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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ikerd

Our Right to Clean Air, Pure Water, & Safe Healthful Food

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

The bitterly contested presidential election of 2016 finally is over. With a new President and Republican control of both houses of Congress, there will be fundamental changes the government policies and regulations over the next four years. However, the fundamental principles upon which the United States was founded will not change and neither will the U.S. Constitution.

The recent election failed to provide a clear mandate for the kinds of changes that likely to take place. President Elect Donald Trump will receive a clear majority of the electoral votes, but Hillary Clinton received more than a million more popular votes than Trump. The country remains deeply divided – as it has been for several decades. Without a “public consensus” for change, the changes forthcoming from the new administration are likely to further deepen the nation’s cultural, social, and economic divide.

The transition team has already announced President Trump’s intentions to dismantle the modest environmental protection and social justice programs of the Obama administration – essentially removing all restraints on economic extraction and exploitation. A large corporate tax cut presumably will be the centerpiece of the new Trump economic policy. After experiencing eight years of Republican leaders openly advocating the failure the Obama presidency, the Republicans’ pseudo- patriotic pleas for Americans to come together in support of President Trump’s agenda are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Regardless, President Elect Trump will place his hand on the Bible and take the same oath of office as presidents before him: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” He will promise to preserve, protect, and defend the same Constitution that as Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and much the same Constitution as George Washington swore to uphold. All members of Congress take a similar oath to “support and defend the Constitution.”

Among the new administration’s talking points is: “President Trump will appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will protect our Bill of Rights.” Trump obviously statement obviously refers to select Amendments, specifically the 2ndAmendment or the so-called right to bear arms.  However, his oath of office obligates him to uphold the entire Constitution, including not only the Bill of Rights, or first ten amendments, but all amendments that have since been added.

The primary purpose of U.S. government is “to secure the rights of the people,” as was clearly expressed in the American Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed.” The current lack of consensus casts doubts on whether the power of the current U.S. government is just or legitimate.

Regardless, the U.S. Constitution suggests that the ultimate definition of rights and the power to govern are to be “retained by the people.” The 9th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retailed by the people.” Some of those other rights have been added later as constitutional amendments, such those prohibiting slavery and allowing women to vote. Others have simply been accepted as self-evident, such as the rights of self-determination and self-defense. The clearest statement of “other rights” that are retained by the people are those expressed in the Declaration of Independence: the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

What can possibly be more important to the right to life than a right to clean air, pure water, and safe, healthful food? The relentless economic extraction and exploitation of the environment proposed by the Trump transition team certainly will not secure our right to clean healthy air or safe drinking water. The promise to remove of even the minimal regulation of industrial agriculture will not protect our air and water or provide food that will nourish our bodies, rather than continue to threaten and diminish public health. We don’t have to wait for the so-called experts who are beholding to corporate interest to tell us when our health and life is being threatened; we have access to the same information as the experts, and we have the right of self-determination.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution clearly states the primary functions of government: “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.” Nowhere is there a specific reference to government having the responsibility to ensure corporate profitability or promote economic growth. Employment and income obviously are important to our individual well-being, but government’s function is to ensure that the economy promotes the “general Welfare” rather than individual greed. The Preamble also clearly states that government is to ensure the well-being of our posterity or future generations.

Thus far, our government has failed to fully protect the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that were not enumerated in the Constitutions but are still “retained by the people.” The new administration seems destine to deprive us even further of our rights to clean air, pure water, and safe, healthful food. Our governments have consistently given higher priority to economic growth or the “right to make money” over clean air, pure water, and safe, healthful food. If our government either feel it lacks the power, or denies its responsibility, to secure these rights for us, then the 10thAmendment gives us, the people, the “power” to claim those rights for ourselves. It states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Yes, major changes in our government in Washington DC are quite likely, but the basic principles upon which our nation was founded will remain unchanged. Perhaps the changes over the next few years will make the persistent failures of governance so obvious that Americans will feel compelled and find ways to use their power to reclaim their constitutional rights for themselves, including our right to clean air, pure water, and safe healthful food. We don’t have to wait for the next presidential election to claim our rights; we have the power to begin in our own communities and we can begin now. As I have suggested in other posts and writing, we can begin by proclaiming the right to enough “good” food to meet basic nutritional needs as a right of everyone in our communities. Good food means safe, healthful food that not only nourishes our bodies but is produced by means that protects our rights to clean air and pure water.

John Ikerd

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