Opinion Constitutional Crisis
The country I fought for is one I no longer recognize
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.