limits.

Just now in our country, there's a movement afoot to make fundamental changes in our system of government and our way of life.  The working assumption in this change effort is that America is endlessly malleable.  By creating disorder, widening social divisions, and applying the right pressure, the very character of the nation can be altered fundamentally.

If you want America to become a socialist nation, all you have to do is inspire, recruit, or intimidate enough people, and you can accomplish it.

This movement is focused and aggressive. It's amply supported by certain players with vast means and international connections. And it's being encouraged by a political party that has adopted disorder and division as an electoral strategy.

However, the assumption underlying this movement is profoundly false.  You are not free to change the nation fundamentally, even if a majority of people should favor it.  Alterations can be made only within constitutional limits.  Go beyond those, and you don't have change.  You have chaos.

At present, protests are undermining our justice system, all with the aim of fomenting chaos.  But those doing the fomenting should be very careful.

If they succeed in eliminating the safeguards of official justice, then society's only alternatives for self-protection will be vigilante justice or authoritarian force.  Under either of those conditions, the side with the most people and the most guns wins.  And by sheer numbers, that won't be the fomenters.

We may address society's needs and make changes (hopefully they're improvements) only according to the natural constitutional characteristics of the nation.  We must honor the nature of the rock, if you will.  No other approach works.

If Gutzon Borglum had ignored the natural characteristics of Mt. Rushmore, we wouldn't have the magnificent monument of today.  We'd have a pile of rubble.

Bill Kassel is a writer, media producer, and communications consultant based in Michigan.  He hosts Free Expression, a radio series and podcast produced by Good Shepherd Catholic Radio.  And his writings have appeared in numerous publications and online journals, as well as on his blog "The Guy in the Next Pew" (billkassel.com).

Last week was spent vacationing in South Dakota with my family. One of our stops was Mt. Rushmore. Like all the hundreds of tourists there, we gazed up at the towering faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

In the small museum that's a highlight of the visitor center, I learned some interesting facts about this impressive monument. First is that the four faces symbolize:

• the nation's founding — our first president, Washington, being considered the "father of his country";

• the Westward expansion — Jefferson having vastly enlarged our national territory with the Louisiana Purchase;

• securing permanent unity — through Lincoln's leadership and victory in the Civil War; and

• emergence into global prominence — made possible largely by Roosevelt's construction of the Panama Canal.

As large portions of rock were exposed in the sculpting process, Borglum found it necessary to adapt to the inherent characteristics and flaws he encountered in the cliff face.  Thus, what we see today reflects the structural material provided by eons of geologic force.  In a sense, it's a statement about the nature of God's creation.

It struck me that there's an analogy in this with our country.  America has changed over time, adapted to conditions as we've found them, made adjustments in our political, economic, and social functioning, as inherent characteristics and flaws have been revealed.

Our progress has been determined by the nature of the rock — that being, in this case, the Constitution on which the nation is founded.

We've pressed pretty hard on the Constitution over the years.  Successive Supreme Courts have pushed and tugged at that hallowed document, to the point of distortion, in order to accommodate all kinds of innovations demanded at various times.

But we've continued to recognize the Constitution as the standard by which adaptations are measured.  And it still serves to provide certain limits.

Just now in our country, there's a movement afoot to make fundamental changes in our system of government and our way of life.  The working assumption in this change effort is that America is endlessly malleable.  By creating disorder, widening social divisions, and applying the right pressure, the very character of the nation can be altered fundamentally.

If you want America to become a socialist nation, all you have to do is inspire, recruit, or intimidate enough people, and you can accomplish it.

This movement is focused and aggressive. It's amply supported by certain players with vast means and international connections. And it's being encouraged by a political party that has adopted disorder and division as an electoral strategy.

However, the assumption underlying this movement is profoundly false.  You are not free to change the nation fundamentally, even if a majority of people should favor it.  Alterations can be made only within constitutional limits.  Go beyond those, and you don't have change.  You have chaos.

At present, protests are undermining our justice system, all with the aim of fomenting chaos.  But those doing the fomenting should be very careful.

If they succeed in eliminating the safeguards of official justice, then society's only alternatives for self-protection will be vigilante justice or authoritarian force.  Under either of those conditions, the side with the most people and the most guns wins.  And by sheer numbers, that won't be the fomenters.

We may address society's needs and make changes (hopefully they're improvements) only according to the natural constitutional characteristics of the nation.  We must honor the nature of the rock, if you will.  No other approach works.

If Gutzon Borglum had ignored the natural characteristics of Mt. Rushmore, we wouldn't have the magnificent monument of today.  We'd have a pile of rubble.

Bill Kassel is a writer, media producer, and communications consultant based in Michigan.  He hosts Free Expression, a radio series and podcast produced by Good Shepherd Catholic Radio.  And his writings have appeared in numerous publications and online journals, as well as on his blog "The Guy in the Next Pew" (billkassel.com).