Opin­ion Con­sti­tu­tional Cri­sis

The coun­try I fought for is one I no longer rec­og­nize

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - BY ARTI WALKERPEDDAKOTLA @ajped­dakotla

When I en­listed as a pri­vate in the U.S. Army, I won­dered why we took an oath not to the pres­i­dent or our na­tion but to the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Of course, we swear that we will obey the or­ders of the com­man­der in chief and of­fi­cers ap­pointed over us, but our first oath is to sup­port and de­fend this doc­u­ment. It’s an oath I’ve never for­got­ten and one that any­one who takes it never for­gets. It’s an oath that most mil­i­tary vet­er­ans I know still work to up­hold even af­ter tak­ing the uni­form off for the fi­nal time. And we do it be­cause the free­doms writ­ten by our Found­ing Fa­thers are guar­an­teed to us only if we ac­tively fight to pro­tect, de­fend and up­hold them ev­ery sin­gle day, work­ing to form the “more per­fect union” em­pha­sized in the pre­am­ble.

And in to­day’s Amer­ica, that fight must be waged more vig­or­ously than ever. Un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, moth­ers at our bor­ders are be­ing sep­a­rated from their ba­bies, refugee and im­mi­grant visas are frozen by poli­cies like the “Mus­lim ban,” so­ci­ety is rife with hate crimes by white su­prem­a­cists, and black and brown lives are dis­pro­por­tion­ately be­ing jailed and gunned down, all hand in hand with the big­oted rhetoric of our cur­rent lead­er­ship. With ev­ery sin­gle at­tack on the free­dom of the peo­ple, the Con­sti­tu­tion is re­duced to noth­ing more than ever-fad­ing words on a piece of tat­tered parch­ment.

I ask my fel­low ci­ti­zens: Which ver­sion of Amer­ica will you choose? Will you honor the vi­sion of Amer­ica that sol­diers like me have fought to de­fend, or will you keep sup­port­ing an Amer­ica that is erod­ing es­sen­tial free­doms and ba­sic hu­man rights?

De­spite our Con­sti­tu­tion’s com­mit­ment to re­li­gious free­dom, the Supreme Court up­held the Mus­lim ban. The pol­icy has sep­a­rated fam­i­lies, de­railed lives and com­mu­ni­cated to Amer­i­cans and those liv­ing abroad that re­li­gious free­dom is no longer a core Amer­i­can value. This hor­rific pol­icy is clearly un­con­sti­tu­tional and not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try I joined the mil­i­tary to de­fend.

Our con­sti­tu­tional val­ues also paint the U.S. as a place of refuge, where any­one has the op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed. But refugee in­take has slowed to a trickle: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump low­ered the fis­cal 2018 refugee cap to 45,000, but only about 20,000 refugees have ac­tu­ally been re­set­tled. On Septem­ber 17, the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced plans to re­duce the cap to 30,000 in 2019—a record low that sharply con­tra­dicts the bi­par­ti­san sup­port for refugee re­set­tle­ment.

Mean­while, the non­vi­o­lent peace­ful protests of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, at­tacked at ev­ery step by the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, give life to the words and in­ten­tion of the founders to “es­tab­lish jus­tice, in­sure do­mes­tic tran­quil­ity.” For so many Amer­i­cans, vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion af­fect­ing black and brown lives have be­come nor­mal­ized and can feel dis­tant. But we must re­mem­ber our coun­try’s core free­doms, the same ones en­shrined in our most prized doc­u­ment, and stand to­gether for one an­other. It is when we stand up for one an­other that I see the Amer­ica I was proud to serve. Arti Walker-ped­dakotla is a U.S. Army vet­eran and a leader in Vet­er­ans for Amer­i­can Ideals, a non­par­ti­san group of vet­er­ans founded by Hu­man Rights First.

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