I was seated at lunch in Mexico with three women in a small restaurant. We were chatting along when one of them – Gael – said, “Let’s play this game I learned. Each of you imagine you’re the Queen, and you’re told that your wish will be granted. What do you wish?”
I said, “I can’t be Queen.”
“Right, Michael,” Gael replied. “You’ll be King. But you’ll get a wish, too.”
“Well, go ahead, Gael the Queen. What’s your wish?”
“All right. I’m going to wish that I could re-write the Constitution. Starting with the Preamble, “We the People of the United States,” where I would add, “including men, women, people of every race, religion, gender, color, regardless of wealth or poverty . . .” You get the idea. “
The rest of us nodded.
“Good thinking,” Amy said. “If we’d had that, we wouldn’t have had slavery or a Civil War.”
Gael continued,“I know I’d like to re-write the Second Amendment, too. How does it go?”
I quickly looked it up on my iPhone. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Gael said, “Up until the 70’s, that used to mean that every state could arm its own Militia, or National Guard – not that every citizen had a right to carry arms for personal use. The Supreme Court twisted it. So I’d re-write it to say, “Every state can arm and maintain its own well-regulated Militia and can determine the arms which its citizens may have, whether in the Militia or not.”
We all nodded approval. “All right, Amy,” Gael said. “Your turn to be Queen.”
Amy thought for a moment. “I wish that the Constitution said that every citizen had a right to complete healthcare, provided by the society.”
Rita added, “If they’d put that in the Constitution, it would have saved us all fifty years of bickering.”
“True enough,” I said. “Didn’t FDR want that in 1944?”
“Right,” Gael replied. “It was in his State of the Union message to Congress. A Second Bill of Rights to cover all our economic needs. My phone has them right here:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
“OK,” Rita said, “as Queen, my wish is to have all of those put into our Constitution right now.”
Gael said, “I think we’ve solved a whole bunch of problems. But maybe we should hear from the King.”
I drummed my fingers on the table. “The thing that always troubles me about America is that some people have outrageous amounts of money and other people don’t.”
Rita said, “I spent a summer in Finland a couple of years ago. I think that the people there believe that if you have too much money, you’re being impolite to your friends and neighbors.”
“That’s pretty interesting,” Gael said. “Meanwhile, here in the U.S., getting money for yourself is a big goal in life for many people. We’re all a bunch of greedy bastards.”
“Well, “ I said, “my wish as King would be that everyone would have enough money to enjoy life, and no one would have wealth more than about five times above the poorest citizen.”
Rita asked, “How would you make that happen? By taxing the rich folks?”
“I suppose. Although as part of my wish I’d like it if everyone were taught and believed that economic equality is necessary for a fair and just society.”
“We just don’t teach our kids that,” Gael said.
We all nodded in agreement.
I said, “Do you know that famous speech Fredrick Douglass made about America?”
“What did he say?” Amy asked.
“Basically, he was saying that America was hypocritical in proclaiming rights for the people but protecting slavery. “
“We finally got rid of slavery,” Amy said.
“True. We freed the slaves but gave them nothing. No food, clothing, shelter or real jobs. There were about 4 million freed slaves, and you know what? By eight years later one million of them had died. Of starvation or illness.”
“I didn’t know that,” Rita said.
“Douglass’ speech has meaning today,” I said. “Our hypocrisy lies in espousing all these rights and then denying them to the people.”
Gael said, “The rights are denied so that the rich people can get and keep the money.”
“Yes,” I replied, “And what can be done about it?”
Gael replied, “I see a lot being done about it right now. We’re talking seriously about reparations for black people because of the efforts of Black Lives Matter.”
“And good for them,” Amy said. “They should get recompense for all the suffering they’ve been through. We can afford it. Aren’t we a wealthy nation?”
“Yes and no,” Gael remarked. “We’ve got a lot of wealth in the hands of the 1%. The government is corrupt and protects them.”
“It’s all part of the hypocrisy that Douglass was talking about,” I said.
“Talking is one thing,” Rita said. “Doing something is quite another.”
“Yes,” Gael said. “And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. So we’d better stop being beggars and get out there and do something.”