Our country is breaking. Some would argue it’s already broken. In certain regards both perspectives are probably right. What’s inarguable is that change needs to occur — and quickly. The road we’re on as a country leads nowhere good, and it’s not just Americans who will suffer if we drive off the proverbial cliff — the world will suffer. And despite how bleak the current environment is, change is possible. I know this because I witnessed proof of it last night.
I’m currently deployed (still) on an aircraft carrier at sea. Ceremonies and traditions that typically take on a bit more pomp and circumstance at home tend to occur out here with much less of both. At home a promotion ceremony for a Sailor or officer almost always involves friends and family. It might be reason for a half-work day, and nice dinner out with a few cocktails to follow. None of those are options here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still set aside a few brief moments to acknowledge the achievement, but more importantly to refocus and remind ourselves of the oaths we swear. Each time a service-member is promoted we re-administer their oath. Last night I had the privilege to administer the following oath to three junior officers in my squadron:
I, (name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Before administering that oath to these three officers, I reminded them and those gathered, that our oath is to the Constitution; not to a person, a group, or an ideology. We swear to support and defend a document — a framework. When our military first began administering oaths to its members, the idea of swearing an oath to a document was a dramatic departure from the English traditions that governed almost all other facets of our fledgling services — particularly the Navy. The British swore their allegiance, at the time, to King George. One of the foundational bed rocks of our experiment in democracy was that we would never again entertain the idea of a king, queen, or any other royal. We were to be something different, something better, and something more just.
Our country has seen generations of policies and laws that, while allowed for by the Constitution, often flew in the face of other founding documents — specifically the Declaration of Independence. But, thankfully, the Constitution provides a path toward redress and amendment. See, it’s not the Constitution itself that is inherently misguided, but rather some of the ways in which it has been interpreted and applied. Our society has changed, grown, and evolved during its history, and, with that, laws and policies adapted to reflect those changes. The Constitution itself provides the framework for achieving this change.
The three officers I promoted last night are incredibly talented young professionals. One has a degree in aeronautical engineering, another in chem-bio engineering, and the third is a economics major and standout varsity athlete. However, at points in both our Navy and nation’s history none of the three would’ve been allowed to serve in the capacity they do today. One is a gay man, one is a woman, and the other a Black man. It wasn’t until 2010 that the gay man would have been allowed to publicly reveal his true identity. It wasn’t until the late 90s that the young woman would have been allowed to serve here. And, the young Black man would have been relegated to a menial steward job until the middle of the 20th century. But, our country changed — we changed — and with that the laws and policies that govern it. This only came about because we as a country decided it was time (or well past time) to change. We, as a nation, recognized that the words in the Declaration of Independence were not thrown out when the Constitution was ratified. Specifically,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
The three officers I promoted last night stand as examples of what can happen when we as a nation decide to change. I am supremely confident that my squadron would not be as strong, effective, or successful if it weren’t for the contributions of these three individuals who, in the grand scheme of things, only recently gained the right to serve their country — to serve you. I’m equally convinced that our country will continue to convulse and tear itself apart until we choose to have sober and mature conversations about what our future should look like. And yes, change can be scary, especially for those who are comfortable and well served by the status quo, but we’re a country governed of, by, and for the people — all the people.
I told the group last night that our country is imperfect, and many of our laws and policies are imperfect, but the Constitution still provides a framework and a path forward in our twisting turning march toward achieving the vision laid out in the original protest; the one that tells us that we’re ALL created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights.
Burdened by tyranny and oppression our forefathers sought change. That search for change eventually led to the signing of our Constitution. They dreamed big. They dared to be bold, and they dared to establish a society that Abraham Lincoln later hoped would be “touched…by the better angels of our nature.” The three officers I promoted last night are living proof that we as a society can change, but we must first decide that change is what’s needed. Our country is hurting, but it is not yet beyond rehabilitation. It’s time for us to also dream big, be bold, and decide to unburden ourselves from the divisiveness and toxic animosity we’re too quick to demonstrate toward one another. Short of the Magna Carta or the treaties that formed the Peace of Westphalia, our Constitution remains the most hope inspiring and ambitious document ever put on paper, and it’s absolutely worth supporting and defending — so help me God.
Views expressed are mine alone and do not represent those of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.