Rod Miller:  “We the People” And Our Marching Orders

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "It rubs me the wrong way when some folks take a phrase from our Constitution and use it out of context for their own political gain. That displays a cynical lack of understanding and respect."

Rod Miller

March 31, 20244 min read

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It rubs me the wrong way when some folks take a phrase from our Constitution and use it out of context for their own political gain. That displays a cynical lack of understanding and respect.

“We the People” is an example. That trio of words is the opening phrase in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, but the populist right wing has co-opted the phrase as a rallying cry without reading the rest of the document.

Whenever the hard right gets upset by something that government does, they respond by saying “We the People” are pissed off. Invoking the phrase indicates a division between citizens and government. It hints that “We the People” are gonna get revenge.

The phrase is used to stoke populist, and often extremist, emotions as well as a call to action. It is akin to shaking a collective fist at government, and it implies that a population with its panties in a bunch will take to the streets with torches and pitchforks if things don’t change pronto.

But our Founders used “We the People” not to set citizens apart from government, but to let them know that they ARE the government.

Read beyond the first three words of the Preamble and you’ll see that our political forefathers gave “We the People” some specific tasks to accomplish, and marching around the streets or on a keyboard in a political frenzy was not one of them.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution”

These are the jobs assigned to “We the People” by the Framers. Nowhere does the Preamble instruct us to get irate and raise hell on social media when we don’t get our way. THIS is the context of that phrase that so often gets misused.

Alexander Hamilton ably articulated the danger of unbridled emotional populism, and the bastardization of the concept of “We the People," when he said, “The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion.”

When you hear a hair-on-fire populist invoke “We the People” and its clear that they’re not talking about forming a more perfect union, promoting the general welfare, insuring domestic tranquility or any of the other assigned tasks in the Preamble, you can be pretty sure that they’re up to the mischief that Hamilton warned against.

You can bet a dollar to a donut that they haven’t read past the first three words of our Constitution and they’re only trying to inflame the citizenry. 

These days, it seems like those knuckleheads are a dime a dozen, and those who have read and understood our Constitution too often get their voices drowned out. 

That goes to show how dangerous it is to pick and choose words or concepts from our seminal documents like some sort of political buffet, and bend them to a different purpose. It reveals the risk of emotion over reason.

So I guess my message to those who are prone to do that is this: If you want to cloak yourself in the righteous mantle of “We the People," then prepare to do the work that was assigned to us as a citizenry. 

If you aren’t capable of doing that heavy lifting, then don’t get pissed off when nobody pays attention to you.

Rod Miller can be reached at:

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist