Q: What is the provenance of the Constitution of the United States of America?
A. In its original form, it was an agreement among the States (i.e., governing bodies of certain geographical areas formerly known as colonies). Each State that ratified (agreed to) the Constitution did so because a majority (however slight) of a small fraction of the State’s residents voted to approve the Constitution.
Q. So the Constitution is binding on all Americans because of the actions of a small fraction of the residents of America in 1787-1790?
A. Approximately. It’s really binding on all Americans because the governments of the States and the central government have the power to make it binding. More importantly those governments have the power enforce statutes, regulations, and judicial decrees, whether or not they actually conform to the Constitutions of the United States or any State. However, there was a time when certain groups of people, known as Indians, were treated as if their tribes and nations weren’t subject to the jurisdiction of American governments, Rather, they were treated as if they were foreign nations, even though their territories were within the boundaries of the United States. Accordingly, they weren’t even taxed by American governments.
Q. So allegiance to the Constitution, etc., is discretionary?
A. Yes, but it’s governmental discretion, not the choice of individuals or groups.
Q. Yet the preamble to the Constitution says that it was established by “the People.”
A. Yes, a few of them.
Q. If that’s the case, why do so many people seem to respect the Constitution and invoke it?
A. Most people who claim to respect the Constitution do so because (a) it’s a symbol of Americanism (whatever that is, these days), or (b) it can be read in a way that supports their political views and preferences. The reading can be literal, which is the way written constitutions are meant to be read, or strained, in which case it involves a “living Constitution” (i.e, make it up as you go along) with “emanations” and “penumbras” (i.e., inferences piled on unsubstantiated interpretations). The Constitution, in brief, is a kind of club to be carried into political battles.
Q. To sum it up: The Constitution is binding because of the power of government to make it binding. But government uses it mainly as an excuse to enforce the wishes of those who control government, regardless of what the Constitution actually says.
A. That’s about it.
Q. Well, then, truth in packaging demands a more accurate preamble. Here it is:
We the minuscule minority who lived a long time ago hereby ratify this document so that a bunch of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges can mention it when they jerk you around and pick your pockets — Indians excluded.
A. Almost. But Indians are no longer excluded, in reality, regardless of the treaties they co-signed with the big chiefs in Washington, D.C.
Q. Spreading the misery is the American way.