To Form a More Perfect Union

Author: Gary Hart

These words in the preamble to our Constitution set out the major purpose for creating the United States of America–to bring the individual state republics into a closer union.  Those words also became the mandate for Abraham Lincoln to preserve that union 75 years later.

But for many those words have an almost mystical meaning, a burden laid on us by the Founders to make the union better as time goes by.  Most of my life I’ve believed in the inevitability of progress, that our nation and our society would become increasingly more humane, more decent, more expansive in spirit.  That belief has been tested in recent years.  In a way, for me at least, that test began with the assassination of John Kennedy.  Since then, one thing or another has caused many of us to question whether the union can be made more perfect.

This Wednesday we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy inaugural, an event that brought many of my generation into public service if for no other reason than to make a contribution to a nation that had been so good to us.  Few today doubt that a climate of anger and hatred towards him had something to do with his assassination. 

Perhaps it is our fate to always have that climate with us.  But if it is our fate, we will make little progress toward a more perfect union.  We still have not reached concurrence on the relationship between state and nation, on race, on our social and moral obligations to the poor, on differences of all kinds.  But the deeper discord is the most troubling.  That is the distrust bordering on hatred toward our fellow citizens.  It is impossible to account for this, for the need on the part of some to turn disagreement into anger and hatred. 

It does seem as if some very deep struggle is going on for the very soul of our union, of America itself.  This struggle does lead to violence, as it did in the earlier era of civil rights.  Until the struggle is resolved, until we find some way to get back to the idealism of making our country better by citizen service and participation, it is futile to think about the United States providing much international leadership.  While we struggle over our own soul, we will not be able to demonstrate the moral authority to suggest direction for others. 

In the meantime, I for one continue with this one belief: America is better than this.

15 Responses to “To Form a More Perfect Union”

  1. Gary Hart Says:

    Correction: the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy inaugural is this Thursday, the 20th, not Wednesday as the blog indicates.

  2. Christopher Brooks Says:

    Two comments: “Most of my life I’ve believed in the inevitability of progress, that our nation and our society would become increasingly more humane, more decent, more expansive in spirit.” How naive. Decency and humanity are fragile, rare and precious. E.g. 19th century Germany, the most advanced nation in the world, went on to perpetrate the Holocaust.

    “Few today doubt that a climate of anger and hatred towards him [Kennedy] had something to do with his assassination.” Really? The Senator must be aware that Oswald was a communist or communist sympathizer–hardly typical of 1960’s Dallas.

  3. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    Dear Gary; I too have been soul searching (using Sheriff Dupnik’s term) since the events in Tucson. Rep. Giffords seems to be healing (she’s been upgraded from critical to serious!). Our prayers seem to be answered in that case. As for the rest of us? Not too sure. From the time of my youth when JFK was inaugurated (I was eight), to now the United States of American has changed. And NOT for the better. I really do believe that we were better off with the ‘liberal’ agenda of the 1960’s. Why? Our middle class was vibrant, we ALL had a relatively good slice of the communal ‘pie’. My parents weren’t ‘rich’ by any standards, but we lived well. Now? Well one group is doing REALLY well. At the cost and on the backs of the rest of us. Does this sound like class warfare? Maybe. That’s the term that’s used when this little differential is brought up. And make no mistake about it. These ‘Haves’ are VERY greedy. As late as last December, they were ‘grumbling’ that President Obama was ‘anti-business! Imagine that. After the bail outs, and the kowtowing to, they want MORE. And then it becomes ‘class warfare’ to boot! There IS a divide Gary. A very real one. Left/Right. Liberal/Conservative. And to put it mildly, we hate each other’s guts. With passion. What we need right now is our 21st Century version of Abraham Lincoln. President Obama’s speech in Tucson was amazing. And it definitely struck the right cord. I got the sense from it that he DOES want to be Lincoln for us. Lead us to some sort of unity. To finish, I very much would like to dispense with this hatred. But what I’m seeing right now is a stand off. Who’s gonna go first? Well, MY side is VERY willing to. Now let’s see what Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Bill-O And Sean Hannity have to say. It really IS up to them!

  4. Trevor Burrowes Says:

    Thanks. On HuffingtonPost, I now try to promote unity, reason and compromise. While I remain a liberal, I’m increasingly seeing the need to empathize with the right (in so far as it does not violate my core principles). Conservatives will not come over to our side, but we can attempt to meet in the middle. We can insist on progressive goals, while getting at them through conservative tactics. We can at least try.

  5. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mr. Brooks, I would only say that being an “advanced” nation, say in science, industry, and so forth, does not guarantee the qualities I was hoping for our nation, and all the coverage of the Kennedy assassination comment on the harsh anti-Kennedy atmosphere in Dallas, sufficient in fact to cause Governor Adlai Stevenson, who had been spit on a few days before, to urge President Kennedy not to travel there. It does not require a direct connection between specific hate speech and a specific action to conclude, then or now, that angry rhetoric and divisive speech contributes to abberant behavior. Otherwise, Hitler’s speeches had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

  6. nothingpetty Says:

    What is sad is that I think the anger and hatred Mr. Kerry speaks about, here, has always been present in American society. The womb of that hatred is ignorance, and in this country that ignorance has always been fostered by the haves. I remember a day when a poor white thought himself better than an equally poor Black or Latin. I’m not sure that has changed.

    Hate is destroying this country and so much of it arises out of those who call themselves Christian.

  7. nothingpetty Says:

    Christopher Brooks remarks are proof of what I’ve just said. Some people just need an enemy and will justify their need in any way.

  8. Wm Scott Pappert Says:

    Gary, your comment about the need for greater citizen participation and a reassertion(?)of the moral compass of the constitution is noble and consistent with the tenets of the Constitution. But how is it that the ‘right to bear arms’ and the need to ‘provide for the common defense’ as stated in the 2nd amendment and the Bill of Rights has evolved into the arms and defense industry that America promotes today yet the need to ‘promote the general welfare’ has not stimulated the same need for recognition for healthcare for all as a national goal? There seem to be essentially three industries/factions that determine today’s American face at home and abroad; military industrial complex determines American foreign policy and ‘domestic security’, banking-American/global financial and increasingly civil structure (in the name of international security), multinational corporations-increasingly determining American civil structure as evidenced by the recent Citizens et al decision. Would you please address how it is that ordinary citizens can affect these complexes given what we have witnessed from arguably a ‘liberal’ democrat as president?

  9. Jim Engelking Says:

    JFK was also my first hero-President. I marched in his Inaugural parade, in the snow and slush, and I remember him standing hatless and youthful, looking jaunty on the reviewing stand. And we were all hopeful and enthusiastic to do something good for our country, so we did. And I felt that way again during President Obama’s campaign, and acted as a better person then and after his election, seeking to listen better to other people, and trying not to judge them, but to see the good in them. And to learn from them. Respect, empower, include.

    I think it is up to me to make it better. To help make our union more perfect. I can’t control the thoughts or behaviors of anyone else. But I can try to control mine. I think I just have to work on it every day, and not think that I can control the outcome, only set a good example by my own behavior. Today I worked with 100 other volunteers at the Jefferson County Action Center, a day of service to honor MLK, doing grunt work for four hours, and we all made a difference, and there will be more to do tomorrow, and they will need more of our help next week, and appreciate whatever we can do, whenever we can do it. There are no haters when you work with other volunteers, no right or left, no haves and have nots, and it is easy to make friends. Simple acts of charity have the power to bring us closer. Making our union more perfect from the ground up. Cheers. Jim

  10. Daniel J. Lavigne Says:

    It is unfortunate that America has lost her way.

    That something can be done to re-establish its once good name and reputation is doubtful.

    Such is doubtful due the fact that Americans aware of what is meant by “The Rule Of Law” dare not, yet, demand of each other that they stop supporting their nation, their society, until it effectively repudiates its wars of aggression and its publicly stated decision to use its nuclear arsenal “If Necessary”, in order to ensure that “America’s way of life remain non-negotiable”.

    The world is now aware that “Peak Oil” will lead to a worldwide economic collapse.

    According to Richard Heinberg ( ) such is, quite simply, “unavoidable”.

    If so, and I support his view, the only way to prevent the use of ALL nuclear and other weapons of mass murder is to offer the whole of Humanity a choice to dismantle or suffer the use of all such weapons.

    We can, and should help bring this about by participating in “The Tax Refusal”. (IMHO)


    Add your voice to reason’s call.

    Join the Tax Refusal. 

    And the related effort to wake the world:

  11. Gary Hart Says:

    To Mr/Ms “nothingpetty” I must point out that I am not, alas, Mr. Kerry. But I try to do the best I can.

  12. Kevin Ready Says:

    I think a large part of our current cross-hatred and ever-present vitriol arises from the predominance in America of the 24-7 news cycle and the fact that we do not hold our journalists to task for heating up the vitriol. Cable news has learned that talking heads with pretty faces and acid tongues make great ratings. Many Americans get there knowledge of the world from such sources and it stands to reason that those Americans become emotional and alienated from their fellow citizens. Rep. Cohen spoke one day about the need to tone down public discourse and the next day he compared his Republican colleagues to Nazi propagandists. So, it is not just cable TV journalists, our political leaders are using the vitriol for self-interest and few are willing to take them to task for it. We need a Ghandi to demand that everyone be civil adn that our politicians act like statesmen, not rabble-rousers.

  13. Tim Paynter Says:

    We need more leaders like Gary Hart. We can do better. When we seek solutions to our problems we find them. When we concentrate on our differences we find them. Which is better? Each of us must search our sould to help elect law makers who are interested in solving problems rather than dividing us. We can be a Union, it is still not too late!

  14. Sarah S Says:

    This is my first time here and I just wanted to stop by and say hi there everyone

  15. P. Edward Murray Says:

    As far as Mr Brooks is concerned, I can only say that he is very mistaken.
    Gary, I was there in Dallas that day and even as there were many good folks that cared about Kennedy there was indeed a climate of hatred.

    Totally shocked at the hatred shown towards Ambassador Stevenson, my parents wrote to him in apology.

    Oswald,for whatever history records of him, is best discribed by
    The Warren Report as a “Paranoid Schizophrenic”.

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