I thought we’d look at three words in relation to changing or reshaping our world, in hopes of better understanding and better choices. The words are transformation, reformation, and restoration. We might also use other metaphorical images, but I think we might get a good sense of the definitions by looking at butter.
Trans- refers to movement, across an expanse, or to a new destination. Form refers to the shape, physical look, or makeup of something. To transform something is to change the form into something altogether different from what it was.
Take butter. Add some things to the butter, like sugar, eggs, and flour, cocoa, plus heat, and you might transform an ordinary stick of butter (and other added stuff) into chocolate cake. Not a bad transformation.
Let’s suppose that when someone like our current president promises to transform America, he and those who support him in that effort picture chocolate cake as the outcome. Sweet, spongy, edible with a fork, great with ice cream. Utopia. But what you have afterward isn’t butter (America); it’s something else. If you need/want butter, chocolate cake isn’t interchangeable and may not be an improvement.
And depending on what you add to the butter, it may or may not turn out to be chocolate cake. What if, instead of cocoa, you substitute dirt? And instead of sugar, you use sand? Squish in some worms instead of eggs. You can do things to get a similar consistency and color to cake batter, but once you add the stressful heat, you might discover that this isn’t chocolate cake; it’s a mud pie. If you’re five years old, a mud pie might be just the thing you wanted to make—but probably only as a pretend copy of something your mom had really cooked for you. And I’m guessing even at five you know better than to eat it.
You started with the same pure dairy butter; how did it turn out so terrible? Bad recipe. Really bad recipe. Substituting molasses for sugar might work, and you can use applesauce in place of eggs, and with the right amounts, you can still get something close enough to chocolate cake to be worth eating. But everybody ought to know that you don’t use dirt, sand, and worms. The additions are better called adulterations.
|chocolate cake utopia vs. mud pie reality|
cake photo from here; mud pie photo from here
Everybody ought to know that you don’t take away people’s God-given rights, substitute the state for family, and tax away the incentive to work if you want to have a free and prosperous civilized society. You can't transform America into something better by adulterating the Constitution.
Re- is a prefix meaning over again. Sometimes the word means to take the original substance and recreate the original form, but it can also mean to take the original substance and form it again, differently this time.
|honey nut, citrus, and raspberry butters, from here|
For example, butter could start out as the typical cube and be softened and reformed into smaller patties, maybe even fancy molds. It could have a little oil added and be whipped, to make it more spreadable. Or it could have ingredients added but still maintain its basic butter-ness; it could become honey butter, or maybe cinnamon butter. It’s still spreadable on bread, but it’s different. Maybe an improvement, maybe not, depending on your taste and point of view.
The most famous reformation is The Reformation of the Catholic Church, which resulted not in a return to origins, but into a wider variety of versions of Christianity. This is not a statement of good or bad, just a description of a reformation.
Reforming the Constitution is done by amendment. That has happened twenty-seven times (including the 18th, which was Prohibition of alcohol, and the 21st, which repealed Prohibition, so they cross each other out). Many of the amendments are clearly improvements—the first ten are the Bill of Rights, which we consider an essential part of the original Constitution. Others are probably additions we would have been better without, like the imposition of the income tax, the 16th, and the deterioration of state sovereignty by direct election of senators, the 17th (both in 1913—one hundred years ago was a troubling time).
More often, when we talk about reform in the political world, it’s in relation to a specific issue or system: tax reform, immigration reform, health care reform. The idea isn’t to change the entire “butter-ness” of the Constitution, but to change an underlying aspect (like spreadability). Sometimes it’s because this underlying issue hasn’t been well formed to begin with, so reform is really creating a new form—within the overall form. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes not so much. A guide might be whether the reform moves toward or away from the original thing itself—the Constitution as guarantor and protector of our rights, and a limit to the powers of central government.
To restore can have a couple of meanings as well. It can be to take the original physical essence of something, and get it back to its original condition. This is the kind of thing done with old masterpieces; the dirt and discoloration are removed carefully to reveal the original painting. Old buildings or cars can be restored as well, but sometimes only some of the original physical essence is available. Sometimes replacements are built using new materials, or parts from similar structures, to fill in for the missing original parts.
Restore can also mean to make whole as it was originally. If an embezzler has stolen $100,000 from a company and is caught, he may be forced to restore the stolen money. It won’t be the same $100,000 that he stole, the very same bills; it will be the same amount, the same value of money.
If you were to mess up a pound of butter, leaving it out to melt, then spilling coffee grounds in it, or maybe accidentally spilling cleaning products on it—you probably can’t “restore” the very same butter to its original form, but you can restore—rebuild a store of—pure, sweet creamery butter. Unlike a painting, the original molecules aren’t what matter; it is the butter itself, to be valued and used as butter, to be spread over the metaphorical bread of American life.
So when we talk about restoring the Constitution, it is not about the document itself, which has historical value and is thing of beauty worth preserving. We have what it says written many places, including in our hearts and minds as free Americans. What we need restored is the purity of the original meaning, so it can be used as intended—to protect our rights and limit the powers of central government. We don’t need to “restore” it to its pre-amendment form; those amendments are part of the thing itself now. We just need the pure freedom ideas to perform as designed.
We don’t want those ideas to be transformed into something altogether different, unusable for our purposes. We don’t even want those ideas to be reformed into something close but not as purely ideologically functional. Wherever there has been deterioration or unconstitutional adulteration, we want restoration of the Constitution we love.