What — and I say this with as much respect as I can muster — the hell happened to us?
Less than 250 years ago, a group of men got together to initiate and ratify the foundational governing document of our nation — the Constitution. Contrary to what GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy claims, this was not “what won us the American Revolution” — but it is still worthy of note these many years past.
That document, ratified five years after the American Revolution ended, laid out some complex ideas in a simple vision:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
See, these men had a dream for perfection. For justice. For peace amongst the citizenry. That dream included defending individual rights and ensuring the “general welfare” of all — which, while undetermined, could be assumed to refer to that whole “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” thing from that other text. Those men established this country on the foundation that its people would be free, just, peaceful and taken care of.
So, I say again: What the hell happened?
Far from mere political differences or shades of gray in differing opinions, our nation is almost none of the above anymore. The American dream is shattered; housing is unattainable, medical care is costly and money is hard to come by and harder to keep – not to mention constantly losing its value. And putting aside the fact that those founding fathers really only intended these “inalienable” graces to apply to other, property-owning white men, we have to take a hard look at ourselves if we hope to see again some semblance of what we once were.
South Carolina, for example, remains strong with property-owning men calling the rules. You only need to look at this week’s abortion ruling, in which the S.C. supreme court — comprised entirely of men — upheld legislation that was overwhelmingly steamrolled into existence by other men, even against the challenges brought up by a bipartisan collective of women legislators.
And whether you agree with the final verdict in the text or not, the principle of the matter continually chafes: women’s issues are still primarily governed by men. The founding idea of “representation” has long been out of sync with reality, but we are reminded of it anew in times like these when other voices — even when heard — aren’t listened to.
Justice? Well, in South Carolina we’ve seen pretty clearly over the past few months how lacking that is — where those with power and money skate over the waves of chaos they leave in their wake. From judges to prosecutors and fiduciary presidents, we’ve seen it play out on the live stage. Hold a mere ounce of marijuana in your hand and South Carolina will give you five years (on average) for a first-offense for possession. But use your power and influence to cover up murder, embezzlement and theft of millions of dollars from those in a lower tax bracket? Well, unless there’s a dogged journalist on your tail, you probably won’t even miss dinner at the club.
While we’re talking about the Fourth Estate, in what universe do we think our founding fathers would have been okay with legislation as was proposed earlier this year under Ron DeSantis — legislation that barely even made a media blip — in which press freedoms as covered under that pesky First Amendment (in New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964) would be effectively rolled back if media had the gall to (gasp!) call out a politician for their conduct?
After all, we don’t really need the press as a checkpoint anymore ... do we? Not when our elected leaders are so forthright and beyond reproach.
I won’t even touch on the disillusion of having peace amongst our fellow citizens right now — I’m not sure any of us have experienced peace and true civility as a nation in decades, and the fact that this column alone will likely have me fielding accusations of being both a liberal elitist and a backwoods deplorable — at the same time — proves it.
And finally, the idea of general welfare is absurd.
In a state where almost fifteen percent of the population lives in poverty ($30,000 for a family of four), our largest companies in the state — many of which our tax dollars heavily subsidized, by the way — pay most of their workforce only slightly more than that each year. Small businesses are continually crushed by an overwhelming tax burden, even though they comprise around 99 percent of all of S.C. businesses, as outlined by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Healthcare is dismal; education is laughable; we don’t value childcare; we don’t value infrastructure (unless it’s to attract more big headquarters), and we consistently live up to our rankings among other states — this year in the bottom four in the nation.
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Yet time after time our politicians stand up and talk about how great it is here. How everyone wants to be here. How everyone is watching South Carolina as a shining beacon of freedom and livelihood. Apparently, we’re the “Beast of the East,” as former governor Nikki Haley recently decided to call us. And I’ve done it myself — as a former media publisher I’ve jumped on party lines and touted new acquisitions and dissected good and bad legislation. I’ve pushed tourism and celebrated how everyone was moving to the state. I’ve done it, and I will continue to love and celebrate this state, no matter how broken it may be.
Because the truth is — as it always is — somewhere in between. South Carolina has so much to celebrate that it’s unbearable to see it constantly fail in so many spaces. It’s similar a your child coming back from school with a D, when you know they have A+ potential. Somewhere, deep down, you know that they squandering their opportunity.
I’m a Southerner and a South Carolinian. I know as well as anyone the fierceness that comes along with that. I understand clearly our historical makeup as independent and longing to be free from governmental overreach. I love our hills and mountains and beaches and people. I know our business market is incredibly strong and makes people look twice at this small state on the East Coast. I know that South Carolina is ripe for innovation and brilliance and world-changing opportunity.
But I also see our faults — and where we need to fervently come back to the Constitutionalism that this country was founded on to find our footing once again.
We have the potential for so much more, South Carolina. And we are squandering it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...
Jordana Megonigal is a politically homeless former journalist, three-time business owner, wife of one and mother of three residing in Upstate South Carolina.
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