A scholar proposes refocusing the Preamble to the Constitution to restore Americans’ shared purpose, reduce political polarization, and reverse the erosion of U.S. leadership.
In his latest book, Cheshire (The Indomitable Freedom Quest, 2016, etc.) invokes philosopher William James, whose 1910 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” considered how to sustain political unity absent a conflict or a credible threat. The author finds his answer in the Preamble to the Constitution, which he deems America’s mission statement and strategic plan. Contending that Americans have become “historically and functionally illiterate” about the Preamble’s purpose and meaning, he dissects its 10 constituent phrases—“We the People,” “A More Perfect Union,” etc.—devoting a chapter to each. His ruminations traverse disciplines and the ages, spanning the Book of Exodus, Gottfried von Leibniz, and Stephen Hawking in a few paragraphs. Emulating Einstein’s E=mc2, Cheshire introduces a leadership equation, I=am2 (impetus equals action times momentum squared). “In short, it stands for ‘We’ instead of ‘Me,’ ” he explains. The former university president co-founded the Promise America Alliance to promote the Preamble’s goals and envisages a Promise America Report, “an annual accounting of the national condition.” Unlike the metaphorical I=am2, this metric would presumably involve real numbers. Unfortunately, he does not detail how domestic tranquility or justice for all might be quantified. Cheshire’s writing is erudite but generally easy to read and occasionally lyrical: “But this momentum must arise from its roots in the Preamble to grow fulsomely into a strong standing tree of life for all that would seek the sustenance of its shadow and shade.” He effortlessly marries scientific vernacular with traditional concepts, as when he discusses “organizational DNA.” He cites the failure of political leaders to honor their constitutional oaths as America’s greatest threat, but his aspiration that media-savvy politicians skilled in manipulating language can be brought to heel by the Preamble’s words seems quaint. This essentially “eat your vegetables” message may leave many readers wondering whether his tonic is too mild (or too late) for America’s advanced stages of polarization and tribalism. Still, the author’s inspired and informed reflections on the nation’s founding principles certainly can do no harm.
Chicken soup for the patriot soul.