Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

” What About Politics as a Covenant with Every American?”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Politics in American Representative Democracy is essentially a covenantal process whereby elected representatives promise to serve, protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States of America for all the American people. It is the moral, political and even religious obligation of persons elected to public office to galvanize as many resources as possible to help all the people they can in all the ways they can as long as ever they can even when it means garnering the support of the opposing political party. This higher purpose for public service should never be obstructed by personal politics or any other impediment that puts our nation or its people at risk especially in times of great peril and dire human need.

The meaning of American Representative Democracy and our Constitutional Republic essentially says that politicians are in covenant with the people of this nation to govern in the bests interests of all Americans. When they take their oaths of office, they are essentially consenting to abide by the terms of that covenant.

The idea of covenant thus informs and undergirds the American political system and is a sacred pact between government and the people. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are the Holy Triumvirate; the three preeminent documents of this agreement between the people of America and their government.

Thus a quintessential feature of this solemn pledge is the enforcement of laws that guarantee the civil and human rights of all Americans; the reciprocity of responsibility and accountability in carrying out its terms and tenets and an overall desire to improve the welfare of the nation by preserving those basic rights.

Inherent in the concept of covenant is the notion of mutual respect forged by binding oaths and mutual promises designed to bring about the common good and welfare of the nation. There is something sacred about this privilege and the duties and responsibilities that come with  addressing the ultimate concerns of citizens and the nation.

One prominent example of covenant in the religious realm can be found in ancient Israel where varieties of such agreements flourished  from the Abrahamic and Mosaic to the Davidic covenants at various junctures in Israel’s history.  All agreements between God and the people had one common denominator and that was to strengthen the spiritual ties between God and God’s people, establish and reinforce the moral foundations indispensable to community cohesion and solidify those communal ties between various tribal groups in ways that precipitated Israel’s consolidation into a viable and formidable nation-state. While tribal particularities remained, those entities were bound together into “a single garment of destiny” that would direct their aspirations into unified efforts for their common good.

The nature of covenant in this regard has both political and religious implications. Its power lay in its capacity to foster a common vision and to specifically help the human parties of the covenant resolve and override their multiple differences and conflicts, to enable them to keep to their providential mission and purpose and to chart a realizable future as a unified and chosen people against the sundry forms of internal and external opposition. The religious dimensions in covenant lay in its theocentric focus. The political aspects of covenant culminated in a greater realization by the people that all social and political striving in nation building had the oversight of God and were directed at elevating their steps and preserving their future.

The scripture “I will be your God and you will be my people,” signifies the unconditional moral imperatives between the parties of the Covenant initiated by a sovereign deity and carried out by a mostly cheerfully compliant and obedient people. The extent to which the people veered off course in keeping its promises to the higher sovereign God, and allowed their divisions to take hold in separating them from their rising hopes, mutual promises and common mission is the extent to which the terms of the covenant were disavowed and broken.

The American political process today seems to have lost that sense of covenant as a partnership with every American; the idea of public service as a higher, nobler calling for serving the public interest. The Democratic party albeit not perfect seems committed to this ideal by its persistent  focus on the needs of the poor, middle class, women, minorities and other groups but also not ignoring the needs of those well off and tirelessly working to ensure that the axes of justice, fairness and equality are poised and properly balanced so that all Americans can actualize their true potential as human beings and American citizens. The collective vision and consciousness inspired by such efforts are now fractured by myopic and contentious political hankering, by filibusters and other forms of political obstruction that retard overall the progress of the nation made possible in part by this covenant.

Too often we have observed how the polarization of political parties into pugnacious partisan bickering and the Balkanization of the American political process have culminated in a kind of” politics of retribution from hell” that are bent on punishing people who are other, lasered on permanently removing rather than preserving the sacred writs and solemn promises of covenant between the American government and its people. We have seen how basic rights are threatened to be repealed and how the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness seem to be relegated to the past but reified in the present only for a privileged few. One ensuing problem in all this is the normalization of such activities as prudent political strategies that will lead us to higher ground.

We observe the recent forays against Medicare and Social Security, efforts to neutralize the political power of labor unions, the establishment of Emergency Manager Laws which overturn the power of local governments and municipalities to self governance through elected officials who are undercut and sidelined from power. We see it through the politics of obfuscation where the core truths of political issues are speciously drenched in untruths and in the politics of confiscation where virtually everything of value is swiped from average Americans such as the right to a good education; the right to a decent wage and healthful living and other basic rights that lend themselves to the overall well-being of the people and nation.

Now we have sub rosa efforts by some members of the Republican Party to restructure, reorganize and over turn time-honored modes and methods of governance through various forms of political subterfuge. Does this politics of confiscation aim at turning everything over to behemoth corporations and the ruling elite for private profit and gain; socializing the costs to the public and reducing the size of government to the point that government may possibly be no more?  Do politics in this manner breach the basic terms of covenant in our American Representative Democracy for the common people?

Any time a politician remarks that the chief duty of his political party is to make the President a one term Commander-in-Chief, this epitomizes how personal politics has overshadowed the politics of serving the people. That failed attempt to make Barack Obama a one term president is emblematic of the current inanities of covenant breaking that have allowed personal feelings to overturn the higher principles of public service. Rendering a political candidate a loss in a political election should be a by-product of the political process not the main focus. The primary concern should be finding ways to reach across the aisle to craft legislation where all Americans can win and grow stronger and get better so that America as a nation is victorious despite the person occupying the oval office. The willingness to drive this nation into the fiscal abyss at the behest of personal ideology, play political parlor games with the lives who are suffering and devastated from hardships and misfortune for political reasons and thus jeopardize the well-being of our country again bespeaks a gross violation of the convenantal responsibilities of some who have taken higher office.

Furthermore, when the Virginia State Legislature by engaging in machtpolitik seizes the opportunity to gerrymander districts in Virginia to the advantage of Republicans while a democratic representative is at the Presidential Inauguration, we have not only a gross infraction of covenant but a moral breach by political authorities which undermines the presumed integrity of a just and fair political process. The loss of political integrity through collusion and chicanery is just one more sign of the brokenness of our political system and how we are fast losing our way. We can’t even agree on the terms by which we disagree. Political strategies and tactics are thrown to the winds in this “anything and everything goes”atmosphere.

How did we change political course with the idea that it is ok to take everything from the little guys and gals and give it to the big guys and gals with no compunctions and no compassion? When did we subscribe to this all or nothing, feast or famine approach to American politics without even a blink of the eye? Where did we get this idea that we can serve some of the people and deny other people the means to their basic subsistence; that we can transform our beloved democracy into a plutocratic oligarchy where government of the few, by the few and for the few supplant government of, for and by the people? The change of the political cross winds now sweeping America dramatizes a basic encroachment on our covenantal claims as a living and thriving democracy.

Some politicians have completely lost the idea of public service as covenant, if they ever had it, and public service as sacred duty to all the people of this nation. Their only interest seems to be serving the needs of those who finance their political campaigns and finding ways to Gerry rig the political process to suppress citizens capacity to vote and thus enlarge their personal  political preponderance. All too often we have observed how the notion of covenant, that is to say, keeping a promise to make this nation better and stronger despite personal political views has been shredded by these special interests.

President Barack Obama’s  second inaugural address underscores the importance of keeping that covenantal promise before all the American people so that every American does not fall through the gaping cracks of those broken covenants created by elected representatives both national and local who are no longer interested in keeping their solemn oaths by serving the best interests and needs of all Americans.

May we remember this great experiment in American Democracy; the oaths and promises that elected officials and the people have taken to serve the nation, build stronger communities and create a realizable future for our children, grandchildren and all future generations of Americans. As sociologist Lewis Coser says conflict can be a positive impetus for the acceleration and progress of society, but when political entities simply use the political process to avoid conflict and shut down the machinery of government under the aegis of political ideology and will even permit our democracy and our nation to perish in its wake, then the covenantal purpose for building our nation is thrown away. When we throw away our sacred covenants, we cast to the winds those creeds and beliefs that make us a unique nation and a beacon to all the world. Let us return to the notion of  the American political process as a covenant with every American.

As Barbara Jordan said in her Harvard University Commencement Speech, June 16, 1977, “What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *