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Does the Constitution offer common ground or grounds for violence?

Professor Jared A. Goldstein, associate dean for academic affairs at the Roger Williams University School of Law, ponders the question in his forthcoming book, “Real Americans: National Identity, Violence, and the Constitution”

“Real Americans: National Identity, Violence, and the Constitution” by Roger Williams University School of Law professor Jared A. Goldstein.Handout

Happy Tuesday! I’m Ed Fitzpatrick and I’ll take “Dune” over “The French Dispatch.” Follow me on Twitter @FitzProv or send tips to Edward.Fitzpatrick@Globe.com.

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Leading off

Professor Jared A. Goldstein, associate dean for academic affairs at the Roger Williams University School of Law, has written a timely new book titled “Real Americans: National Identity, Violence, and the Constitution.”


The book will come out in December, just before the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, in which a mob stormed the US Capitol building to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, all the while claiming they were defending the US Constitution.

In his book, Goldstein says US political leaders often talk about how the Constitution binds Americans together with a common creed, but the document also can serve as a “magic mirror,” reflecting widely divergent views, including justifications for violence and exclusion.

Goldstein answered questions from the Globe about the book.

Q: What is the conventional wisdom about the Constitution that your book addresses?

A: You see presidents from Franklin Roosevelt through Barack Obama frequently invoking the Constitution as the essence of what it means to be American. And you see that across popular culture, from “Star Trek” to “Schoolhouse Rock.” That children’s cartoon taught me the preamble to the Constitution with a catchy tune that conveys the central point of constitutional nationalism: “The USA was just starting out. A whole brand new country. And so our people spelled it out. The things that we should be.”

Q: What are some of the groups that have used the Constitution to justify violence and otherwise defend the power of racial, ethnic, or religious groups?


A: The oldest example is the Ku Klux Klan. When it formed after the Civil War to defend white power and to embark on a spree of violence and intimidation that has gone on for 150 years, they said they were defending the Constitution. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, he said he was protecting the Constitution against a new world order. And at the Jan. 6 insurrection, the people who fought against police and broke doors at the Capitol, trying to find Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and string them up — they conceived it as a defense of the Constitution as they understood it.

Q: Did former President Donald Trump employ the language of constitutional nationalism?

A: When he ran for office and through much of his presidency, President Trump did not use this kind of constitutional rhetoric the way other right-wing groups had for decades. He used the language of manliness and blunt Nativism without the constitutional veneer. But on Jan. 6, at the very end of his presidency, he used the language of constitutional nationalism when he was encouraging people to go to the Capitol to try to stop the certification of the election.

Q: As a constitutional scholar, what do you hope readers do about the information provided in this book?

A: I hope they’ll see that when politicians and political movements start invoking the Constitution in these patriotic ways, they take it with grain of salt. The Constitution can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and it can be used to justify a lot of hatred, violence, and exclusion.


The Globe in Rhode Island

⚓ My colleague Amanda Milkovits reports that the North Kingstown Town Council voted to hire retired Judge Susan McGuirl to review the school committee’s investigation of basketball coach Aaron Thomas, who subjected student-athletes to naked “fat tests.” Read more.

⚓ Alexa Gagosz writes that former Providence school principal Michael Redmond was caught working in two different schools, in two different states, at once, clocking in to his job at E-Cubed Academy before logging in to a Washington, D.C., school virtually. Read more.

⚓ Alexa also tells us that Amazon, the online retail behemoth, will open a brick-and-mortar location in the Providence Place mall. Read more.

⚓ As it grapples with the “prison gerrymandering” issue, the state redistricting commission learned that nearly half of the inmates at Rhode Island prisons are expected to be released in less than a year or are not yet sentenced. Read more.

⚓ Rhode Island nonprofits on the front lines of responding to the pandemic can apply for $4.5 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funding, Governor Daniel J. McKee and the Rhode Island Foundation announced. Read more

⚓ Eight school districts in Rhode Island will receive federal funds to support homeless students, Governor McKee and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green announced. Read more

⚓ Rhode Island had not identified any positive cases of the new Omicron variant as of Monday morning. Read more.

⚓ In a commentary piece, Black Lives Matter RI PAC executive director and General Assembly candidate Harrison Tuttle says, “We have the opportunity to make housing a right for all Rhode Islanders and not just the wealthy.” Read more.


Here’s more Globe Rhode Island coverage.

Also in the Globe

⚓ While news of the Omicron variant might make it feel like spring 2020 all over again, the pandemic landscape today is very different. Read more.

⚓ A mentally ill Medford man accused of attacking a woman in the Middlesex Fells Reservation allegedly told investigators he hit the woman 14 times with a rock and raped her. Read more

⚓ My colleague Emily Sweeney writes about how one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives lead a quiet life in Lynnfield, Mass. Read more.

Our journalism relies on support from readers like you. Please help us continue our mission with a subscription to the Globe. Here’s a special deal for Rhode Island.

What’s on tap today

E-mail events to us at RInews@globe.com.

⚓ At 10:30 a.m., Governor Daniel J. McKee, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, and Newport Housing Authority executive director Rhonda R. Mitchell will announce broadband grant awards to increase internet access for low- and moderate-income households across the state.

⚓ At 3 p.m., community leaders, elected officials, and housing advocates will gather online for the release of a Rhode Island KIDS COUNT policy brief on “Housing Instability and Homelessness Among Rhode Island Children.”

⚓ Also at 3 p.m., the Special Legislative Commission to Review and Make Recommendations Regarding the Efficient and Effective Administration of Health and Human Services Programs (SLCRMRREEAHHSP, to you and me) will meet in State House Room 313.


⚓ At 5 p.m., Governor McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos will hold a “Rhode Island 2030″ public input session at Harry Kizirian Elementary School in Providence. 

⚓ At 7 p.m., the University of Rhode Island’s fall honors colloquium, “Sustaining our Shores,” will continue with a panel talk titled “Plastic and Marine Pollution -- Science and Solution.” The free lecture is at Edwards Hall and can be viewed online.

Dan’s previous column

Dan McGowan asked the six Democratic candidates for governor to offer some advice to President Joe Biden. They mostly talked about themselves. If you missed the column, you can read it here. And all of his columns are on our Rhode Island Commentary page.

Rhode Island Report podcast

Ed Fitzpatrick talks to Lorén Spears from the Tomaquag Museum about what Thanksgiving represents for Indigenous people. Listen to all of our podcasts here.

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You can get alerts about Rhode Island news on the Globe’s app (iOS and Android). Just tap the gear icon, then “Edit Alert Settings,” and choose Rhode Island.

Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to Edward.Fitzpatrick@Globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @FitzProv. See you on Wednesday.

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Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.